The Pathfinder: Kingmaker by Russian developer Owlcat Games, which appeared on Kickstarter in June 2017, tries to beat genre hits like Pillars of Eternity or Divinity: Original Sin 2. As a potential successor to the classic Baldur’s Gate, it makes use of the rules of the pen-and-paper role-playing game of the same name. This makes Pathfinder: Kingmaker especially interesting for veteran roleplayers, as the system is based on the oldschool roleplaying games, so-called CRPGs (Classic Role Playing Games). But has Owlcat Games even managed to compete with Baldur’s Gate with their new title, or is this just one of many imitators who lack a certain “something”?
Apparently infinite possibilities
Pathfinder: Kingmaker uses many proven principles of the role-playing game: The game starts with the creation of your own hero; before that the future adventurer can decide on which difficulty level he wants to play the game. Here you can choose between seven levels, one of which is a “Custom” mode, in which you can freely decide how difficult certain aspects of the game are. These settings can also be changed later. After choosing the degree of hardness, you finally choose one of the prefabricated characters or create your own hero. In the character editor there are numerous races available which can be individualized. Although the selection options for the optical part of the protagonist are quite meagre, the classes are all the more varied.
Say and write there are 14 classes in Pathfinder: Kingmaker, each with three specializations each. Unlike the future hero, the classes of the companions are fixed in advance. In addition, there are prestige classes in which you can bet five talent points after reaching level five. After choosing a grouping, one distributes role play typical points for attributes and abilities to his main character. Two unique abilities are also available, which you can assign to your adventurer at will. To help inexperienced players keep track, there are markers for each selected class that help you understand which talents, attributes, or abilities are best suited to each group. Depending on the choice you make, you will also have the option to set spells, pet companions, and even different gods that the hero believes in. It is also interesting that the player, unlike in some other role-playing games, can choose an attitude that gives the protagonist, more or less, depth. This serves as a starting point, but can change in the course of the game, depending on the decisions made.
In the character creation phase it becomes clear that Pathfinder: Kingmaker is strongly oriented towards its pen-and-paper model. Of course, RPG novices could be upset about this, because the player is confronted with a lot of information right from the start. Here also a large and detailed described encyclopedia does not help anything. The problem is that as a newcomer, but also partly as an experienced genre veteran, you have no relation to the talents, attributes and abilities, which can cause a lot of confusion.
From the petty mercenary to the ruling king
Pathfinder: Kingmaker does not reinvent the wheel. According to the proven role-playing style, you see the game world from an isometric perspective and control a group of up to six adventurers. The game offers a large and beautiful game world, which is not only animated, but also blossoms through a lot of different scenarios. On the world map, you move your adventurers from point to point with a provisional tabletop figure and are often attacked by robbers or other magical creatures. Among other things, the game sections, which run through the vastness of the river kingdoms, offer a great variety of cities, dungeons, villages and other locations, all of which are closely interwoven with the plot and complement the game above all with the detailed yet simple visual appearance.
As a simple mercenary, you are hired to free the Robbery Land from a group of bandits, to overthrow its Robber King and become a new Baron. But one is not only threatened by the neighbouring countries, but also by another rival, who also longs for the promised title. In addition Pathfinder: Kingmaker with a set time limit makes the first hours of play much more interesting, even if this is much too generous on closer inspection. This means that the player has enough time to drudge through all side quests without really getting into stress.
Pathfinder: Kingmaker has managed to create a successful mix of role-playing and building game, which is not only a cheap add-on to the existing game, no, the management of the kingdom is well thought out. The rightfully earned land is managed by the player himself. So he can decide on various things in his own throne room – from small arguments to game-changing encounters, everything is in here. All too often, the player himself has to take the initiative and set off to tackle the problems himself. Entire quest lines are usually completed in Kingdom mode and, after long planning, end with epic boss battles that can affect the entire kingdom. With the audiences that take place in the throne room, other events are added. These can be divided into two categories: Opportunities and problems. While failures in the former have no negative effects, failures in the latter adversely affect the barony and its values, such as community, loyalty, which decline considerably. To master all these challenges, the King has several advisor slots available to assign companions or NPCs to represent the Ruler in various matters. These also roll according to the Pathfinder rules, so it makes sense to select the most suitable followers for these places – but only as long as they share the ruler’s views. If this is not the case, conflicts can occur in the own rows during the game.
By building cities, villages and the capital of the kingdom using building points, the player increases the values of his barony. One value that should be paid particular attention to is stability. This is difficult to increase and can best be increased by synergies between adjacent houses. If the stability drops below zero, the game ends – Game Over. Of course, you can also expand the kingdom of the ruler, which is usually associated with quests. Gradually more NPCs or buildings are activated. Not infrequently they offer rare items or bonuses for the king. The result is an interesting change between administration and a hero’s life full of adventures. Even if the loading times interrupt the game flow, these forced pauses are usually filled with interesting background information, which one would probably hardly come across when leafing through the encyclopedia.
This cursed cube …
The comfortable town planning is not enough yet, because unlike this part of Pathfinder: Kingmaker the fights are cold and merciless. If you can’t find a way past battle through cunning, diplomacy or intimidation, the player is mercilessly confronted with its consequences. The fights in Pathfinder: Kingmaker are almost unfair. But why almost? The rules adopted by Pathfinder are used to roll the dice for each action. But the game is not badly balanced, no, it is fair – just mercilessly fair. Even the slightest prior knowledge of his opponent can be of unbelievable advantage. So it often happens that you have to prepare and inquire about dungeons before you go on a trip in order to come back safe and sound. Most opponents have a weak point and it is up to the player to find it out. After you are discovered, the game pauses and you have the possibility to position yourself accordingly or to react to your opponents. Even in battle you can interrupt the game at any time by pressing the space bar. If it happens that a companion dies, it can be brought back to the realm of the living by expensive resurrection spells. If you don’t, he stays dead.
If you don’t feel like playing a hardcore role-playing game, you should make a few changes to the difficulty level. The reason for this is that a fair dice roll with equal chances for opponents and players sometimes feels unfair. Even when playing on Normal, the Adventurer Group only takes reduced damage and is luckier with the dice, but Pathfinder: Kingmaker is more than difficult. In combat, the player has the possibility to control each group member freely or to let them fight independently. Larger battles usually lead to a very detailed, successful, but also sometimes confusing battle. The possibility of being able to pause constantly counteracts this well. The adventurer can therefore still have an overview even in the biggest fireworks of spells and effects. The classic pen & paper rules then decide on success and failure in direct combat. The dice are rolled for attack and defense, and this shows that the game can also be merciful. Despite several critical successes of the opponent, the luck factor ensures that the player can still keep the upper hand in the fight. Of course you can also turn it off, but as already said: Fair on paper doesn’t always feel fair enough in the game. The outstanding complexity of Pathfinder: Kingmaker can be adjusted in a way that everyone, from role-playing novices to old-established veterans, will have fun.
Although Pathfinder: Kingmaker “officially” offers only 40 hours playing time, you can still estimate more than twice that until you reach the different ends. The replay value is enormous. This is not only due to the different exits or even the different effects, which reflect the deeds of the player in the kingdom, but also to the deep companions of the hero. These behave differently towards this, depending on decisions and actions. The Pathfinder companions: Kingmaker shine with their complexity. Each of them, as well as other important NPCs, are completely set to English. But don’t worry, the German subtitles are usable and the realistic and well set characters are a real eye-catcher. The lovingly set to music personalities are beautifully accompanied by a medieval soundtrack. Not only does this sound good, it also complements the picturesque game world almost perfectly. Apart from that, the game offers even changing seasons and a weather system, which increases the feeling of living in a living world even more.
Pathfinder: Kingmaker has shown that even the infamous Baldur’s Gate can face competition. The developers of Owlcat Games did a good job and their title captivated me after only a few hours. Due to the deep characters and the extensive game world, it has grown more and more close to my heart. And not only that makes Owlcat Games right: The already outstanding role-playing aspect is perfectly complemented by the administration of the kingdom, which not only feels like a half-hearted function, but rather like a complete feature. Pathfinder: Kingmaker thus succeeds in skilfully interweaving structure and role play. The feeling of being responsible for the whole kingdom and making decisions that have a lasting effect on the kingdom is incredible. Every step, no matter how small, can make big waves. Watching people die because of their own deeds or companions turn away from the player and go their own way are just some of the many consequences. While the complexity may be daunting and inhibiting for some newcomers to role-playing, the countless difficulty settings ensure that everyone experiences their own individual adventure. Even though Baldur’s Gate still remains the undefeated king, Pathfinder: Kingmaker certainly doesn’t have to hide behind the “big ones”, but has earned his own place on the podium.
What is Pathfinder: Kingmaker? Complex CRPG, which is based on the pen & paper of the same name.
Tested: Version 1.0.9 on PC Intel Core i7-6700HQ, 8GB RAM, GeForce GTX 960M
Developer / Publisher: Owlcat Games / Deep Silver
Release: September 25th. 2018
Link: Official Website