Pathfinder: Kingmaker

For many people, an RPG is like a big delicious lasagne: dense, multilayered, and the more traditional the better. In the world of computer role playing games (CRPG), you can’t get much more traditional than Pathfinder: Kingmaker – Definitive Edition.

Indeed, streamlined and ‘modern’ like Skyrim or The Witcher 3 this ain’t. Get ready for one of the most faithful adaptations of pen and paper role-playing you can get on the major consoles, as Pathfinder: Kingmaker is about as D&D as it gets, for better and for worse.

For fans of isometric RPGs like Divinity: Original Sin II and genre classics such as Fallout and Baldur’s Gate, Pathfinder: Kingmaker will sound like an absolute dream. A vast, detailed fantasy setting, monsters to be slain and kingdoms to be claimed, and your average playthrough taking almost one hundred hours (far more if you opt for additional side content and other quests). Pathfinder: Kingmaker is an investment not only of your time, but also your brain, demanding a deep understanding of its digital dice based combat and dialogue sequences to succeed, especially on higher difficulty levels.

If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of dice in a game like this, let us lay it out for you. Classic table-top role-playing games will usually determine the outcomes with the roll of a die. Rolling a high enough number in any given circumstance (and accounting for any altering effects like magic shields or other buffs) can mean the difference between success and failure in whatever it is you’re trying to achieve. So too is true for games like Pathfinder: Kingmaker, which is constantly rolling digital dice behind the scenes to determine how combat, dialogue and the story proceeds. You’ll never see any literal dice in the game, but open up your combat log while adventuring out in the world and you’ll see all the instances where a dice roll was used to determine an outcome. Make sense? If not, Pathfinder: Kingmaker might not be the CRPG for you.

“Pathfinder: Kingmaker is rich in detail that classical RPG die-hards will salivate over.”

It’s an enthusiast thing, you see. Pathfinder: Kingmaker is rich in detail that classical RPG die-hards will salivate over. Like the ability to tune the build of your character (and their companions) within an inch of their life, resulting in subclasses within subclasses and completely different methods of play. Or, the branching and multilayered story, in which you simply won’t be able to achieve every single optimal outcome. Or, the sheer level of mastery you’ll have to display across not only what skills and weapons your companions bring to every combat encounter, but how you adapt them to a mindboggling array of enemy types, each with their own special abilities with which to turn the tides of battle. Whereas the above explainer into the basic workings of tabletop RPGs may scare some people off, the complexity and minutiae in Pathfinder: Kingmaker could be what sells you on this whole experience.

Pathfinder: Kingmaker

Of course, a game like Pathfinder: Kingmaker would normally make its home on the PC, taking advantage of a whole keyboard and mouse’s worth of commands, but its adaptation to console controllers (like that of our PlayStation 4 Pro) results in a bit of a learning curve. It’s impressive that the developers, Owlcat Games, have managed to map all the functionality of a CRPG onto a console controller, but there are moments where navigating to important submenus or controlling your team in more advanced ways feels like inputting some kind of secret cheat code.

Part of the problem here is that this is already a complex game, and getting to grips with the systems and specifics via a controller begins to feel frustrating, making higher level play or more advanced approaches to combat feel not quite worth the time. Doing simple things like double checking the loadout of your companions or searching through your spell book isn’t mind-numbingly bad, but it isn’t fun either. Luckily, there are two modes for combat, where controls really count.

RTWP (Real Time with Pause) – which allows combat to happen in real time, but with the option to pause and issue commands, and turn based, which is exactly what it sounds like. Characters take turns bashing each other over the head, drinking potions or moving to new positions, as long as they have the requisite AP (action points) to do it. We mainly played on RTWP, which avoided every combat encounter becoming a time-wasting drag, but we can easily see the need for turn=based mode on higher difficulties with more advanced play, where you’re able to plan combat moment by moment.

If your view on CRPGs is ‘the more complex the better’, then this ‘Definitive Edition’ of Pathfinder: Kingmaker could be the perfect game for you. Its density of content, systems and narrative is enough to make any Dungeon Master cry tears of joy, but the focus on recreating the most hardcore tabletop experience here means it’s probably not the best choice for first timers. If you’re new to games like this, perhaps get a few more dungeons under your belt before you try to conquer Pathfinder: Kingmaker.

Pathfinder: Kingmaker – Definitive Edition is available now on PS4 and Xbox One.

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