Pathfinder: Kingmaker is all about the turbulence of politics within The Stolen Lands. It is a hotly disputed patch of land (the map for which turns out to be generously large) that has fallen victim to bickering factions, riddled with the dangers of an ungoverned land crawling with bandits. It is up to the player and their party to venture into the dangerous realm and claim it for themselves. What follows is player directed governance that will bring The Stolen Lands into a new era of prosperity or evil. Of course, achieving this goal is a lot harder than it sounds on paper…
Pathfinder: Kingmaker is set for release on PC summer this year.
A Familiar RPG System That Smacks You In The Face With Stats Galore
With its isometric perspective, like Baldur’s Gate that inspired it, Pathfinder: Kingmaker is largely mouse-centric. It’s all about party management and the fine tuning of character’s stats to come out ahead. Where some newcomers to the genre may feel a little intimidated is the sheer depth of RPG systems chuntering away beneath the hood. This will become most apparent upon character creation at the very start where, like any RPG the player must select characteristics to start off from. Unlike the more accessible starting systems of Skyrim, however, this beginning phase will inevitably take some time to understand. On the flip side, such incredible depth will undoubtedly be fully appreciated by those familiar with say, Pillars of Eternity.
This learning process goes for almost every aspect of the game, however. Be it managing moment to moment combat, setting down camp and cooking dinner or deciding how level up. There will be a steep learning curve for any player choosing to invest time in Pathfinder: Kingmaker, at the mercy of sparsely explained systems. There are times where, in its current state, Kingmaker digs itself a hole and throws away the rope on the way down. This became painfully apparent when playing on the normal difficulty, which begins implementing punishments for character fatigue. Should you travel too far without resting, characters become fatigued and their max carry weight begins to fall. I got to the point where my inventory was completely empty and characters would refuse to move even a few meters to the campsite to recover. It landlocked me.
Thankfully, I was able negate this by turning the difficulty settings down but it’s clear developer, Owlcat has some more work to do in the campcraft section of Kingmaker. Nonetheless what’s currently there is very interesting.
Please Don’t Spoil My Dinner
When setting up camp, different characters can be allocated different jobs. Players may arrange lookout shifts and camouflages to keep the party safe while they get their essential chill out time. Cooking a meal remains a seeming insurmountable challenge. The system told me my halfling was best at cooking, yet time and again, no matter how often I yelled “you know! PO-TA-TOS. Boil ‘em, mash ‘em, stick ‘em in a stew,” she would horrendously mess up, and the burnt smell of a ruined dinner inevitably led to wolves attacking the party, disrupting their healing process. This would become a cycle of hopelessness, slowly chipping away at my party unless I sent them way back to Oleg's Trading Post(there could have been any number of problems for the party on the way back too). She had +7 cookery skill…
Combat Is As Deep As The RPG Mechanics That Prop It Up
As for the combat, players may choose to pause the action whenever they choose to queue up character moves and gain the upper hand. This is one of the game’s most redeeming features and it’s clear to see that a lot of development effort has gone into combat systems. A full and well rounded understanding of all the perks, spells and abilities on offer (of which there are literally hundreds) will eventually lead to a game that offers mind boggling potential for application of skill and strategy. Having played the game for ten hours, I still feel like I’m just grazing the tip of the iceberg. Needless to say, Pathfinder: Kingmaker will demand you patience. If you’re willing to give it your time and patience, it will reward you with a kind of depth not seen in more renowned titles.
Due to this incredibly slow learning process, I unfortunately have not reached the city building aspect of the game. The gameplay element that intrigued me the most about this title still feels like an ocean away. Of course, this is due in part to just how slow burn the learning process is for this game. As my mind wrestled to understand combat and character systems to the point where I felt like I could charge on ahead, I found myself aimlessly exploring the map which admittedly turned out to be delight in and of itself. Yet it didn’t bring me any closer to beginning to govern the Stolen Lands.
A Delightful Nod Toward The Original Game
As I wondered about, looking for new stories to tell at my local tavern, I would occasionally come across interactive diary segments. These have been expertly written and are a delight to click through. They remind me of those old adventure books that said “to jump down the hole go to page… To go back and look for rope go to page…” It’s a subtle gameplay nod to the original table top game that no doubt, fans will appreciate. Player choices throughout this segment, and whether they succeed, will lead to fresh outcomes, extra loot and experience points for the party. This recalling to the original game is also bolstered by the map and its fast travel system as board game style pieces drop onto the map to indicate an encounter. A nice touch.
Early on in Pathfinder: Kingmaker, the game will introduce a kind of morality system. You could have chosen to be anything from a Lawful Good to a Chaotic Evil type of character. This kinds of personality traits will play into dialogue options and choices in the aforementioned diary segments. Consequences for which will output in the game and how other characters react to you. They may feel less inclined to join your party or perhaps they’ll prefer to help you out. This is one aspect of the game, in its current state, that needs little more work as it clearly functions very well and even in Beta testing, I felt like my actions had far reaching ripples.
Areas of Concern
In its current state, Pathfinder:Kingmaker has various issues that need resolving before release. It’s odd however that more often than not, these issues are fairly nebulous. For example, my save slot informed me I had been playing for over twenty hours when that was definitely not the case. The game also thought a horse was an elk…
There is also considerable work left to be done in the difficulty arena. Heading into the difficulty options, there are a whole host of things to tweak that apply combat, character behaviours, survival mechanics and so on. Which leads me to the conclusion, there’s a heck of a lot of balancing work that has yet to function in perfect equilibrium. No small task for a game of this depth, of course. The largest issue that brought this up was simply being over-encumbered for having nothing in the inventory. I understand I was pushing my luck not camping for so long but rooting characters to the ground as a punishment result of this mechanic is just too much – for any difficulty. All it takes is one character to not play ball and the whole operation comes to a grinding halt. This mechanic of becoming fatigued also becomes a disservice in a game that is simultaneously encouraging players to loot as much as they can. Ideally, I'd prefer to see a carry limit in the shared stash and an unlocked character carry limit for what they have equipped… That would be fine.
Inexplicably, some spells just don’t work on creatures / animals (as opposed to humanoids) which can be frustrating in a pinch. It can be pretty unclear where to go or what do at times, as we arrive in signposted areas, only to explore them properly and find no apparent solution to our active goal. Some work is yet needed on directional hints to maintain any sense of momentum throughout a questline.
Pathfinder: Kingmaker has some great ideas. Although, the most ambitious and intriguing ones are falling just shy of proper functionality at the moment. Some work yet needs to be done in the area of difficulty balancing. I love the concept of the camping mechanic but with little to explain how its systems work, only to later get punished for soldiering through the system, this is one big area that needs attention. Regardless, Pathfinder: Kingmaker is absolutely going in the right direction and I know this as, despite its current misgivings, I was absorbed. I wanted to continue the grind and level up my characters and most importantly, I wanted to know what would happen next. Stick around at KeenGamer as we learn more throughout the game’s development.