Tabletop games have a strong history of converting over as video games. Some do better than others, based on things like systems mechanics and story narratives. Studios can encounter problems creating a guided plot out of a medium that is centered around player choice. Owlcat Games, the developers of the upcoming PC title Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous, don’t seem to be worried about their daunting new project.
After their well-received first outing, Pathfinder: Kingmaker, in 2018, the team called on the support of 35,000 Kickstarter backers, ultimately raising over $2 million to see Wrath of the Righteous make it across the finish line. As of May 5th, Owlcat has moved WotR into its second Beta phase, allowing prospective players to see just how close they are to a final product. I got to spend quite a bit of time exploring Golarion, and there is plenty to talk about in this preview.
Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous will launch on September 2, 2021, on Steam and GOG.com. Preorders are available on the Owlcat Games website, with the Beta Access currently tied to the Early Access tier.
STORY – DEMON DAYS
This specific title is inspired by the events of Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous, an Adventure Path, released by Paizo in 2019. Players begin by creating their own character from a handful of options, including gender, race, and class, a process that can be a time-suck all on its own. Much like other classic RPGs in the vein of Baldur’s Gate, WotR wears its inspirations on its sleeve, so taking care during character creation is an important step.
The game itself begins with the invasion of demons into the world, resulting in the decimation of a city and fragments of survivors being scattered into hiding. Players build a party of characters to aid the local army, and different side quests influence the perception of the heroes and available narrative options.
For example, one of my favorite early quests involved a tiefling, Woljif. While exploring the basement of a military tavern, I found the young rogue in a jail cell. After convincing the faction leader to set him free, Woljif led me on a quest to discover who betrayed his party during a break-in gone wrong. Ultimately, the quest-line finished out with a heart-to-heart with Woljif regarding his alcoholic grandmother.
The bulk of the game’s story and writing comes about through the conversations with party members. Each character will pull you on different side quests as the game goes on, and exploring each route will reward curiosity.
As a fan of fantasy, I found the writing to be well-executed and engrossing. Characters with crises of faith really felt confused and disturbed by what was happening around them, and pleas of desperation felt authentic and necessary. As a writer, I couldn’t find much fault with the execution of the story or dialogue scenes.
Obviously, for players who want more to read, investing in social skills and attributes as you level up will be important to remember. But considering the source material, no matter how good Pathfinder is, it can be challenging to translate games built on player interpretation into a guided narrative. WotR does a fantastic job at taking the reigns and nudging you along towards the next beats.
GAMEPLAY – DAUNTING DATA SHEETS
I feel like the biggest thing to note is that the mechanics and language of the Pathfinder tabletop game are invoked in every single move you make. Each attack and dodge roll imaginary dice to determine the effectiveness, and the game calls these out in tooltips and dialogue boxes. If a character fails a critical hit, it’s explained that their d6 roll was too low and suggested that you increase some of their skills.
As somebody who wasn’t totally expecting such a direct correlation from paper to PC, this was a bit jarring at first! The sheer amount of menu options and screens was intimidating, but once I dug in and played around with the different game settings, I hit a balance that felt great to play with.
What helped the most was that the difficulty options could be fine-tuned to your play style. These aren’t Celeste levels of accessibility (not many games have that), but I was able to change things from walking speed while over-encumbered to the effectiveness of critical hits against my party members. This really helped early on as I got used to my class choices and got my initial footing. Then I was able to change all the options back to default once I was more confident in what was happening.
Bear in mind, too, that there is the same granular level of detail for each party member, putting you less in the role of a player and more of an amalgamation of a dungeon master. It can be daunting, controlling more than six fully realized characters at once, but everything clicks pretty quickly and feels like a natural part of the process.
Minute-to-minute party combat feels really great! Fantastic CRPG combat returns, enabling you to demolish enemies in ways that feel right to you. This evolves later on, however, with the Crusade system. Eventually, players are named Commander in the Fifth Crusade, unlocking a strategic battle system involving large-scale armies. While not as deep as, say, Total War, Crusade takes things a step farther than we saw previously in Kingmaker.
The environment is quite literally littered with usable items and loot, but honestly, collecting it all just made my characters really heavy. The path to higher stats is a slow burn, especially early on in the game. There wasn’t much variety or ramp up in the effectiveness of the weapons and armor that I found, so I just ended up selling most of it.
Make no mistake, each member of my party was well-outfitted and ready to go. But there weren’t many moments when a chest plate or sword actually increased damage or defense. Thankfully, the storyline and writing were strong enough to keep me engrossed and interested, but it certainly wasn’t the combat that was advancing me through the game.
Potentially the most interesting thing I played around with was the Mythic Paths: large, overarching class systems apart from your initial choices. There are six Paths: Angel, Demon, Lich, Trickster, Aeon, and Azata, each of which has impactful traits that change the story and gameplay. For example, finding an angelic weapon hidden underneath the city opened up access to the Angel Path, which gave me unique dialogue options (especially when talking to religious zealots), and eventually, some killer combat options, like resurrection.
Mythic Paths are the main mechanical hook of WotR, and for a good reason! Players can grow and experiment with each Path and change the game as they see fit, opening up new storylines and abilities. The best part is, it all felt really natural. There wasn’t a giant block of text yelling about how important Mythic Paths were; they just appeared neatly as the game progressed.
GRAPHICS/AUDIO – ELOQUENT EXCELLENCE
If it seems like I’m really excited about this game, it’s for a good reason. Even the audio hooked me in this time, which doesn’t happen very often. There’s full voice acting for party members, and the quality of the performances was really impressive for a title that’s just entering beta. It was refreshing to hear the passionate dialogue without rough and stilted voices behind it.
The overall sound design worked well, in general. Sound effects were where they’re supposed to be, and the music was orchestral and exciting.
The graphics, on the other hand, are making their way to being something wonderful. As it stands, there are some visual hangups that prevent me from calling it a triumph.
The thing about the beta is that there is an ever-present bug reporting button on the side of the screen, for a good reason. I encountered a number of graphical bugs that, while annoying, really just showed off the absence of polish you’d expect at this early stage of development. Characters were constantly clipping through objects, and a number of inventory items had the wrong graphics in place (notably, a stack of silver dishes carried an image of a tomato).
That said, the actual modeling work is fantastically done and really showcases the specific art style the team is going for. The entire game looks like it’s been conjured from memories of tabletop campaigns gone by, giving everything an aged feel that is really well executed. Some early issues aren’t going to prevent me from sticking with Pathfinder, and it shouldn’t prevent you from diving in, either.
Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous was previewed on PC. A key was provided by Homerun PR.