Pathfinder: Kingmaker is the latest PC RPG to make the leap to consoles, transplanting keyboard and mouse gameplay into the realm of the casual couch and comfy trackie-daks. This has been going on for a while, with the likes of Pillars of Eternity and Divinity: Original Sin forging the way to much success, particularly in the case of the latter. That’s not to say Pathfinder is more of the same, mind you, because while there are many superficial similarities with others, this epic title from Russian developer Owlcat Games offers unique twists on a now familiar formula.
Pathfinder is set in the Stolen Lands, and casts you in the boots of a character – either self generated or preset – who will need to gather a party, grow in strength, take on increasingly tough missions and eventually defeat a tough boss. Sounds familiar, right? And it is, with a lot of generic high fantasy tropes executed in a solid but unexceptional fashion. However, once you beat the baddie, a particularly nasty wanker called the Stag Lord, you’re handed a barony and new responsibilities that involve managing funds, building the right structures and keeping the populace happy and safe.
They’ve gone and put a bloody town management game in your RPG! You’ll still be required to go on epic quests, mind you, but now you’ll need to manage your increasing lands as well. It’s… kind of a lot, to be honest, and those who’d rather just dungeon crawl without reading the instructions should possibly look elsewhere.
That said, if you’re up for the challenge (and able to watch a few Youtube videos before you even begin), Pathfinder is an absolute game changer. One of the best aspects is the combat. Is it turn-based or real time with pause? It’s both. And unlike Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire, you can switch between the two on the fly. Mid-dungeon fighting weak arse trash mobs of low level spiders or skeletons? Put it on RTWP and let the AI do the work. Come up against a tough boss that requires a little more strategy and finesse? Notch it back to turn-based and conquer.
It’s a brilliant addition to the genre and one that would be great to see embraced by other developers. Add to that a dizzying array of difficulty customisation options – wherein you can change the level of AI, the fail states and even switch the kingdom management to “automatic” if that sort of fiddly nonsense isn’t your bag – and you’ve got a game that feels like it can be honed to your specific style of play.
The graphics are crisp and colourful, the sound and music solid and even the load times, the inexplicable bane of this genre’s console ports, are better than most. On the downside, the story and script never really rise much above the level of perfectly adequate. You’ll have fun, you’ll be engaged but you’re unlikely to be shocked by something creative and unexpected like Divinity: Original Sin 2. Difficulty spikes can be an issue too, although there’s usually a lateral, albeit nerdy, solution to most problems. The Stag Lord, for instance. Rather than face him head on, you can turn half his lieutenants against him, kill those who won’t be convinced and even rope in his pet bear to join the boot party.
Pathfinder: Kingmaker Definitive Edition comes packaged with all the DLCs, offering literally hundreds of hours of gameplay. While it doesn’t deliver the easiest experience for old school style RPG noobs, careful and patient investigation and experimentation will have your party feeling powerful and ripping through dungeons in no time. Once you get your head around the multifarious systems, Pathfinder: Kingmaker reveals itself to be one of the most nuanced and satisfying RPGs of 2020 and a delightful surprise for those with the patience and time to really hook in.