It’s [rolls d20] pretty good!

Title: Pathfinder Kingmaker
Platform: PC (reviewed)
Developer: Owlcat Games
Publisher: Deepsilver
Release Date: September 25, 2018
Price: £35/$40
TL;DR: A great recreation of the tabletop game, even if it falls away in some parts.
Family Focus: Click here for more information

After a rip-roaring Kickstarter campaign, Owlcat Games managed to bring their much-loved Pathfinder table-top game to the computer screen with Pathfinder Kingmaker. And while it might carry the same randomness and creative flair that – I imagine – runs rampant in tabletop games, it’s still worth keeping an eye on if you enjoyed the likes of Divinity Original Sin 2.

The game sees you taking up the role of adventurer – one of many bought together by the ruling company of Restov, with the aim of killing the Stag Lord, a self-proclaimed ruler of the Stolen Lands. Though, the party is quickly cut down to just six of you following an ill-timed attack. The survivors are split into two groups and sent out, both teams racing to become ruler of the new territory. Yes, it might be a simple story, but the game’s emphasis isn’t so much on the objective, but the characters instead.

You can choose to either create your own main character or use one of the four stock ones – whichever you choose won’t make much of a difference, as you fall into the silent protagonist role pretty quickly (only giving answers in text choices) but the rest of your gang are a fairly chatty bunch. As might be expected from a tabletop game, your surrounding characters offer a diverse cast, with their backgrounds, beliefs, morality, and motives bouncing off one another enough so that you actually give a damn about them. Take Harrim, for example, the dwarf who seems to be going through a permanent existential crisis; it’s actually because Harrim is a staunch follower of Groetus, meaning he talks – to anyone that’ll listen – about the end of the world, and constantly.

But such quirks aren’t simply there for show. The beliefs of the game’s cast entrench the characters into a specific outlook, be that lawful or chaotic. You get the chance of setting your own character’s outlook at the start of the game, with some dialogue options only available if, say, you’re chaotically good or straight up evil, and your characters react to your actions depending on their own outlook in a very natural manner. It’s a difficult thing to get right, and while your companions won’t react to every decision you make, they make excellent angels or devils on your shoulder, making you think twice about some decisions before you act.

There are other moments in the game, sometimes when you’re traipsing through a dungeon or travelling through the world map, when you’ll be confronted with events that take place on the pages of a book. You’ll have a choice of how to deal with some events during these moments, with the outcome – like so much of Pathfinder – resting on the roll of a pair of virtual dice; so when you have the chance to lift some burning logs to save a pair of soldiers in need, it’ll be a strength check that determines whether you manage to play the hero or if you become the clumsy fool to makes things worse. It’s a system that’ll be all too familiar to those of you who have played tabletop games before, but for those of you who haven’t had a chance, it’s a system that injects a little bit of extra fun into these moments.

Not everything the game does manage to capture the – I’m assuming here – the fun of tabletop games though. Combat in Pathfinder is by far the weakest aspect of the game. It’s a hybrid of real-time and active time-based combat that never feels like it clicks. When you enter into combat, you have the chance to assign each of your characters a different attack before letting them loose in an automated combat system. And because it quickly shifts into automated combat, most of the time you can leave your squad to the fight, go and make yourself a cup of tea, and when you come back you’ll be ready to set off again.

Without going into why, it’s important to know that the game isn’t solely an RPG, for some reason; it’s also a kingdom simulator. Yep, you’ll have the chance to run a fully-fledged kingdom, making your once band of merry adventurers deal with fiscal responsibility or figuring out what your kingdom needs most. It’s an utterly baffling sharp turn for the game to take, and while you can simply leave the simulation to run on automated while you go off on more adventures, I still don’t understand why the decision was made to leave it in at all.

Pathfinder Kingmaker will certainly scratch an itch if, like me, you’ve always wanted to play a tabletop game but never had the chance. Thankfully, it’s the important bits that the game gets right; the characters, the moral decisions, the dialogue shared between those on your team – they’re all parts that have been painstakingly recreated for a different medium, and it’s a delight to play through. It’s a shame that combat is a snooze, but it doesn’t take anything major away from the game. It’s certainly worth a shout if you’re shopping around for a different RPG experience.

The Good

  • Great characters
  • The inclusion of decision-based events is a great one that epitomises the fun of the games Pathfinder comes from
  • A brilliant art style that follows its fantasy roots perfectly

The bad

  • Combat is an utter snooze
  • The kingdom sim is even more of a snooze
  • There’s a lot to learn if you haven’t played a tabletop RPG; it’s not too confusing, but it’ll take a while to get used to

Family Focus

At the moment, Pathfinder has a provisional PEGI 16 rating in the UK and hasn’t been classified yet in the US. There are romantic options in the game which might put some parents off, but there’s little in the way of violence. Maybe it’s all the moral decisions that pushed the ratings up. Either way, it’s nothing you should be too concerned about if you catch your children playing it.

Disclaimer: This review is based on a copy of the game provided by PR for the purpose of this review.