Join Games Xtreme on a journey into Paizo and Owlcat's rendition of Golarion, the world of Pathfinder, and find out if Kingmaker on console improves over the PC version we reviewed a while ago. (Yes it does)
The Road to Rule is Paved with Goblins
Owlcat Games, yes, I love the name by the way are big fans of pen and paper RPGs. I like this, because for the last 21 years that's been my job. When I am not waxing somewhat lyrical about video games, I'm putting things into stat blocks and making worlds that people play in - yeah - I write RPGs.
So, I always get very interested in CRPGs when they appear on my radar and I've always had my eye on Pathfinder: Kingmaker from the get go. Though I never did the original review for Games Xtreme since I had no actual game rig due to a big PSU failure and lots of smoke, fire, and swearing.
This brings me to the Pathfinder: Kingmaker Definitive Edition on console, specifically the Xbox One (X) version of the game.
I was lucky enough to score a review code from PR for this, so thank you very much for that!
Pathfinder Made Easy
Owlcat have done a good job here, they've taken the Pathfinder ruleset and brought it into video game format. They've wrapped it in a fun and engaging game, good story, and some surprisingly in-depth mechanics which support the 'Play as you Want' style I'm so fond of. They've trimmed out a lot of the bloat of the system and kept it lean, mean, and a sharp fighting machine.
As for the Definitive Console Edition - it's just that - comes with all the bells/whistles/DLC and addon content that the original PC version has. It also introduced (before the PC) a whole new way to play the combat in the game, which we'll come to in a short while.
The Rise to Rule
This is the story of a pre-gen character, or a totally custom character, drawn from a plethora of Pathfinder races and classes. There's a lot of choice here and fans of the tabletop RPG are going to feel right at home - new players though might feel a little overwhelmed, but fortunately the game does a good job of getting you up to speed and making creating a character fun.
I won't dive into the story here, it's not something I like to discuss since I always feel you can spoil too much even with just a few words. Looking at the marketing writeup on the game on the store will tell you though, you're not just going to play a character.
You'll have a full party, and you'll also get to rule a barony.
Choice at Every Turn
I applaud Owlcat at offering the most comprehensive set of options for a game yet, for any game, and certainly for any CRPG. There are options to tailor every aspect of this game to any kind of playstyle, and it gets huge marks from me in that department because accessibility in terms of game difficulty and options are a must these days.
There are sliders to ensure you can survive the most demanding combats, or make the game as hard as nails. It's up to you. Do you want to leave the AI to rule in your stead whilst you go out and quest to your heart's content?
So many options, it'd take a whole review just to cover them. The long/short of it, don't just skip the options and difficulty options - take your time and set the game up how you want to experience it.
I appreciate the prologue in Kingmaker a lot, it takes you right into the story and very quickly introduces you to the key gameplay conceits of the game. You learn character movement, and more as you progress through the short opening section of the game. You very quickly learn about the real time with pause combat, or the switchable turn-based mode that's been added in this edition of the game.
I'll talk a bit about the combat later on, but it works, and it's pretty fun to see the spells and abilities kick off in the world as they're brought to life graphically.
You also get introduced to the visual novel style segments, these are akin to Pillars of Eternity (1 and 2) and present situations in a Choose Your Own Adventure style, with lavish writing and skill-based checks to resolve certain elements.
They work well and provide an extra layer to the gameplay, helping to flesh out the story and immerse you in the lore of the world.
I'll also give a shout out to the way that Kingmaker handles terms, land names, concepts, and provides a database in-game for you to reference as you play. Important names are highlighted and you can quickly check what each mean without breaking game flow.
The long and short is that the game has a solid tutorial and a good way of bringing you into the world at the start.
Beyond the Path
This brings me to the game outside the tutorial. What do you do? How do you play?
Well, in a nutshell, it's an isometric 3d CRPG where choices have consequence, and where classic pen and paper meets high fantasy videogame design. You will control your character, plus a party of others drawn from the people you meet in the prologue and tutorial. I won't spoil the story, but you'll be making some choices early on and then things open up onto the world map.
Here you'll travel down roads into the misty fog of war, uncovering a vast swathe of Golarion (Pathfinder's world) and getting into all sorts of random encounters on the way. Some locations you can enter and some you'll just pass on by as they become towns later on if you build there.
Random encounters can and do happen, some will be story related, some merchants and others are surprises. Combat encounters pop up and you can flee or fight, if you get caught though, you'll just have to fight it out.
Key locations can be explored and the maps are usually quite big, and varied with a nice level of detail and some gorgeous looking locations.
Time passes and your party will grow tired, hungry, and if you don't see to their needs, you're going to have some grumpy people as well as negative effects applied until you rest. Also, depending on how you set the game up, illness and wounds can be removed or at least treated at camp.
The camp screen can be triggered on the map, or in a location by choosing rest.
You will then choose roles for your camp, and either consume rations or hunt/forage for food.
Warning: Dungeons don't allow hunting, so bring lots of rations/food with you!
That's the world map/travel in a nutshell and it's simple to use.
Also, you'll be seeing a lot of this so be prepared for lots of overland movement in the game!
Every character has an inventory, and every character in your party can access the shared stash. The more people you travel with, the bigger that shared stash is and the more you can carry with you as spoils of battle or just area/dungeon loot.
Two Approaches to Combat
Apart from selecting and using skills from the configurable hot/skill bar, you'll be able to engage in two combat styles thanks to the Definitive Edition for console.
Real Time with Pause: Just as it says. The game pauses and can be paused as you select orders, pick spells, do what you want with each character and freely switch it around as combat plays out in real time before your eyes. Spells sizzle, swords clash, and blood flies as your party wades into the thick of it and monsters are vanquished (we hope). Pausing and issuing orders per character is extremely easy and intuitive.
Turn Based: A traditional take and more in line with the tabletop RPG. Turn based combat does just that, you control a character in turn order and choose what they're going to do, what skills they use, what abilities they employ and who they attack. Unlike the former, turn based combat has an action economy and a timeline of who goes first with initiative modifying this - sometimes this means enemies will always get the first go if they beat your party. Apart from that, it's very much what you'd expect from a system like this and again pretty intuitive.
With the addition of difficulty settings, and configurations to ensure you can have the most accessible battles possible Kingmaker is a top-notch game in that regard. From the hardiest veteran player to the newest to take up spell or sword, this game is for everyone.
Gold, Glory, and Government
Over time you're going to hit part of the game where you can turn your hard-won money into something that means more than just glory. You're going to rule, and you're going to be faced with a daily life of a ruler in the barony. Here you'll have to attend to the population's need, appoint advisers, and make judgements from your throne room. Here you'll manage the day to day of the kingdom and push your barony to new heights.
There are whole wikis and forums on this subject, it's extremely deep and the whole system has a bunch of interlinked rules/systems throughout. Again though, it's not mind-bogglingly complex and off-putting.
There are city-builder aspects to it as well, where you can actually build locations up by choosing buildings and travel to them on the map to check out your location in real time. There are dozens of quests/opportunities and problems that arise every single day and month in Kingmaker and a good ruler knows they can't get to them all.
It's a balancing act, and again, the options here in the menu are staggering and allow you a finite control over just how easy or hard this is. Don't want to do it? Just have the AI take care of it all and leave you to cleave trolls, marry dragons, and steal from sleeping princes.
The fun stuff!
Bringing Golarion to Life
With a rich and lavish set of backgrounds, every location in Kingmaker is a piece of art. These maps harken back to the days of Baldur's Gate, only with a modern spin and a lot of visual polish. There's something wonderful about just uncovering that fog of war and seeing what hand-crafted art lies beneath in every single area. I really enjoyed my time just wandering here and there looking for loot and even discovering skill tests or hidden areas in these places that led to rewards or new areas.
The Art of the Voice
The game isn't fully voiced, and I get that. It would have been a massive undertaking to get every NPC, every narration, and every single bit of text read out by a cast of voice actors. What's there is good, and the voice work is solid. I can't say more than that really, nothing stood out overly in this department but nothing made me shudder badly either.
I really loved the writing though; a lot of atmosphere is conveyed here even without the voice.
The Music of the Spheres
D&D style games and CRPGs in general have a soundtrack, the music, the ambient audio and the tavern tracks that play when you wander into the Beer Mug or whatever fantasy watering hole it is. Kingmaker is no exception here, and there's some lovely call-backs in the music of this game which transport you right into the golden age of Baldur's Gate, Neverwinter and more. Quality work!
Gremlins under the Hood
I've seen posts and tweets about the state of the Xbox game, but I can only report back on my time with it from the day I got the code. I've watched it evolve from that day too, Owlcat working well to patch the bugs and provide fixes/Quality of Life improvements and support to the passionate fanbase. I've had a few slowdowns and the odd moment where the game characters moved like molasses, this hasn't happened since a patch ago now though. I've had no crashes, and no quests that broke, nor have I had things that failed to trigger - so I'm happy with the time I've spent on Golarion.
I often try and avoid the usual, let's break this down into sections like animations and audio quality - I used to do it, but I found it created a formula and frankly I got really tired of writing like that. So now I try and approach things more organically, whilst still trying to convey what I want you to take from that subject.
I feel that Kingmaker does a great job at capturing the aesthetic of Pathfinder, it has key art to draw from, and manages to craft an animated 3d adventure with good quality animations, lovely sound and interesting gameplay all wrapped up in a solid story.
It's a story that's told with solid pacing and contains twists/turns/adventure and more.
There's a whole kingdom rulership and building aspect to the game too, which will probably delight sim-style gamers a lot more than pure CRPG fans.
It has a whole lot going for it, and I really enjoyed the game.
Kingmaker is a single player game, it can be quite tough, so save regularly. There are auto-saves, manual saves and quick saves.
There are lots of loading screens in the game, load times are OK, could do with being shorter since you'll spend time transitioning across areas a lot. The game could do with some more optimisation in that area, but they're not overly long!
Not the End of the Road If you're looking for the TL;DR answer: yes, it is worth getting and especially if you're a fan of the old-school CRPGs like the ones I've mentioned.
There are a lot of interconnected RPG systems, all handled extremely well, without fuss or overwhelming information here in the game. So, for this reason it would be the perfect point to jump in and while away some hours, whilst you hunt kobolds amongst the flowers.