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June 2023

Pathfinder: Kingmaker

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: RPG/Action
Publisher: Deep Silver
Developer: Owlcat Games
Release Date: Aug. 18, 2020

About Joseph Doyle

Joe has been known to have two hands with which to both play games and write reviews. When his hands are not doing those, he will put books, musical instruments, and other fun things in them.


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PS4 Review - 'Pathfinder: Kingmaker - Definitive Edition'

by Joseph Doyle on Jan. 4, 2021 @ 12:30 a.m. PST

Pathfinder: Kingmaker Definitive Edition is an isometric computer RPG that will take players on a tour through the infamous Stolen Lands, the dangerous and turbulent territories well known within Pathfinder fandom.

Buy Pathfinder: Kingmaker - Definitive Edition

There's an unparalleled camaraderie built with those around the table when you clear the caves of orcs, save the kingdom from oncoming invaders, or finally defeat the Kraken guarding the sunken treasure. The lust for heroism and greatness has been fulfilled — and all in the safety of your own home! Tabletop RPG experiences have been some of the most fun times I've had as an adult, as they utilize a combination of charisma, imagination, and problem-solving to create a fun experience for everyone. What if you find yourself alone, with no one to play with or DM for? Pathfinder: Kingmaker - Definitive Edition fills this void, allowing players to step into the canon world of Pathfinder to take on foes, win people over, and reign as the ruler in fantastical lands.

Kingmaker opens with your character in the great hall of a powerful guild of swordmasters, surrounded by heroes who are being charged with defeating the terrible rebel, the Stag Lord, with a barony as recompense. However, the game doesn't start here. As with any good RPG with roots in tabletop games, first come all the rules, options, and character creation, with Pathfinder bearing its core strengths and weaknesses alike from square one.

For the uninitiated, character creation in tabletop games (RPGs specifically) is a time-consuming process, especially for those who haven't played before. One could make the argument for this being more common knowledge due to it being largely based on Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 edition, but for younger and less experienced players, it won't come so naturally. You can choose to play with pre-made characters, but for those who want to personalize the experience, this plagues them with choices and drowns them in potentially unknown game mechanics from the get-go.

One of the better aspects of this fastidious care to the original tabletop game is the amount you can customize about your experience in the initial game options, including enemy damage, critical hit damage, and more. While these myriad piecemeal difficulty selections make the game more enjoyable for the casual player, it has them sifting through sliders they may not understand the context of, even warning one not to play on anything above normal if they're new to Pathfinder. From the (optional) flavor text of dialogue to leveling up, the game is absolutely packed to the gills with detail; it's wonderful for those who are accustomed to the genre and game, but it's a paralyzing amount of information otherwise.

As you hobble from the mountains of rules, regulations, and text so you can make your way into the actual game, your character, along with a motley crew, is put into situations where your selected skills and knowledge are put to the test via combat and dialogue options. The gameplay is rather boilerplate, reminiscent of a mix of Diablo-like games in its isometric nature and more classic RPGs with their turn-based mechanics. From here, you control your entire party, choosing their attacks, moves, and spells as well as how they level up and their dialogue choices, among many other options.

Kingmaker features the traditional turn-based mode and a newer, more active mode. While everything is active, you choose your moves in real time, but this mode is busy and clunky, and it doesn't hold up compared to other games that utilize these two different methods of playing, such as Final Fantasy 7 Remake. The exploration of the world is enticing, but it's not as gripping as you'd want from a game like this, with a nicely hand-drawn but ultimately lackluster overworld map.

Controls are decent, and while they are largely self-explanatory thanks to a controls-bearing AI system, the transition from computer to console is almost always unwieldy, especially while trying to navigate equipment and character menus. There are apparently also kingdom management aspects to this title, but unfortunately, the game super-crashed — it froze and didn't go to the PS4 hardware error screen — before I had the opportunity to get there, and I'm honestly terrified to try it again because my console is revving like an expensive mid-life crisis. Given the generally clunky game experience (big areas sometimes tank your fps to the dark ages), the gameplay is a tough sell for Kingmaker.

In term of aesthetics, Kingmaker is middle of the road. One aspect that stands out the most is the character portraits, all stylized with an oil painting appearance, breathing a lot of life into the many characters we meet along the way. Further, the narrative choice to include a plot-critical bard with your party also colors a lot of the visuals, from notebook-looking load screens to all of the inventory and character options in the in-game menus. As for the different environments, characters, and assets, nothing is incredibly notable, but it adequately provides visualization to the tabletop experience. The in-game UI is formidable, adorned in woody, earthy colors; the characters are small on the screen but look fine; and the spells are as magnificent as expected.

Similarly, Kingmaker brings good music to the table but lacks the pizzazz to be memorable. While I certainly won't be humming any of the tunes, the tone of all the pieces is appropriate: spacious and airy woodwinds, brass and strings to create the ambience of high fantasy, and powerful war drums echo at the right moments. Hammered dulcimers chipper away with reverb to build tension during sequences of unrest. The soundtrack makes the player feel like their choices have gravitas and their journey is important, while likewise recognizing that the lion's share of attention belongs to the gameplay.

When it's all boiled down, Pathfinder: Kingmaker - Definitive Edition is a text-heavy, buggy experience on the PlayStation 4. While the level of depth into the original tabletop game is laudable, it ultimately makes for a less game-y experience, opting for faithfulness to the original material rather than focusing on the experience for the console player. Even when factoring in the art, music, and somewhat streamlined gameplay choices, Kingmaker isn't able to break away from its tabletop roots. Instead of scaling up or down based on a player's ability, the game acting as a GM thrusts the onus of knowledge of the game and its rules on the oft-unknowing player from the get-go, alienating many in the process. While the title strips down its core concepts for the video game realm, it simply isn't enough. Seasoned tabletop players and those who are willing to invest the time and effort into learning the systems could sink their teeth into this one if they're willing to look past its buggy warts, but Kingmaker doesn't offer enough different or intriguing content to win over someone who isn't already invested in this system and world.

Score: 6.5/10

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