There’s been a lot of hype around Baldur’s Gate which returned in a playable, Early Access form in October of 2020. I was surprised to see an Early Access game released for full price, but Larian Studio’s knows the power that name has with gamers. Baldur’s Gate is a Dungeon’s and Dragons Role Playing game. It has a reputation. Now, I typically will pick up an Early Access game because the price is usually right and this is one I want to play, but not until it’s actually ready to be played. With this one being full price, I decided to go for a similar style game at a fraction of the cost, just to scratch that itch. In Baldur’s Gate, you meet allies along the way and you travel with them, do battle and typically unfold their stories as you play. I really like RPGs where you get a team. Which brings me to Pathfinder: Kingmaker.
Owlcat Games developed their own party-based RPG that even states in the description (on Steam): Enjoy a classic RPG experience inspired by games like Baldur’s Gate… What do I think? I liked it. I didn’t succeed on my first playthrough which means it probably has a lot of game to offer us, but after 50 hours, I was basically done. And the problem is undoubtedly on my side because of the very thing the game is likely doing very well: mimicking Dungeon’s and Dragons.
When I was younger, I played actual D&D once. I was struck by the oddity of a guy telling me a story and somehow having a response to everything I wanted to do. I mean, why bother when video games existed! So I blame myself, not the game developers! You see, I’m also a tech guy. My job is to fix broken technology and often explain to a user why the tech broke. Sometimes tech guys try to sound smart (or perhaps they are trying to make the user feel dumb) by using the most technical terms they can find to explain a problem. I try to simplify things. I try to make the solution understandable where I can. Why does any of that matter? Because I want a game that is simple to understand when giving my characters their powers. I loved Diablo and Dungeon Siege because upgrading, say, a fireball spell, would say something like “does 8-10 damage”. A basic addition skill on the users part gave us the information required. Upgrading that spell would add X points of damage. Pathfinder offers a massive amount of upgrades but it’s a bit more ambiguous, like “adds a modifier of +1 to a saving roll”. A what now? Read the description and if you are still left in the dark, that’s about all there is to it. So each upgrade, I’d go for the things that looked the most like actual attack upgrades. This really took time to get used to. In fact, I dare say I didn’t get used to it which is why when the game ended saying I did not complete a mission, I was not keen to jump back in. And again, that was after 50 hours! (I will go back to it again; I specifically did not uninstall it, but have other games I want to try first!)
Now, on the plus side, the game is very attractive with a massive amount of characters and a huge amount of land. There are villains all over the place to battle, and lots of cool dungeons to explore. You travel from place to place moving along a map like a pawn on a game board but with every point that you travel to, time passes, which impacts the missions. You also get to build a town as you go but there were things I never quite understood how to do. And heaven forbid you get into a fight with a type of creature you don’t have a weapon that will successfully kill. I ran into a swarm of flies which, no surprise, don’t get slashed easily by a sword. Rumor was a bit of flame might help but I had no fire casters alive at that point. It took me about 50 deaths to realize I had a torch and could have used that. Color me embarrassed!
Visually the game makes up for a lot. Zooming in can give a great deal of detail and you can zoom out for larger areas to explore. The voice acting is very good as well and the range of companions is fun. I especially liked camping as they would talk to one another, usually a line or two each time you’d camp, but it gave the epic feel of characters getting to know one another. Some of the dialogue was quite funny too. Even the music was great, which I tend to turn off in many games, as I find it distracts. Not so with this game. And the fact that this game is in real time was a huge win for me. I utterly despise turn based games. Real time, even with a pause option, was probably the biggest victory of the game. (Turn based, for those who don’t know, has you make a move and attack, then the opponent does the same, and it’s all back and forth in a totally unnatural way. Real time has the players fight. You know, like normal!)
Can I recommend Pathfinder? I think so with a big stipulation: know your D&D. I think if you know D&D, this game might be a rival for the greats like Baldur’s Gate and even the critically acclaimed Neverwinter Nights. But if you’re like me and don’t want to use a modifier for a saving through or a critical hit, you might want a more basic RPG. That’s not a knock; it’s just that I get into gaming to unwind, not take a lesson in old school gaming.
Oh, there is one thing worth pointing out: while you’re the man in charge, you do make decisions frequently. This is one of those things I really like in games; it’s almost a test of ones morality. So, while I might be out striking down loads of enemies with swords and fireballs, when it comes time to actually choose a path, I typically choose that of a good guy; a paragon, if you will. I think this offers a greater level of gaming when you have choices. Killing monsters while roaming the countryside is plenty of fun provided you can be a decent person when given the chance.
See if the game scores a critical hit for you while checking out the trailer below. Enjoy. ML