Steve’s Opinion: Pathfinder Kingmaker
Retired Evil Mastermind
After a lifetime of Storytelling, being a GM/DM, I might have a biased viewpoint.
Let’s get the most obvious criticism out of the way, this game has bugs. On the flip side, I’ve seen the developers working hard to squash, fix, and move forward as more issues arise. Honestly with a game as complex and intricate as this particular tabletop RP system, it shouldn’t be a surprise to find oddities and anomalies.
With that out of the way, let’s move on to the actual game. As with many CRPGs you create a character, eventually round up a party of would be companions (yes you can make your own in this game), and follow the main story arc as designed by the devs. The normal duties of the GM, such as balancing encounters and setting up locations to explore is obviously less flexible than at a tabletop due to the nature of the game being a series of scripted trigger events, but the devs put in a slider for various elements of difficulty to allow the player to set their own level of veterancy within the RP system. As a long time player and storyteller of DnD with limited exposure to Pathfinder specifically, I chose the ‘normal’ difficulty. I’d say normal in this sort of game translates to someone with a mind to minmax classes, gear, spells, and has a fondness for the quicksave key. You’re going to make mistakes, even with a pause button on your side, and you’re likely going to need to use more preparation here than required in some games. Many factors contribute towards both strength and weakness of characters, going in without comprehension is ill advised.
I’ve spent hours (if not days) theorycrafting, crunching numbers, planning character paths, and I’ve restarted a couple times due to my own mistakes. There is no respec button, if your main character build is borked, you’re going to suffer. There are encounters vastly more powerful than your group if you wander into them at the wrong time, and unless you have some serious ringers in your crew, you will be stomped into a 2D version of your former adventuring self. I appreciate my DnD games being about this brutal, because it is a double edged sword. Yes, the mechanics are merciless at times, but so too that remains true when leveraged against the enemies. An example, your character might not be a suitable frontline fighter, you cannot strike your target with a weapon on anything less than a natural 20 (5% chance). Inverse this logic, build a tank for your party that has such astounding ArmorClass that they only get scratched by the truly lucky, or terrifyingly powerful. Similarly, that giant monster with armor plating like a living tank is also the size of a barn, and you can very easily touch them, making them all too easy to mutilate with a properly built spellcaster.
Some will say the game is imbalanced, I’m sure, and that is true…it has always been true in DnD. Every DnD system I have ever played (too many to list here) favors different classes and builds for different level spans and situations. The most ludicrous imbalance thus far in Pathfinder is the ease with which a rogue can manipulate the situation to their advantage. Put simply, Barbarians and Rogues once stood as peers in raw physical damage, eventually eclipsed in raw damage potential by casters at higher levels against multiple targets, yet these two non-traditional fighters were the best single target slayers. In order for this to remain true, Barbarians require specific feats and buffs (not well represented in this game) and Rogues need to activate their sneak attack (supremely easy in this game, just have someone else target the same creature as your rogue). For those familiar with DnD, or this game, here’s another note worth mentioning, Arcane Trickster advances equal levels of caster and rogue, full power of both spells and sneak attack, then proceeds to deliver sneak attack via spells against targets already engaged in combat, by way of touch attack (virtually eliminated most targets’ armor). To date, the most egregious overpowered single combo I’ve found is making your AT specialize and metamagic Scorching Ray (multiple ray attacks from a single spell, each individual ray capable of dealing a sneak attack). Your magical machinegun will decimate anything not fireproof. This is not balanced in respect to making all classes equal, but the AT is fragile, a glass cannon if you will, and needs both setup and expendable resources (spells per day). It isn’t fitting for every fight, but knowing stuff like this helps you push through encounters that would otherwise be outside the standard companion capabilities.
As for the story itself, which I am enjoying as I play through the game, I don’t want to spoil anything for those that might be interested in picking up this title. You’re supposed to become a land owner, and the implication here is that many events will require your adventuring hands to navigate trouble and resolve otherwise realm-ending problems. Standard enough in premise thus far, and while I don’t always appreciate the time crunch or the method of advancement, I still find the story entertaining. If I didn’t love the combat and the system as much as I do, I probably couldn’t recommend the game for story alone, however. Initially I’d hoped that the player would have more agency, and perhaps I simply haven’t reached deep enough into the game as of yet, but I get the feeling that I’m on fairly restricted rails. I don’t fault the devs for this decision, it is a CRPG after all, not a tabletop, and they can’t have me going off on a tangent they haven’t planned for.
Pathfinder: Kingmaker is a solid addition to the CRPG genre, but I’d advise you either turn down the difficulty or polish your minmaxing skills if you want to enjoy the combat. I wouldn’t go in expecting Tyranny levels of choice (or even Divinity/Pillars), but it’s no less engaging than Shadowrun. You have options of what you deal with, when, and how, but you’re not allowed to murder everyone (or even steal from them) or flip the script several times over (as far as I’ve seen). That said, I enjoy and would recommend this game – especially to veterans of the DnD worlds.