Pathfinder: Kingmaker Review - The Classics

  • First Released Sep 25, 2018
  • PC

Not all those who wander are lost.

While there have been many, many attempts to translate the tabletop roleplaying experience to the PC and console, more often than not it hasn't quite worked out. One of the biggest struggles in transitioning a traditional tabletop RPG into the quicker, imminently more binge-able video game form is incorporating a complex ruleset faithfully. Hypothetically speaking, with the right combo of spells and skills, a tabletop campaign can get utterly bizarre, with players collaborating to do things like using effectively unlimited ammunition to shoot through a mountain. These kinds of solutions are impossible in video games, where destructible environments and the difficulty of coding different possibilities necessarily limits the ways you can interact with the game. Pathfinder: Kingmaker is a partial exception to that rule, but it often fumbles with the execution.

Just about everything has been wholesale imported from the Pathfinder tabletop games; nearly all the mechanics, spells, skills, etc. make their way in, and so does a massive chunk of the lore and mythology. That's all well and good, particularly because Kingmaker offers plenty of options to help customize the difficulty and effectively put you in the role of Game Master. There are more than a dozen options for adjusting everything from damage scaling for foes--a handicap that makes you more resistant to harm in tougher fights--to how the AI will manage your (eventual) kingdom.

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Given that this is a hefty choose-your-own-everything adventure, your character is a blank slate. You can pick from many of the basic races--as well as the godlike aasimar--and a fair few of the basic classes, skills and abilities from the tabletop edition. Your companions are initially pulled from a crowd of heroes you meet in the game's opening, but it expands soon after with any number of additional friends and allies to bring along the way. For the most part, these serve as means to an end. Your allies are as much a part of the experience as your own character is, both in terms of party composition and roleplaying in the narrative.

This is reinforced by one of the few concessions the tabletop game doesn't make, but the game does: party-wide skill checks. Passing obstacles in the tabletop Pathfinder, for instance, can often separate the party, as those that don't have a skill like acrobatics won't be able to maneuver through a thicket. Instead, in Kingmaker, the party completes these tasks as a team. It behooves you, then, to really spread out your abilities and party to maximize coverage of options over making sure everyone has the same basic setup with slightly different modifications down the line.

Such concessions transition well into group cohesion in combat, as well. With such a diverse set of specializations, party management is exceptionally important--especially because of the intense base difficulty. By default, Kingmaker follows the rules of tabletop perhaps too closely; it's a system where simple combat with a few foes can take 30 minutes to an hour (or more), all compressed into a few seconds on-screen. That can be taxing as it requires tremendous familiarity with each classes' traits as well as the acuity to know how to pull them together.

Were everyone sitting around the table, each would have a couple minutes to look over their spells, consider all manner of responses, and then execute the plan on their next turn. In Kingmaker, though, combat largely happens in real time. Sure, you have a pause button and can quickly look over your characters to devise tactics mid-battle, but this absolutely grinds combat down and really hits the pacing of the game in the worst way.

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Perhaps a bit more troubling is the fact that within Pathfinder's ruleset, many monsters and creatures require very specific tools to kill. Swarms of small creatures like rats, for instance, can't be effectively fought with a sword and shield. Sometimes Kingmaker warns you, but other times it simply expects you to know how to handle the problem. Rust monsters, skeletons, ghosts, and so on all have specific tools that you need to understand and be able to use with relative ease. That's made easier by having a diverse party, but then you have to take far more time aside to learn the ins and outs of your band of characters than a traditional tabletop player.

This tension--between what Kingmaker is trying to be and what that looks like in practice--is at the heart of many of its missteps. With more than a dozen references and resources to draw upon, quite a few things have slipped through the cracks, causing issues of balance throughout. There’s the distinct impression that Pathfinder’s convoluted rulesets have led to oversights in how damage gets calculated by the game in this or that room, or whether you’ll face a much higher spell failure chance when squaring against a boss.

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There have patches since release, and many of the adjustments definitely work. A slightly modified Story Mode (the name of one of the difficulty presets) is a solid entry point for many. Still, the rules and procedures can be labyrinthine--and that's even with tooltips that explain proper nouns and the requisite in-game encyclopedia to explain everything else.

For those willing to take on the challenge, however, what lies beneath the brusque exterior is a welcome return to involved roleplaying. The voice acting is spotty, and writing can be a bit cliché at times, but the game doesn't shy away from its subtitle. In relatively short order, you earn your barony and have the ability to build it out however you choose--hiring advisers and upgrading facilities to help you along the adventure. Kingmaker’s campaign cuts much closer to long-term tabletop campaigns and gives you a stable home base from which to plan your next outing. And, not to belabor the point, but most of your mini-adventures will definitely require prep.

These outings also constitute the bulk of your questing play and a good chunk of the ongoing narrative--an interconnected web of relationships and allegiances that lends itself to plenty of political intrigue and exciting adventures. Unearthing the mysteries of not only your “employers” but also the shifting factions of the Stolen Lands and how that plays into the world at large is definitely an extraordinary and rewarding endeavor.

For those willing to take on the challenge, what lies beneath the brusque exterior is a welcome return to involved roleplaying.

The interaction between the ruling bit of play and the rest of it is great. Having each of these systems--roleplaying, combat, adventuring, and what's essentially SimCity-lite--feed into and influence one another yields an experience that is as broad as it is deep. Your level of investment and engagement with each is largely up to you, but each of them matters and will require attentiveness to get the best results. But the opportunities it yields are exceptional. Having your roleplaying choices and character story and alignment all play into how you rule and who accompanies you on your trek is amazing. Working towards getting a well-crafted set of gear for your party after carefully maneuvering through hours of quests and adventures, all for the glory of besting a big bad using all the skills and abilities you've given your team, are high points of the adventure.

All-told, Kingmaker isn't a stellar outing, hampered by a litany of small issues, balancing, and the gargantuan knowledge base you'll need to play most effectively. But, for those with the patience, the rewards are well worth the investment.

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The Good
Faithful structure that encourages roleplaying
Excellent interplay between roleplaying, combat, and governance for an adventure that’s got breadth and depth
Exciting adventures that steep you in the political depth and drama of the region
The Bad
Requires an overwhelming amount of background knowledge
Combat can be unforgiving
About GameSpot's Reviews

About the Author

Lifelong western RPG fan Dan Starkey got his start on roleplaying in his early teens, starting with Pathfinder before making the transition to d20-based video games like Baldur’s Gate and Knights of the Old Republic. He was provided code on release day for the purposes of review.
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Avatar image for Barbowan

Just found this game, dove right in, having a blast. This review is really disheartening to be honest, as it glosses over so much of the good stuff, focusing far too much on the difficultly (Difficulty that can be vastly changed from insanely hard to laughably easy very simply), criticizing the combat game-play for being too hard to grasp despite it being pretty self explanatory (and there's nothing to stop players from pausing, going over their character's and learning all their abilities and spells before jumping into combat), and others. The gripes the reviewer makes are minuscule at best, minor setbacks at worst and yet this game receives a 6? Even IF, and it's a big IF, the few criticisms leveled against it had the merit the reviewer is suggesting, that is hardly enough for the score to drop that much, to Above Average.

Further, to see review such as this giving uninspired reskinned hack-job games (every sports game out there comes to mind) glowing 8 to 9 reviews, only mentioning the predatory loot boxes and fee-to-play elements in the most dismissive of ways, yet delightful story-driven, lovingly crafted RPG's such as this (without Loot boxes or micro-transactions or any other bullshit) are brushed aside and barely given any exposure? Shameful and disgusting, all but showcasing the shilling these sites do for AAA publishers. Promote their crap and bury the real gems. If anyone wants a real review for the game, here, let me do it:

Pros: A rich lore-filled world, beautiful scenery, delightful music, very good voice-acting (nothing exceptional but all around good quality), tons to do (combat, exploration, kingdom-building), plenty of challenge, involving story, cast of interesting diverse characters, expanding DLC's that add more to the experience (Alternate story-lines, new race, class, spells, ect), and no loot boxes or other micro-transaction garbage.

Cons: There is a bit of a learning curve, both in challenge and getting familiar with the Pathfinder rules; though the difficulty can be adjusted accordingly and the rules generally are easy enough to learn as you play. Most of the major balancing issues have been patched out and I've not suffered a single glitch or technical issue thus far. The only other con is some of the quests don't have as clear of an objective (location or how much time one has) but that really is part of the game itself, trial and error. It can be frustrating but truthfully there is enough details in order for one to figure it out provided they think on it and don't demand instant gratification.

Final Verdict: 8 (I'm still playing it and I have a long way to go, so once I play everything, it may very well be a 9)

There you go Gamespot, a better review. You're welcome.

Avatar image for rodro

Ok, combat can be unforgiving is a good thing, you can change difficulty if it is too hard for you anytime during the game, so that as a negative point is really stupid. Now learning curve is long and a little bit tedious but I remember when I played dark souls for the first time the combat was unforgiving but once you have it the rewards are amazing, I am playing this game in unfair difficulty at te moment and I am loving it, it is the challenge I was looking for. Now for the character customization, physically you don’t get to many choices, they should implement more things especially portraits, now for abilities and customization in classes this game is amazing, the best I have played so far, i am a fighter lvl3 and plan on going Eldritch scion for lvl5 with abyssal bloodline for the extra stats and the spell strike to add more damage is a little squashy at the moment but heavy armor will do the job, the possibilities are really grand, and that adds more to the challenge. Story is amazing, great companions and this time I see more difference between them than most games, Harrim is a nice contrast to the characters btw.

Avatar image for mechzahnclay

All too often games that should not get scores over 9, get scores over 9. While I respect someone's right not to rate a game I would rate highly a low or lower score. This game is so lovingly made, and was scraped together by this particular design team, that giving it a 6 out of 10 breaks my heart.

More over it actually makes me a little angry. I mean, it literally comes with story mode and easy mode for people over whelmed by the normal mode. And yet, virtually zero mention of this as a viable option in this review. (My working theory is it's purely an ego issue for most gamers.)

And for those you looking at completion rates, I haven't beaten my copy of Divinity Original Sin 2 yet, does that mean it's a bad game? No. I'm just not in a massive hurry to just steam roll my way through the whole thing. Plus the amount of week one patches seems to have fixed most of the problems, vs Fallout 4 was still almost unplayable up to two months after launch. Please don't just jump on the this game deserves a 6 out 10 if you haven't even played it yet, that is truly annoying.

Avatar image for Thanatos2k

I read the review. The score at the end doesn't seem like the result of the words in the review.

Avatar image for Icarian

Biggest problem for the game is that it uses Pathfinder/D&D rule set. Absolutely worst rule set of any RPG. You can only use it after modding it heavily yourself. Which can't be done in CRPG.

Avatar image for izraal

@Icarian: I personally greatly enjoy Pathfinder as well as the 3.0-3.5 editions of D&D it evolved from, and they are still quite popular in the tabletop circuit. That's a very subjective opinion - for me, the rules system was the primary settling point of the game.

Avatar image for ormgaard

What have you been smoking ?? a 6 ? Well Daniel i totally disagree.

I could understand if you got tired of some of the bugs in the game that can be a pain, but you have only put two point under your "bad" catagory that do not in any way or form warrant such a low score.

Combat is enganging and very strategic, defiantly keeps you on your toes and yes some encounters can be unforgiving thats just how things work when you (thank god) don't have automatic levelscaling in place.

One of the great strenghts in this game is that you actually have to be prepared for battles that do not follow the standard formula, this is one of the first times ever that i actually had to make use of my potions/scrolls/wands and more exsotic spells to take down some of my opponents, Much more fun than it all just collecting dust in my stash.

I have been playing Crpg's from their infancy and at this state in my opinion this game is a solid 8 with the potential for more as Owlcat puts out patches.

Avatar image for Speranza318

@ormgaard: It's not some bugs man...I mean look at the game completion rate on steam. It's literally 0% right now. This means 1 of 2 things: the bugs in act 2-3 are game breaking (this has been all over the forums) or people have just lost interest and stopped playing until the game gets fixed. I mean, one of the major issues has been before they patched to allow recruitment of custom party members...that wasn't even implemented on release and it was one of the major game features for christ sake.

Like I said below...6 is generous. Does it have potential? Sure...but so does every game.

Avatar image for csward

@ormgaard: A 6 means above average ffs. It's not "such a low score". His opinion isn't wrong.

Avatar image for Thanatos2k

@csward: A 6 is a D-. It's a terrible score for a video game. Where have you been? It's well below average.

Avatar image for ahmetxca

What? A "6" ? One of the best RPGs I have played in my 40 year old life and it is just "6"? It is not a Baldurs Gate or mask of the betrayer but just "6"??

Avatar image for mdinger

@ahmetxca: Upvote just for mentioning Mask of the Betrayer (one of the best written RPGs of ALL TIME) that almost no one seems to have played.

Avatar image for eLite0101

@ahmetxca: Like you said, its not a BG nor Mask of the Betrayer, plus have many issues. So yeah, 6 is about max it deserve. Now if you want to compare that score with some other games(cough Divinity..) thats another topic.

Avatar image for ahmetxca

@eLite0101: Well, these guys &gals work very hard to resolve the issues. And at 1.0.6 lots of bugs have been cleaned. I totally agree on that.

Also the story - at least for now- does not feel "epic". But the game is fun, detail is immersive, RPG elements are very well placed.

On my end I would give this game a solid 8.

When it comes to divinity. That is another topic like you said. Maybe if we are to compare this game with Pillars of Eternity which I tried soo hard to like the game... But I failed.

Avatar image for csward

@ahmetxca: They can only review it on how it is at the time of the review, not how it will be in the future.

Avatar image for pmarreck

This game was extremely ambitious from the start. And it looks like they're (slowly) knocking out the bugs (while creating new ones because they seem to not have an automated test suite), which means... This game will be FANTASTIC in about 6 months! ;)

For one thing, I don't think I've ever played a game that visually has *seasons.*

Avatar image for Speranza318

You gave this game a generous score. It's basically still in early access, broken to the point of game breaking bugs in later acts, and has one of the most boring stories/side character flesh outs I have ever experienced, and the combat is literally RNG and requires a player rolls a d20 at the higher difficulties just to hit an enemy.

My verdict: stay away from this game and go re-experience TOEE or Neverwinter Nights

Avatar image for izraal

@Speranza318: A random number generator rolling a D20 to determine success or failure in actions, including hitting enemies, is the core of any D&D based game, including Neverwinter Nights, Temple of Elemental Evil, and many other. The bugs are a different issue, but the complaint about the RNG is a bit misleading.

Avatar image for Speranza318

@izraal: This is an old thread, but your point is well taken. That wasn't the point I was going for though, it was the difficulty that was the root of my comment. I don't know one GM in all the years of table top D&D that would create a scenario that requires 20 rolls every turn of an entire campaign to make progress. That was the situation with this pathfinder game when it first came out. Many patches and bug fixes later, it's an improved game but still not optimized. They basically "fixed" it by making the player simultaneously be the GM and switch difficulty sliders on the fly if they chose to.

In the other games you mentioned such as NWN or TOEE, or even Baldur's Gate, I don't remember scenarios that required perfect rolls on every turn unless you were on the hardest difficulty and were looking for that situation purposefully toward end game.

Avatar image for izraal

@Speranza318: Ah, expecting "perfect" rolls, or extremely high ones, just to progress, that *is* a problem. I would take issue if a tabletop GM ran a game in that style, and it's equally inexcusable if that's the way the game is balanced at default difficulties.

You're absolutely right - most of those other D&D adaptations you've mentioned, assuming you built a reasonably optimized party, which is the real challenge with D&D-based games, would only have limited sections where ideal rolls are required to move on with the main plot.

The one exception I can recall, without having played Kingmaker as of yet to compare, would be the expansion to Baldur's Gate 2, Throne of Bhaal. Even with a well build and equipped party, there were encounters where seemingly no conventional strategy would work, and it seemed the only way to succeed was various methods of gaming the system itself, i.e., firing area of effect spells just outside the cloud of vision, where they would still damage enemies but they might not properly react to attack you, or summoning swarms of Planetars to do the fighting for your group - generally things that weren't legitimate D&D strategies, but outright manipulation of the engine itself. It was that, or reload until you roll all natural 20s, for a lot of the later "epic" fights, or so it seemed to me.

In any case, that's a very different point you were making, and I misunderstood. It sounds like Kingmaker's balance doesn't just involve you "rolling a D20," as any D&D based game does, but it's expecting high rolls, 18s to natural 20s, to succeed at basic tasks needed to progress the plot. That is poor design, whether in video game or tabletop campaign form.

Thanks for clarifying, cheers!

Avatar image for Speranza318

@izraal: I appreciate your well thought out reply, and I am sorry if there was confusion in my original post on the topic. PS: I remember exactly which encounter you're referring to in BG 2 ;)

The Pathfinder game has come a long way though - I haven't tried it again in several months but I know there are plenty of difficulty adjustments to make it playable now.

Avatar image for izraal

@Speranza318: Heh, glad it's not just me - that game still haunts me! I thought I was relatively "good" at the Baldur's Gate games, and then Throne of Bhaal just destroyed me.

Glad to clarify, I misunderstood your point, so I'm glad we're on the same page. It also gives me a bit better of an insight on what I'd be getting into with Kingmaker. I'm still excited to play it - any D&D or similar adaptation gets a lot of points with me just on the system alone - but I don't regret waiting a bit while they smooth out some bug fixes. Given what you've mentioned, when I do play it I'll probably swallow my pride and go for a lower difficulty.

Since you seem familiar with the system, how accurate to tabletop Pathfinder would you say the game is? I am curious whether they implemented things like reach weapons and attacks of opportunity, which are usually left out of these adaptations. The only exception I can recall is Dungeons & Dragons Tactics for the PSP. Dungeons & Dragons Online has no reach weapons or attacks of opportunity, and Neverwinter Nights, despite having attacks of opportunity, did not feature reach weapons. I can't honestly recall what Neverwinter Nights 2 did.

Pathfinder also has different handling of feats like Cleave to Great Cleave and Improved to Greater Trip, I'm curious whether they included those in their proper Pathfinder forms.

I could always just play it and find out, of course, but if you happen to know, or anyone else reading this, I'd be curious to know in advance. It's hard to find specifics of that nature on the game.

Avatar image for pmarreck

@Speranza318: git gud

Avatar image for csward

@pmarreck: Learn to be objective?

Avatar image for Speranza318

@pmarreck: almost a good troll, I think you should go to the Dark Souls forums ;)

Pathfinder: Kingmaker More Info

  • First Released Sep 25, 2018
    • Linux
    • Macintosh
    • + 4 more
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    • PC
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    Average Rating28 Rating(s)
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    Developed by:
    Owlcat Games
    Published by:
    Deep Silver, THQ Nordic