Pathfinder: Kingmaker E3 Impression
The isometric RPG has had a bit of a resurgence over the last half-decade or so. But what has had a diminished presence are the number of them based off of existing pen and paper RPGs. Given Pathfinder’s popularity, it seems odd that it’s taken this long for it to be properly adapted to video games, but Owlcat Games is finally making that a reality with Pathfinder: Kingmaker. I got to speak with Alexander Mishulin, a Creative Director on the game, as well as some hands-on time with a beta build of the game. Pathfinder: Kingmaker is an adaptation of an adventure path of the same name. The campaign takes players to the world Golarion, to the region of Stolen Lands, which itself is part of the River Kingdoms. There the player attempts to carve out their own stake in the land while getting embroiled in the politics therein.
The first thing that I noticed while playing the game is just how elegant the presentation was. Gameplay is presented from a locked isometric perspective with modeled characters and backgrounds. The visuals were simple, but effective at displaying the information needed. The menus are some of the best I’ve ever seen for a game of this type. As someone familiar with proper Pathfinder, Kingmaker has some of the cleanest and concise UI elements especially considering the amount of information it has to display. My eye was immediately drawn to the information and it was incredibly easy to understand.
Controlling the game itself will be familiar to anyone with any experience with these types of games. Kingmaker has parties of six, each with their portrait shown. Down the side of the portraits was a black box that contained status ailments and passive benefits each character was receiving. The combat is real-time with pause, so the mouse is used to gather all the party and move them around in customizable formations. Individual characters can also be selected to move off on their own. Each character gets their own hotbar with additional nested hotbars for belts, spells, and other abilities. Owlcat has also come up with quite possibly the greatest quality of life thing in any RPG: as your party prepares to leave the area, a menu opens of every piece of loot you discovered in the area, allowing you one more chance to take them before heading out.
Players will be able to create their own character with a twenty-five point skill buy-in, slightly higher than the tabletop game’s twenty points, but Mishulin said the game would be balanced around that. All the core classes will be available along with the Alchemist, Magus, and Inquisitor. Much like the pen and paper, the classes will all have arch-types, or specializations within the class.
My demo took me to a dungeon filled with trolls that had become immune to fire damage. Given that is one of the troll’s primary weaknesses, this is a problem. Maneuvering around the dungeon was easy enough, a ring formed around the party that served as its line of sight. It felt like I was only able to move the party within this range, which did prevent me from allowing my party to travel long distances after I had cleared most of the dungeon out. The characters I was given were more powerful than they would have been otherwise so combat was no problem. That is until I made a rookie mistake and spent all my resources fighting a troll and not taking care of the mage backing it up. Yes, I wiped with an overpowered party. My only defense is I’m no good at real-time with pause.
The other aspect to this game that was touched upon briefly is the player’s barony. After completing the first act of the game, players will get access to a castle to call their very own. A management sim then begins over all the land you control in the Stolen Lands. Players will be allowed to build settlements on their land which gives them access to new vendors, craftsmen, and temples. NPCs can be recruited to offer bonuses to the land but different NPCs will excel in different areas. Larger tracks of land will be able to have more settlements but as the leader of the barony, you must also serve to protect your subjects from invaders. Mishulin said that for those who don’t want to engage with the simulation elements of the game can have them automated, only requiring the player to make major decisions, but many of the game’s best equipment and crafters will be gained with this method. On the subject of difficulty, four modes will be available, each adhering to the tabletop game’s ruleset to differing degrees. Simplified rules have players take sixty percent less damage and Adapted rules have damaged reduced by twenty percent. Both of these modes prevent critical hits on the player. Core rules feature full damage, normal criticals, and deaths from major injuries. Advanced rules begin to stack the odds against the players instead. These modes are still being tweaked.
Kingmaker is currently in closed beta and from what I played it shows. The game and its interface are clean and effective, the size of the game promises to be quite large, and the adaptation of the tabletop game’s rules seem to have transferred with gusto. RPGamers looking for the next in-depth PC RPG will have a good option when Pathfinder: Kingmaker arrives later in 2018.
I’m sure the reason we haven’t see video game versions of Pathfinder is the complexity. PF is even MORE complex than 3.5. Just as one small example, each class now can choose from many archtypes, which replaces abilities earned while leveling up with those that best fit the theme of the archtype. For example, a crossbowman (archtype of fighter) may lose the armor mastery skill (which fighter get around 10th level that allows them to move full speed in heavy armor) but gets the ability to bounce shots off of walls to reach around corners. I love archtypes in theory, but I would hate to be the one to program for them all.
After years of playing PF, I can say that the game is so deep and complicated, that it near falls apart at higher levels. Combat crawls to snail’s pace as we have to keep track of so many buffs, spells, items, etc. A computer can track all of that easier, of course. However, programming for all of the interactions, including the wider array of combat options and items, seems like quite the daunting task!