Isometric perspective - check. Wizards and sorcerers - check. Parties, companions, and all the conflict that comes with them - check. With a successful kickstarter to the tune of nearly $1m behind it, a popular tabletop fantasy setting, and an immersive art style, Pathfinder: Kingdom is the best traditional role playing game you've never heard of. We've been hands on with an early access copy of the game to get stuck in, and tell you everything you need to know.
What's the story in Pathfinder Kingmaker?
Set in the world of the immensely popular Pathfinder tabletop role playing game, Kingmaker begins as a lady known as Jamandi Aldori, head of a group of noble Swordlords - essentially the barons of the land - gathers a ragtag group of adventurers for a secret quest. To the South lies a region known as the Stolen Lands, where a mysterious group of ne'er-do-wells have taken charge - and the Swordlords want you to topple their leader, known as the Stag Lord, and reclaim the region on their behalf. In return, they promise to recognise whoever claims the land as its new ruler, with all the riches of nobility that come with it.
However, it doesn't take long before things start going wrong. In the middle of the night, a group of bandits attack, let into the compound by a mysterious traitor. Acting as an introduction to both the game's combat, and its role playing systems, the decisions soon start coming thick and fast. When faced with a burning building, do you take time out to prepare and douse yourself in water, or do you tear in without a thought for your own safety? Once inside, do you take time out to rescue some soliders, who've been trapped by fire, or do you race to save Jamandi Aldori, without whom your dreams of riches would go up in smoke? The decisions you make will shape not only how people in the world view you, but how your party views you as well.
Whatever your choices, the game's introduction ends on a bit of a cliff hanger. Framed as the traitor who let the bandits in, you'll need to rely on your quick wit (and character traits) to talk your way out of it. Having made your case clearly, poor old Jamandi doesn't know what to think, declaring that as she has no idea who the traitor is, she's going to split the party of adventurers into two - one led by you, and one led by the suspicious Tartuccio. That way, she knows at least one of you will be working towards toppling the Stag Lord. Depending on the decisions you made, you'll find you've either impressed, or repulsed some of your party members, with some choosing to go with Tartuccio, while others swear alliegance to you. And so begins an adventure that revolves as much around your party as it does around yourself...
How does Pathfinder Kingmaker play?
Pathfinder Kingmaker is a traditional role playing game, with an added layer of kingdom building on top. Though story, character and plot are still at the centre of the game here, everything you do will feed back into your burgeoning kingdom, in turn changing the kind of land you're building. We're promised your kingdom's capital will be a reflection of the moral decisions you've made, with the city being populated by people you've met and helped along the way, who in turn will help you out in future.
If you've been yearning for a traditional role playing game in the vein of classics like Baldur's Gate, Neverwinter Nights, and Planescape Torment, then Pathfinder Kingmaker should be right up your street. Think of this as the kind of game BioWare would be making in an alternate universe, if they weren't too busy forgetting to animate their characters, or let you play with a pale complexion.
Who's behind Pathfinder: Kingmaker?
Pathfinder Kingmaker is being developed by Owlcat Games, a fairly new studio founded in 2016 in the heart of Moscow. With a team that boast plenty of experience, from games we've heard of (like Heroes of Might and Magic V, and recent MMO Skyforge), to those that have flown somewhat beneath our radar (Rage of Mages, anyone?), it's a real passion project for the team, which is presumably one of the reasons why they went the kickstarter funding route.
On the story side of things, industry legend and suspected half-elf Chris Avellone has been tapped to spin a yarn of magic and mystery befitting of the Pathfinder name. With a CV that reads like a "who's who" of the biggest role playing games of the past twenty years, from the revered Planescape Torment, to more recent fare like Knights of the Old Republic 2, Fallout 2, Fallout: New Vegas, and bonafide Gods of the RPG revival Divinity: Original Sin 2, Torment: Tides of Numenera and Pillars of Eternity, it's a story that's in good hands.
In fact, perhaps the only bit we're not entirely on board with with here is that Pathfinder: Kingmaker features those weird book sections that have become in vogue in recent RPGs. From time to time, rather than showing you what's happening, the game will instead pop up with a book, letting you read about what's happening, and then make a choice of how you want to proceed - kind of like a choose your own adventure novel. However, with games being such a visual medium, we've never really understood why modern role playing games are so keen to tell and not show. At least the English used isn't quite as impenetrable as Torment: Tides of Numenera though.
If it's based on a tabletop game, that must mean character creation is pretty in depth, right?
Ohhhh yes... Giving you as many choices as we can ever remember seeing in a role playing game, Pathfinder: Kingmaker lets you customise your character in an absolutely ludicrous amount of ways. While there are five default characters you can start with, choosing to make a custom character will let you choose from seven races, and a whopping fourteen different character classes, each of which has two archetypes (or sub classes) you can choose from to let you customise it further. From genre standard classes like Paladins, Barbarians, Wizards and Bards, to more exotic types like the Magus (a kind of a mix of a fighter and a wizard), and Inquisitors (because no one expects...), there's a huge amount of depth here - and perhaps a little too much for the novice player.
How do the battles work?
Being based on a tabletop game, though the battles here may technically play out in real time, behind the scenes everything is turn based, with how much damage you do, whether you hit or miss, and any special effects being determined by the roll of a virtual die. Handily, triggering an encounter will automatically pause your game, letting you survey the scene, figure out who to attack with which character, and start any spells casting. You'll want to think carefully about using spells, too, as with each having a limited amount of uses before you rest, and leaving you open to opportunistic attacks when you're casting, you'll need to pick and choose your time well.
Can I talk my way out of conflict?
Yes you can! Much like Dungeons and Dragons, each character in Pathfinder (including yours) has an alignment, either good, neutral, or evil, with chaotic, lawful, or neutral flavours of each, along with a variety of other stats that influence how strong their gift of the gab is. Packed full of choices and decisions, you'll often spot dialogue options pop up in game that say [Chaotic Good] or something similar at the start, indicating an option that's only for people who are of - or closely aligned to - that affinity. Play your cards right, and you can often avoid entire confrontations - we cleaned out a whole bandit camp without even raising our sword through our sheer strength of personality.
Tell me more about parties
One of the big areas that's being pushed for Pathfinder Kingmaker is that of the party dynamics. Promising over ten (now possibly more than a dozen) characters, your companions here are more than just hired guns - they're a key part of the story, and are never afraid to let you know how they think you're doing. To give you an idea of the contrasts and conflict you can expect, our party currently consists of Linzi, a tiny bard who seems to be smitten with us, and wants to record our hero's journey as it happens; Amiri, a slightly psychotic female barbarian, whose thirst for action is only matched by her very strong sense of morals (only you can never predict which way her morals will lead); and Valerie, a perhaps slightly boring Fighter who still has yet to grow into her character, yet is always reliable in battle. As we hinted at earlier, it was our decision to save some guards trapped by fire ended during the intro that ended up both repulsing some potential party members, and attracting others, with there no doubt being many more moral quandaries to come.
With a stonking soundtrack, interesting story, and great characterisation, we really enjoyed our time with Pathfinder: Kingmaker - and with a good few months to go until it launches, we can only hope the finished product will be even more impressive. Pathfinder: Kingmaker launches "this summer" - keep an eye out for more soon!