Pathfinder: King­maker

Rule your own king­dom in Pathfinder: King­maker, an old-school RPG in­spired by the clas­sics of the genre.

PC GAMER (US) - - CONTENTS - By Andy Kelly

If you’re fa­mil­iar with In­fin­ity En­gine RPGs, play­ing King­maker is like slip­ping into an old pair of boots. The mus­cle mem­ory I de­vel­oped play­ing Bal­dur’s Gate and Icewind Dale came straight back to me: Backspace to se­lect the party, space to pause com­bat, R to rest, tab to high­light ob­jects in a room. The game wears its in­flu­ences on its sleeve, and even has lauded scribe Chris Avel­lone on writ­ing duty—but, hey, what Kick­starter-funded RPG doesn’t these days? The game be­gins with a band of mis­fits, your­self in­cluded, be­ing chal­lenged to con­quer and name them­selves baron of a ter­ri­tory called the Stolen Lands. The story gets more com­pli­cated and you will even­tu­ally reach the point where you can con­struct your own barony. Other than that, this is as stan­dard as CRPGs get, with mon­sters to slay, dun­geons to crawl, and lots of di­a­logue to read.

King­maker is based on Pathfinder, a table­top RPG re­leased in 2009 as a re­sponse to the di­vi­sive D&D 4th Edi­tion rule­set. This means the com­bat, like Bal­dur’s Gate and its ilk, is based around rolls of vir­tual dice. On lower dif­fi­cul­ties you can al­most play it like an RTS, click­ing your way to vic­tory, rarely paus­ing. But nudge the dif­fi­culty set­ting a notch higher, and strate­gic use of abil­i­ties and spells is es­sen­tial. This is a bru­tal game in places, to the point of feel­ing un­bal­anced, which de­vel­oper Owl­cat is ad­dress­ing with a bar­rage of hot­fixes and patches.

And yes, there are com­pan­ions too, each with their own per­son­al­ity, mo­ti­va­tion and align­ment. Amiri is a chaotic neu­tral bar­bar­ian. Linzi is a chaotic good bard who chron­i­cles your adventures. Jaethal is a neu­tral evil un­dead elf with a mor­bid at­ti­tude to­wards mor­tal­ity. And if your ac­tions con­flict with any of the 11 avail­able com­pan­ions’ per­sonal be­liefs or align­ments, they’ll con­front you or leave the party al­to­gether. When you cre­ate a char­ac­ter you choose their align­ment, but it can change over time depend­ing on the choices you make. There’s a lot of nu­ance to the con­ver­sa­tion sys­tem, and as you might ex­pect, this is a game where you spend a lot of time talk­ing to peo­ple—from chats with towns­folk to life-or-death par­leys. In the pro­logue you’re ac­cused of sev­eral mis­deeds and have to de­fend your ac­tions, which is a nicely con­structed demon­stra­tion of how peo­ple will re­spond to you based on their align­ment.

Sim­i­lar to Pil­lars of Eter­nity, some of the story takes place on the pages of a book. These in­ter­ludes are well writ­ten and il­lus­trated, and of­fer a way for the writ­ers to show you things be­yond what the game’s top-down per­spec­tive will al­low. These also in­cor­po­rate checks for your party’s skills, which can al­ter the course of the story. The writ­ing in the game is in gen­eral solid, but a bit flat com­pared to the rich, evoca­tive prose seen in games such as Pil­lars or Torment— which are, ad­mit­tedly, hard acts to fol­low.

Job Seeker

As for man­ag­ing your barony, you can be as hands-on as you like. It’s pos­si­ble to au­to­mate this part of the game, but do it man­u­ally and there’s a lot to get in­volved in. You can give com­pan­ions jobs, and their align­ment will dic­tate how they ap­proach the role. You can draft trade agree­ments with other towns, or even pil­lage them. You can con­struct build­ings, all of which grant in­come. It doesn’t have the depth of a man­age­ment sim, but it does set King­maker apart from other games in the genre.

There’s a lot to like in King­maker, and it’s clear its de­vel­op­ers have a pas­sion for the In­fin­ity En­gine era of PC role-play­ing. But it hasn’t grabbed me as firmly as those clas­sics, or recent ex­am­ples of the genre’s resur­gence such as Divin­ity: Orig­i­nal Sin or Pil­lars of Eter­nity. The story, vis­ual de­sign and set­ting of­fer lit­tle I haven’t seen be­fore. It just didn’t beguile me as much as I’d hoped. It used to be hard to find a good CRPG on PC, but now we’re spoiled for choice and King­maker doesn’t quite stack up with the best, even if it does get a lot right and throws a few neat new ideas into the mix.

This is a bru­tal game in places, to the point of feel­ing un­bal­anced

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