Pathfinder Kingmaker the PC game is a wonderful adaptation of the six-book tabletop RPG Adventure Path by Paizo publishing. This PC game is based on one of the most popular D&D-esque adventure series to date and was Kickstarted by 18,000+ backers, developed by Owlcat games on the Unity Engine.
The Pathfinder Kingmaker (PK) follows the classic CRPG game formula, similar to Pillars of Eternity and Baldurs Gate. You begin the game in the capital of Restov, where you create your main character, choosing your race, class, stats, etc. You know the drill. Pathfinder is an independent offshoot of the 3rd Edition D&D rules, so if you are familiar with those rules you will certainly be comfortable here. Needless to say, there is quite the selection of potential character builds but their character creator helps you through this.
Getting in to the core game you soon have a small party of companions you meet along the way. Gamers often expect to be able to create their entire party from scratch. In Pathfinder you meet colourful predefined characters that offer to join you on your travels. This adds a sense of depth to your story arc and generates a history of the people that journey with you. Some of the companions are evil, some good, but all have a bearing on the way the game unfolds in a way that provides interesting storylines. I will mention more about their impact in a moment. But it's important to mention that being bundled with pre-set NPCs (Non-Player Character) in your party is likely to upset some people. But I found the benefits of rich character background stories and ongoing adventure plots they provided easily outweigh the negatives. Plus it isn't too long before you can “purchase” a mercenary to join your party if you wish, and through this approach, you can create a party NPC from scratch.
Back to the plot, the ruler of the land needs you to clear out the territory to the South, known as The Stolen Lands, of all its nasty creatures. What's more, whoever does this can claim those lands as their own. Remember this is called Kingmaker, right?
You set off across a map and while you do so the hours and days tick past. Pathfinder Kingmaker tracks the flow of time and this time persistence helps balance everything throughout the game. This includes things like triggering region events and how long you can take to complete them, through to the time it takes for spell effects to wear off your characters or until you get tired from all your traveling and find you are in need of rest, thus you need to set up camp.
Speaking of which, this is one of the key areas where the PC version of the Kingmaker falls over. The devs leave the player guessing on some of the more abstract game management screens. Let me explain. When building a user interface you can rely heavily on preconceived knowledge from the user. For example, I recognise an element on the screen is a button, because I have used buttons that function and look like that before. Perhaps in the game or even elsewhere in the world, maybe it was here on Game-Debate. But unfortunately, there are a few areas in Pathfinder Kingmaker for PC, like the Camp Management screen, that are not laid out clearly in how they work. This can lead to confusion about where bonuses come from or what you need to press to get the game to do something and Kingmaker fails to provide ample tutorials or screen guides.
At more than one point I had to visit official forums to look up the developer posts on how to do certain key things in-game, all the while scared of seeing plot spoilers left in these areas. But even after reading some answers there were still some things I didn't find suitable answers for, because similar to the game the developer’s failed to write their forum posts clearly enough.
This is a significant shortcoming of Pathfinder Kingmaker and the problem finds its way through to one of the Unique Selling Points of Pathfinder Kingmaker on PC. The realm management.
Now it's fairly common knowledge that if you complete the introduction of this game you find yourself ruling and managing the Stolen Lands. You establish your capital and start building it up, getting to choose what type of businesses you want, trying to get synergy bonuses from complimentary businesses and so on. You can then choose to promote some of your party members to help manage aspects of your realm, Treasurer, General, High Priest, Warden etc. And as I mentioned earlier, the backstory and personality of these advisors can lean heavily on how well they do or what they try to influence at certain points in your rulership.
As time passes, the PC version of Kingmaker triggers events that affect your kingdom. Sometimes these require you to venture forth with your party to get to the root of a problem in your lands, or perhaps you are needed on your throne in your castle’s main hall, receiving neighbouring dignitaries or solving local disputes. If you head off too far from the capital then you can't manage any new realm events that pop up, so you need to frequently travel back home to see what is happening and deal with situations that amass in your absence. Obviously traveling back and forth takes time that you have to consider. Remember you promoted a bunch of your party to help you run the kingdom? Well, you can allocate realm tasks to these key diplomats to solve as well.
This flip between realm management and adventuring works incredibly well, making you feel very much like the Baron that you are and is certainly a great aspect of this PC adaptation of Pathfinder Kingmaker. Lots of the realm management in the tabletop RPG version of the game became tiresome and left to the gamesmaster to manage, but is the perfect sort of thing that a computer game can deal with. Again I have to say that some of this realm management is terribly signposted by the devs, leaving players guessing what they might need to do to get the best results or where bonuses are coming from or how to upgrade the capital city.
Random encounters around the realm can sometimes be challenging, and on a couple of occasions, spawned monsters far too powerful for to tackle, which make you think about what you are doing, when and where you will rest, and presenting interesting situations that push your party to their limits. You are encouraged to save all the time and quick save is a quick F5 press and takes but a brief moment. So enjoy these tricky encounters and if you feel outgunned then flee or go into the menu and lower the challenge ratings. The devs have provided us with very advanced options to help balance the way the game plays to meet your needs and you can adjust them whenever you like. My advice, save a lot and often. Don't just rely on the quicksave slot, save periodically in case something odd happens thirty mins down the road that you didnt bank on. Like selling a quest item and not remembering who you sold it to or leaving it on one of the hundreds of maps somewhere and not realising.
Pathfinder Kingmaker on PC delivers content in abundance. You are probably looking at 100-150 hours of fun, fantasy, RPG gameplay. Leveling your party up, completing adventures all over your kingdom, enjoying stories woven with twists, that constantly test your parties ever developing stats. Some narratives draw you back to revisit maps and places you have already experienced. Most of the game maps are persistent, so if you drop something on the floor because you are over-encumbered you can return later and pick it up. There are tonnes of magic items, a huge variety of monsters, some with unique traits, some with a personality of their own.
Upon release, Pathfinder Kingmaker was something of a buggy mess, but we sensed a level of commitment from the indie studio creating it. We were right to hold off with our review for a few weeks as thankfully Owlcat development studio continue to patch out huge swathes of bugs each week.
A final point of contention is the loading screens as they are constant and slow throughout the game. Even if the devs were to minimize the frequency around your capital it would help ease this annoyance. If you wish to leave your capital then you embark on the following lading screen adventure - there is one as you transition from the throne room to bedchamber then one to go back again, then one to go into the town square then one to reach the adventure map. Just hope you don't forget to do something or you have to go straight back through them all again. I strongly recommend an SSD hard drive, to help minimize these load times.
Pathfinder Kingmaker on PC is incredibly fun and rightfully nominated in our Global Game Awards 2018 for Best RPG. Today Owlcat have already made Pathfinder Kingmaker into a beautiful looking, rich CRPG, that delivers a great place to adventure, an interesting land to rule and the tools to carve out a realm that you can call home.