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Pathfinder: Kingmaker (PC) artwork

Pathfinder: Kingmaker (PC) review

"Find the path; lose all of the hours."

A million hours had passed, and my rag-tag group of surly adventurers stood before the fortified gates of the Stag Lord’s stronghold. We’d been through a lot; the core group had bonded together when the lodge they stayed at was overrun by pesky bandits and the survivors of the initial purge had to work together to repel them. Since then, we had travelled to the stolen lands in search of those same bandits in an attempt to wipe them from the realm and take the kingdom for ourselves. But our ranks had grown; magical slaves had been plucked from their so-called masters, foolhardy adventures dumb enough to join the wrong side had been freed and given the chance of redemption. We were hardly an army, but certainly a gathering of capable people armed with all manner of pointy metal objects, and we had waged war on these untamed lands.

We’d liberated trading posts from desperate outlaws. We’d slaughtered spider nests so grumpy alchemists could reach their berry stashes. That one might not have been our most glorious adventure, but wizened hermits need to eat, too. Here’s a better one; we delved into a forgotten mine, long tapped out and abandoned by man, since overtaken by simpler inhabitants. For as long as anyone could remember, the winding labyrinth of crumbling tunnels had served as a home to the kobolds and imp-like mites. They’d lived in relative peace, but something had stirred up a bit of a war between them. We could have gone in and picked a side to champion, or just slaughtered all of them and stolen their crappy weapons from their cooling corpses, but I was feeling benevolent that evening. We delved into the depths to try and find the reason for their newly awoken hostilities.

To Pathfinder’s credit, I could have abandoned my altruistic endeavour at any point and started putting gibbering pests to the sword. There’s multiple ways we could have completed our undertaking, ranging anywhere from stabbing one side in the back and gaining rewards from the other, favouring complete genocide, or seeing our investigation through in multiple shades of competence. For my part, I slunk through the tunnels looking for answers, pausing only to stab giant insects and curse at my struggles against the roving undead because I didn’t yet have enough gold to buy bludgeoning weapons that would have made their pummelling easier. I got to the bottom of things, slew the cunning instigator and then tricked both sides into viewing me as a holy deity-slash-saviour. When we left the tunnels, we left them a thriving cult dedicated to the undisputable greatness that is me, their sacred relics pilfered and replaced with whatever junk I had on my person at the time.

We’d settled wars, so what chance did a puny outpost of smelly bandits have? Fearlessly, we marched right up to the front gate, smashed that nonsense down and got instantly mobbed to death by platoons of now alert, well-armed, ne’er-do-wells.

I shouldn’t have been surprised; unlike Elder Scrolls and its ilk, Pathfinder’s massive range of monsters, demons and house-sized slugs have set statistics, not ones that grow as you do. This means that you’re not free to just gallivant around the countryside killing everything that looks at you funny and you will stumble across enemies considerably stronger than you. When this happens, your only option is to run the hell away and come back later. Once, brash and overconfident, we explored a seemingly random field and sought out an ominous looking cave within its depths. It wasn’t my first spot of impromptu spelunking; I’d destroyed wolf lairs, stomped out insect swarms and razed smuggler’s dens, all housed within similar environments. Only this time, the cave was teaming with stinking wererats. They tore my travelling party to shreds with little in the way of fuss. Which sucked.

Eventually, I returned after I’d gained a few levels and absolutely destroyed them, to great satisfaction. It would have been fair to suggest that I would need to do likewise if I wanted to rid myself of the Stag Lord and his fortress of doom. Resigned to this fate, I skulked around the fort’s outskirts, killing the odd unfortunate scout and the smatterings of roving undead that called the local ruins home. And that’s when I came across my salvation. There was a part of the fence in obvious disrepair.

If I could succeed in an agility check, I could steal into the base unseen and perhaps make a play at being a stealthy assassin. Because Pathfinder is an unapologetic D&D game, (the pencil and paper version deviating from the main foundation several editions back to become its own thing), skill checks like this are undertaken by virtual die rolls always happening in the background. They govern everything and they were on my side. I was successful in my check, and stole away inside. One of the leading bandits was chilling by my entry point, and I pushed my luck. I could have just cut him down where he stood, or I could try to either intimidate him into inactivity, or charm him into co-operation. I tried the latter. I won. My ranks swelled.

I decided that, rather than making the same mistake as before and trying to take on the entire fort en masse, I would sneak around and take them out in little pockets. It wasn’t a tactic without risk; the groups of bandits will fight you confidently enough at first but, as soon as the battle started to turn again them, one of them would make a run for the alarm situated near the centre of the compound. Sometimes I was able to snipe runners down with well-plotted arrows of quickly cast magic missiles. For the most part, I just cast web, glued everyone in place, and then caved their heads in.

Eventually I took the fort, and the region was mine. It was far from an easy fight; eventually I ran out of spells and luck and a runner made it to the alarm. Although this bought the attention of the head bandit and his personal bodyguards, I’d slain enough of the camp to dilute the massive numbers advantage they once had. Further shenanigans; the buggers had captured a wild owlbear, locked him in a cage and then enraged it. I guess their plan was to release him into our midst and then chortle as it maimed us. But then I calmed it and wielded it against its captures, which was a fun little twist of the knife. Everyone who was not me or mine was soon dead, the fort was gutted and, after a mere eight or nine hours, the tutorial stage of Pathfinder was done.

This is the bit where my editor gets annoyed. I’m near 1,200 words into this mess, and I’ve not even touched on kingdom building.

At this point all those random monsters milling around out there who want to eat your entrails stop being the only cause of the dreaded Game Over; you’re also expected to run a competent kingdom. During set phases, you’ve given the chance to expand your boundaries, set up new villages, build things like taverns, barracks and windmills to give them a sense of use, and then stop it all from crumbling to dust. It means juggling a lot of tasks; you can make advisors out of your travelling party (and later NPCs who are drawn to your mighty capitol), putting them in charge of the military, the treasurer of the general faith of your subjects. There’s initially five slots to fill but, the more power each advisor gains, the closer you get to opening a secondary slot. For example! A general soon has his hands full with military matters, so can deputise a warden to watch other the guardsmen.

Then you can dole them out to oversee projects, try to capitalise on opportunities or try to sort out problems. This might mean bartering better tax breaks, taking over a new region, or chasing murderous mermaids from your port towns. For the most part, this plays out in the background of your campaign; you’re told how long a task will take, during which time an advisor is still available to adventure with you, but can take on no other tasks. Completion often boosts that advisor’s standings, as well as reaps whatever benefit they may be working towards.

Certain things can snowball your realm into chaos; ignoring important issues plunge your popularity and stability into rebellion and riots. Other issues are more permanent; fail to undertake certain actions in time, and your kingdom is forfeit. You’re barely baron for five minutes before you start getting news of some kind of troll uprising in the swamplands to the west. Trolls are bad news, hard to kill because they regenerate hit points often quicker than you can dish out damage. But they’re susceptible to acid and fire, plus, they’re a nomadic bunch for dribbling idiots with no way to organise themselves enough to be a real threat. Then you learnt they’ve found a way to make themselves fireproof. Then you learn they’ve managed to unify under a warlord. Then you find they’re eating all your subjects and coming for your capital. Strike back quickly, or lose everything.

And so your desperate juggling act begins; you need to be on the front foot to keep your kingdom safe, but need to also be at home enough to help it grow into something worth keeping safe. Or, if that sounds like too much effort, not; you can just mess around with the settings for a few minutes and let the kingdom building nonsense take care of itself so you can focus right in on the best way to stab things. There are all kinds of scope for making things harder or easier on yourself but, sometimes, that won’t mean a thing. Sometimes, you’ll be travelling to your next exploration point and you’ll be ambushed mid-trail by twenty foot tall fire elementals that’ll barbeque you where you stand. Sometimes you’ll fail a string of seemingly meaningless kingdom requests that will snowball into a peasant’s revolt. Or sometimes you’ll come across an abandoned campsite stained with its previous occupant’s blood. You’ll assume it’s just wolves or the remnants of those pesky bandits and delve deeper to explore. But no. It’s a bloody weretiger who turned in the middle of the night, ate all his friends, and has just torn your halfing bard’s health points to nothing in a single action. Seriously, to hell with anything were-related.

Reload. Earmark that location to return to later once a few levels have been gained. Continue adventure. Try to stay alive a little bit longer.


EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (November 05, 2018)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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Masters posted November 05, 2018:

This review is ridiculously long. What do you think this is, 2006?

I'll leave some proper feedback after I've put aside the requisite 3 days to read the review.
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EmP posted November 05, 2018:

You were adequately warned.

It's a lot of game, so it gets a lot of words. It got a bit of a power edit just before posting it, too, which shaved off a couple of paragraphs.

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