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Page 3 of 5Story and Exploration
The game's story is based on an established Pathfinder adventure path that revolves around Golarion's troubled Stolen Lands region where nothing ever seems to go right and you, as the region's new ruler, are tasked with sorting it out. From my understanding, the original adventure path is fairly well-respected, so as the bare minimum, the game's story should have been alright.
Alright wasn't enough for Owlcat Games, so they expanded the original story with a new chapter, tightened the main story arc, introduced numerous memorable characters, and added plenty of choices and reactivity into the mix.
Now, I don't know the exact extent of Chris Avellone's involvement with the project other than he wrote one of the companions, but regardless of who's responsible for what, I greatly enjoyed the game's writing. It doesn't assault you with never-ending overly verbose paragraphs nor does it devolve into a barrage of zany quips. It's just a solid old-fashioned fantasy story that doesn't take itself too seriously. In this day and age, a story like this, one that doesn't try to subvert or deconstruct anything, comes like a breath of fresh air.
And even though most of Kingmaker's writers are Russian, the game doesn't feel translated. Sure there are numerous typos here and there, but no more than you can expect to find in any other western RPG from the past few years where it's obvious the developers decided to cut corners and not hire any dedicated editors.
This is especially impressive since there's quite a lot of text in the game, be it the traditional multiple-choice dialogues that feature plenty of skill checks and allow you to reply based on your character's alignment, or the popular these days choose your own adventure sections.
The game's story companions also deserve to be mentioned. Totaling at 11, they all have their distinct backgrounds, personalities, and voices. And despite some less than stellar first impressions, after learning a bit more about the companions during their personal quests, I was struggling to decide who to take along when going out adventuring.
Still, if you don't find the story companions to your liking, you can always just hire some mercenaries and create whatever custom party you want. Just be aware that you should do it sooner rather than later, because as the game goes on, the mercenaries become more and more expensive.
But regardless of whether you go for companions or hire a band of mercenaries, you'll spend most of the game exploring the vast and detailed map of the Stolen Lands, discovering all sorts of areas and points of interest, stumbling onto random encounters, and delving into various dungeons.
All that exploration takes time, quite a bit of it in fact. To the point where the game has actual dynamic seasons. It's a relatively minor touch, but it adds to the sense of this grand adventure that spans multiple years, and so your journey from a fledgling adventurer to a powerful king doesn't just happen in what feels like a couple of weeks.
The passage of time also means that many of the game's quests are time-sensitive. And even though the timers are more than generous, they add a sense of urgency to everything you do and make you think twice before taking frivolous detours while your kingdom is being ravaged by marauding trolls.
And that's just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. There are numerous other features that ensure that Kingmaker feels like a labor of love and not just another by-the-numbers “product.” For example, the game's journal is not a dry checklist of quests, but instead a book your party's bard writes to document your journey; resting isn't just a button you press, but an involved system where you assign camping duties to your party members; and even the monster miniatures that represent random encounters on the map don't just disappear when you defeat them, but instead they fall over and roll away.