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When Owlcat Games released Pathfinder: Kingmaker back in 2018, that expansive CRPG with an abundance of classes, quests, and systems came pretty close to being a worthy successor to the Baldur's Gate throne, but it wasn't quite ready to dethrone the king just yet.
And this now leads us to Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous, Owlcat Games' second go at creating a massive CRPG based on a deep tabletop ruleset. Older, wiser, and more experienced - the developers had every opportunity to create a truly spectacular video game here. But were they successful? Read on to find out.
Just When I Thought I Was Out
Not getting any younger myself, I have to admit I had my reservations prior to diving into Wrath. At this point, I generally prefer my video games to last somewhere between 20 to 40 hours. Anything more, and I tend to lose interest. As such, the prospect of getting lost in a massive campaign was a bit daunting.
That didn't last past my first day with the game. The clock was showing around 3 in the AM when I vaguely remembered that sleep was a thing people did. And perhaps even more shockingly, that enthusiasm persisted, and for several weeks my life consisted of two things: Pathfinder and Not-Pathfinder. With the latter being a remote afterthought.
So, above anything else, it's important to note that the game is very fun to play, and it does manage to evoke that rare feeling of wonder that comes with exploring a truly deep and expansive RPG.
Now, as you might have guessed, Wrath is using some iteration of the Pathfinder tabletop ruleset, which makes my job a bit tricky, because if I were to sit here and explain all of Pathfinder's quirks and intricacies, we'd be here all week.
In short, the game is based on the first edition of Pathfinder that in turn is a spiritual continuation of Dungeons & Dragons' third edition. D&D 3.75, if you will. Meaning that if at some point you've played a D&D RPG along the lines of Baldur's Gate or Neverwinter Nights, you'll know what to expect.
And if you didn't, or if some of the finer details elude you still, Wrath has this neat dynamic tutorial system that pops up every once in a while to give you some useful bit of advice, like if your character has been blinded, and instead of removing that condition you keep fighting like that, or when you have a clearly better item than what you're currently wearing just sitting in your inventory.
And what with this being Owlcat's second Pathfinder RPG, it has more of everything compared to Kingmaker. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that Wrath's character building is currently unrivaled.
You have 25 basic classes all going up to level 20, each with 6-7 subclasses. Then, there are 13 prestige classes and abundant multiclassing options. You also have 12 races (with their own selection of sub-races) to choose from, ranging from the fairly standard Humans and Dwarves to some funkier options like the Oreads, a race of literal stoners, and the daywalker-wannabe Dhampirs.
On top of that, you have backgrounds granting you additional proficiencies and bonuses, as well as what feels like hundreds of feats.
And just in general, the game gives you plenty of options. You can get a dinosaur pet. You can even ride said dinosaur into battle. You also can dual-wield certain shields, which is a very amusing feature to me. Basically, if there were ridable turtles in this game, it would've had everything.
And because all that variety isn't enough, the game also has these so-called Mythic Paths. They essentially act as an extra leveling system that goes up to level 10 and happens in parallel to your main class advancement. Only instead of collecting experience points, you need to progress through the game's story in order to raise your Mythic rank.
Upon gaining a Mythic level, your characters will get access to either a Mythic feat - these usually improve one of their existing ones - or a Mythic ability that can get deliciously overpowered, like being able to extend the duration of most of your spells to full 24 hours, or simply refusing to die for two full turns.
Your main character will also adopt a proper Mythic Path. These will gradually turn you into some powerful being, like an angel, demon, lich, and other things of this caliber. All of them come with powerful abilities that are built to work with both spellcaster and warrior classes, and a decent chunk of unique content.
With me being an Aeon - a cosmic judge-type fellow - I could see disturbances in the Force basically, and had Aeon-specific quests to right them. I was also great at dismantling enchantments, seeing through lies, and even had a chance to engage in some recreational time travel.
And what with there being ten of these paths, this opens up plenty of opportunities for replayability. And before you even unlock your Mythic Path proper, you can also choose a Mythic affinity of sorts that gives you a few extra abilities and doesn't need to align with your actual path.
So, to give you an example, for my playthrough I wasn't engaging in anything remotely close to power gaming and just picked things that seemed appropriate at the time to see where that got me.
I was playing a Barbarian tactician who at first wanted to go the Angel route, it being the first option you get. As such, I picked the Celestial Totem Rage ability. Then, upon discovering Mythic affinities, I went with an Azata boon, that gave me some damage resistances, a strong reliable attack, and a way to give my allies some extra damage.
But when the time came, I turned towards the path of an Aeon, since it felt the most reasonable of the lot. And that made me a paragon of Law, which over time prohibited me from gaining any new Barbarian levels, and so I multiclassed into a Mutagen Fighter.
Being a Barbarian at heart, I ended up as an overall rubbish Aeon, and later on, was tempted to become a contract-signing Devil. But before I was able to switch sides, an altercation with the Prince of Darkness ruined my plans and left me a half-baked Aeon with something to prove.
You see, this sort of organic blending of a game's systems and its narrative, not knowing where your character will eventually end up, it's what makes RPGs so exciting to play. And very few of them offer such a breadth of options and meld their elements together so well.
What's also a clear step up from Kingmaker, is the general clarity and usability of it all. Wrath has a fantastic UI when it comes to character building (and not as fantastic when it comes to everything else).
When creating a character, it's easy to see which options you have at any given moment. And as for the game's abundant feats, there's now a search bar that allows you to look up a specific one or even a group of them based on some common tag. Plus, you can immediately see which other options any given feat unlocks.
Even the bane of many a newcomer to a D&D-adjacent game, the less than obvious stacking of bonuses, has been addressed and whenever there's a conflict of buffs or equipment, you can clearly see which of your bonuses are being wasted.
Or how about another noob bane - specializing in some weird weapon and then not finding any during your adventures. Wrath has this "companion" that's essentially a sentient weapon. And as opposed to most such sidekicks, this guy can transform into any weapon at will. And he gets stronger as you progress through the game, making him always at least a decent choice and allowing you to specialize to your heart's content.
Three Hearts, Three Lions, Three Stooges
And now, with the basic systems more or less sorted out, let's consider the actual campaign.
The game takes place in and around the Worldwound, Golarion's region directly connected to the demonic Abyss. For the past hundred years, the people living there have been locked in a seemingly endless war with an alliance of demon lords trying to use the Worldwound as their foothold to conquer all of Golarion.
During that century of warfare, four attempts to retake the demon-infested lands had already failed. And when your character arrives at the scene and all Hell, pun intended, breaks loose, an opportunity arises to mount Crusade 5, the last of the Worldwound crusades. This is its story.
Over the course of the game's campaign that will take you somewhere in the vicinity of 100-120 hours to complete, you'll get to cross swords with a host of demons and their godlike demon lords, learn more about the origins of the Worldwound and its connections to Golarion at large, deal with the logistics of a military campaign, and meet a stacked cast of pretty unique individuals.
This being a game about a holy crusade, you'd expect a lot of the characters to follow a certain archetype, and the campaign in general to have a somewhat solemn and heroic tone.
That's not exactly the case here. It won't take long for you to start wondering where all the Lionheart and Sturm Brightblade types are hiding. What with the game's theme and Golarion being an everything goes setting, you'd think Owlcat's writers would be fighting over the privilege of writing a Holger Carlsen-type character. You know, the original Paladin. Instead, we get some weird "subversion" of Neverwinter Nights' Lady Aribeth with a couple of vowels swapped around, and a discount Fall-from-Grace.
The game's other prominent Paladin character, the one you can recruit, is an ex-thief who can't remember her vows and mostly just likes getting drunk all the time. And her personal story is played as some joke where through a series of misunderstandings and personal drama you manage to foil a demonic plot.
But at least you can eventually show her the way of a true Paladin. Unfortunately, most of the game's characters are like that, but without the redemption part.
I understand that this is the fifth crusade in a hundred years, and at this point, they're hiring anyone willing to fight, but is it so much to ask just for one modern RPG to at least try and play things straight?
At the same time, the game seems to be aware of how ridiculous some of it gets, and the rare grounded characters are quick to point out the sheer incompetence of everyone around them.
And when you run into a bunch of cultists and overhear them "corrupting" some crusaders with a speech seemingly lifted straight from the playbook of 12-year-olds offering smokes to their peers, and these guys are currently winning, it's hard not to agree with that sentiment.
The weird thing is, I actually liked most of the game's companions. They experience some nice character growth during their stories, and it helps that most of them are pretty good at fighting demons straight out of the box, no multiclassing required.
It's just that, this cast of wacky miscreants doesn't really fit a crusading outfit and would better work in some quaint countryside adventure. Exploring a rich man's mansion on a quest revolving around family secrets and illegitimate children is fun, but it becomes less so when you remember that right at that very moment, a horde of demons is rampaging through the streets, killing everyone on sight.
Basically, if you want to enjoy the game's story content, you have to build a mental wall separating the main storyline from all the side stuff.
The former is reminiscent of Baldur's Gate II in that it takes you to a lot of distinct places and keeps things fresh between its chapters. You start as a nobody but become a crusader, then a leader. You get dragged into a mess of cosmic proportions stemming from the actions of ancient mages. At one point you even venture into the heart of the demonic realm.
But alongside all of this, instead of solemn, thought-provoking ideas, you get wacky hijinks, weird sci-fi dungeons, and drunken orgies. But at least, in all that zaniness, the game actually acknowledges that Tieflings as a race exist purely for the "thiefling" pun, and I have to give it all the credit for that.
Also, and I can't believe I even have to mention this, the game is weirdly horny. Early on, it feels like you can't go five minutes without someone propositioning you. Many of the game's quests revolve around relationships in some way. And when you go to the Abyss, the bulk of the demons you interact with there are scantily clad succubuses. It's basically a teenager's idea of what a mature game should be, and I can't say I enjoyed those parts very much.
All in all, when it comes to the narrative side, your character's unique Mythic journey is the main draw here. The whole Worldwound thing then is merely there to provide some framing for it, and the side content, occasional moments of brilliance aside, barely even bears mentioning.
Moving on to the actual moment-to-moment stuff, I should note that the game's writing doesn't feel translated. Once in a blue moon, you get some typo or a weird-sounding sentence, but for the most part, it all feels natural. At the same time, the game is guilty of overindulging in exposition and frequently shoveling three paragraphs of text onto you where two sentences would do just fine.
The game also has this very annoying tendency of disregarding your choices during dialogues. Many a time you would choose the option to attack someone, only for the game to say, "Nope," and have that character turn invisible, invulnerable, and run away. At some point, the game even lampshades this fact, only to then keep doing it.
Another less-than-ideal thing about the game's dialogues is the way they treat alignment. Instead of offering you organic choices that make sense for your character, or the situation at hand, a lot of the time, you'll just get an optional node with a bunch of replies that serve no other purpose but to move your alignment in a certain direction.
On the other hand, your character's origins aren't purely cosmetic. Playing as a dwarf and a follower of a certain god, I had multiple in-game events reflecting that.
In general, the game has a decent degree of reactivity - with companions getting a lot of love there - and plenty of opportunities to make choices that later on will result in some consequences. In fact, many of the options you have are fairly well-hidden.
For example, at one point there's a traitor in your midst. And while I had my suspicions for who that was, I had nothing solid to pin it on that particular character. After beating that section, I looked things up, and it turned out that you can actually unmask the traitor, and that would affect the chapter's big finale.
So, for all its tonal inconsistencies, it's actually refreshing to play a game where you're not guaranteed to see all the content, where you need to work for it, and sometimes, you just have to accept that you weren't skillful or attentive enough to notice some connection. I loved that part.
The game's itemization also deserves some praise. Very few of its items just give you straight enhancement bonuses. Most of them do something else on top of that, and some even provide additional bonuses when worn by a certain class, or even a character with a specific feat. As such, opening chests has rarely been so exciting.
Beyond that, this is one of the few games where consumables, especially early on, aren't just gold you haven't flipped yet. In the early stages, you'll be using scrolls, wands, and potions like never before if you don't want to rest after every encounter. And you can't really go too overboard with that, because the game has a Corruption system that saddles you with debilitating penalties if you rest too much outside your main base.
And this leads us to the game's overall difficulty. Playing on the Core setting, the way God and Gary Gygax intended, you can certainly beat the game without min-maxing, excessive multiclassing, or using custom mercenaries. It will be quite tough, however.
If in Kingmaker you had to demonstrate some basic understanding of the underlying systems to have a smooth playthrough on Challenging, with the exception of some late-game areas, Wrath will put your skills to the test and require you to use consumables, dirty tricks, and unorthodox tactics just to keep your head above water.
What helps here is the built-in turn-based mode that you can toggle at will. It works surprisingly well and allows you to lock down some of the nastier enemies before they can wreck your party.
On the one hand, this is great. The demons you're fighting come with a long list of resistances and immunities, and that forces you to come up with new builds and strategies well-suited for fighting foes like this.
In fact, this is probably the first game that forces you actually care about properly building your magic users and considering their spell DCs and penetration, instead of just putting them in the back with a crossbow to act as batteries for your melee fighters.
On the other hand, I'm not sure Owlcat knows what Core rules really mean. Sure, the game may not be artificially padding enemy stats, but that doesn't change the fact that it's throwing level 15 enemies against your level 5-7 party, or that the monsters' natural armor is anything but.
And sure, an argument can be made that a video game with abundant magical gear shouldn't be a 1:1 recreation of the tabletop experience, or that for all the overtuned challenges the game throws at you, you do have the tools to deal with them.
But still, it's a fine line the game's walking between a satisfying level of challenge and pure frustration. And while for the most part, it manages to stay fun, certain areas (I'm looking at you Blackwater) evoke some repressed House at the End of Time memories, but now with fewer memory leaks.
And then comes the late-game, and it's like you never left that accursed place, with the game throwing ridiculous encounters at you one after another, made even more frustrating by occasional bugs and, to put it mildly, wonky allied AI.
The game also has plenty of puzzles, both inside its dungeons, and as a big questline spanning most of the campaign. However, the puzzle designer and me, we're clearly operating on different wavelengths. Usually, when encountering a puzzle, I simply had no idea what it wanted me to do.
And generally, I'm for it, because not being able to complete everything in a game, and it fighting to keep its secrets, is a great thing. But at the same time, even after looking up the solutions for some of those puzzles, I still have no clue what the logic behind them was.
Crusader? I Hardly Know Her!
When not exploring dungeons or uncovering the secrets of the Worldwound, you'll be spending a decent chunk of time leading a crusade.
Essentially, right from the start, the game's map will be dotted with demon armies and fortifications blocking your adventuring progress. The armies, you can sneak your way around, but in order to go past the forts, you'll have to capture them. This is where your armies and their Generals (Heroes) come in.
Initially, when it was announced that Wrath would have a game mode inspired by Heroes of Might and Magic, I was pretty intrigued, since some of Owlcat's team members have previously worked on the fifth installment of the Heroes series.
The best-case scenario I could foresee was that this game mode would be a major hit and lead to another Might and Magic situation, where we'd have an RPG series, and side by side with it, a more strategic "Heroes" series.
Well, let's just say, having played it, I don't think anything like this is in the cards. In fact, Wrath's Crusade mode is so undercooked, it feels unfinished more than simply broken.
Crusade mode creatures all have weird stat sheets that list a bunch of irrelevant feats that don't really tell you anything useful about what those creatures actually do. The animations are extremely basic and some, like getting an extra turn due to high morale, don't exist at all. Certain General abilities don't work at all, others are laughably weak, and some are ridiculously strong.
Creature design is, let's just say, lacking. You have your glass cannons with no health but great damage, and your tanks armed with pillows that serve no other purpose than to needlessly drag battles out.
And on top of that, many of the advanced units you can hire are mercenaries, and you can't actually produce them, you just have to roll the dice on randomly getting a few of them at the start of the week, which makes creating a cohesive army all but impossible.
The battle arenas are mostly empty squares with maybe some log sitting somewhere. There are no retaliation attacks, no ranged penalties, and you can't even split your unit stacks effectively for some blocking shenanigans, because each stack counts as a separate squad, and initially, you can only have three squads on the battlefield.
With the system being so basic, you'd think that it at least could act as a nice change of pace for your adventuring. You beat a tough dungeon, you rest and recuperate, and in the meantime, you move some pieces on the board to unlock new places to explore later.
And for a while, it's exactly like that. But then, Chapter 3 starts, and we get an opportunity to pull a Scooby-Doo and unmask the Crusade mode for what it really is - old man Kingdom Management.
Once your crusade gets a permanent base, you're all of a sudden tasked with developing a town and a bunch of smaller outposts. You get a council of advisors with various tasks, events, and resources to manage. You have to deal with an endless conga line of supplicants who all want something from you. And it's all pretty much the same as it was in Kingmaker, countless loading screens included, although here they go by much quicker. Yay!
Honestly, I have no idea why Owlcat keeps trying to slip this feature past us. No one, at least to my knowledge, likes it. At best, people tolerate it.
Beyond just running the game's pacing, the whole thing is simply terribly designed. You can't actually do any strategizing on the strategic layer because you don't have a frame of reference for what you need, which buildings will get you there, and how to plan your settlements.
Early on, you don't even know all the options you'll eventually have. So, you're placing a bunch of stuff, then, when all your lots are full, you unlock a new set of buildings and find out that there are adjacency bonuses. Now you have to demolish everything and start anew.
But the thing is, even if you're just randomly plopping things down, your numbers will still be going up and you'll be fairly successful. The entire thing is a pointless waste of time. But on the bright side, only two of the game's six chapters heavily feature this system. So I guess that's something.
Finally, let's address the elephant. Pathfinder: Kingmaker launched in a completely busted state where pretty much every part of it was broken in some way.
Wrath, thankfully, managed to avoid such a colossal disaster. If you look at it in a vacuum, it's very buggy. But compared to Kingmaker, it's not that bad. Where Kingmaker had memory leaks, crashes, quests that didn't work, companions that randomly died forever, and critical path blockers you had to work around with creative spell applications, Wrath limits itself to stuff that's very minor compared to that.
Just an occasional glitch usually solved by reloading, plus some abilities that don't work, and others that work too well. While not ideal, it all balances out in the end, sort of. You'll have, for example, a healer with two Mythic abilities that do absolutely nothing, but then your Barbarian will get healed to full health every time someone looks at him with kindness, while your Wizard will be able to cast two spells per turn. You just roll with it.
If you power through the game, you may encounter some quests in the later stages that refuse to complete and some broken triggers in the ending slides. But I have a feeling that if you don't push it and play at a reasonable pace, by the time you get to those parts, those bigger issues will be sorted out.
As mentioned earlier, the game's UI is great for character creation. But when it comes to inventory management and everything else, really, it could definitely use some work. Because the game allows you to cook food, brew potions and scribe scrolls, your inventory will gradually get filled with piles upon piles of clutter. You add to that the actual loot, the various quest-related items, numerous consumables, and a bunch of random junk you've no idea what to do with, and you get a complete mess of an inventory screen. Sure, you can sort all that stuff, but with everything represented by tiny icons, it's really easy to lose track of what you're looking for.
And on the main screen, inspecting enemies is super clunky, and the hotbars you have are sorely lacking. Sure, they're exactly the same as Kingmaker's, but you'd think that between games some advancements would've been made.
Plus, what with the Mythic abilities and a heap of activatable items, you just have a lot of things you want to have handy, which means you don't want to have spells taking up valuable real estate. But, as far as I'm aware, there's no key you can press to bring up the game's spellcasting menu, not to mention a convenient quick cast menu like the one in Neverwinter Nights 2.
On the plus side, one of the biggest persistent issues Kingmaker had - long loading times - seems to have been solved. Wrath doesn't take too long to either save or load. It does become more sluggish towards the end, but it's nowhere near Kingmaker in that regard.
At the same time, the game is now significantly more resource-intensive for some reason. And while, with the exception of an occasional random frame drop, Wrath runs pretty well, it taxes your system like there's no tomorrow.
From my layman's position, I blame the game's new rotating camera feature. After all, now that you can freely rotate the camera, it means there's a lot more to render. This, as far as I'm concerned, is a lose-lose situation, because all the new rotatable camera did for me, was introduce some confusion and elevation glitches. Oh, it also made it easier to get turned around, especially in the Abyss, where you have to keep rotating the camera in order to progress.
This aside, the game looks significantly better than its predecessor, but the real impressive thing about the presentation is the music. Some of the tracks, especially those related to the Mythic Paths, and some of the boss themes, are absolutely fantastic.
The game's voice acting is less impressive, but thankfully, Wrath still sticks to the tried and true partial voice acting scheme where only the important dialogues are fully voiced.
And finally, the game's options menu is really good, with plenty of available options, clear descriptions for what everything does, and a deeply customizable difficulty tab.
As you can see, Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous has some issues, and it would be dishonest not to point them out. However, that doesn't change the fact that the game is still incredibly fun to play. And even if it does outstay its welcome a bit, before that happens, it offers a good hundred hours of solid role-playing entertainment.
And since pretty much no one else is making anything quite as deep these days, you take the good with the bad. A new Baldur's Gate this is not, but it's the closest thing we've got.