Pathfinder: Kingmaker - Definitive Edition PlayStation 4 Review

A tolerable port bundling one of the best experiences for intermediate and expert Pathfinder players.

By Fragnarok, Posted 21 Aug 2020

Pathfinder Kingmaker originally released on the PC back in 2018. Since then, developer Owlcat Games has been updating the game with patches and features. Pathfinder Kingmaker Definitive Edition includes the base game bundled with all previous downloadable content. Additionally, there are new mechanics including a turn-based combat mode that more accurately simulates the tabletop RPG. Players can select from several pre-made heroes or design their own character from classes and races native to Golarion.  

The hero is among several adventurers summoned by the ruler of Restov who promises to reward the title of Baron (or Baroness) to those that vanquish the Stag Lord, a bandit who has claimed control of the Stolen Lands. Among other colorful guests include the cheerful chronicler Linzi, disgraced Paladin of Shelyn Valerie, brooding Cleric of Groetus – the oblivion deity – Harrim, the crafty Tartuccio, the competitive and blunt Amiri, and the sinister Jaethal. There are spies from neighboring Pitax hiding in these ranks, so the group is split into two parties to complete the mission.

Pathfinder Kingmaker,Paizo,Deep Silver,Owlcat,PlayStation 4

Quelling the Stag Lord serves as just an introduction. In the game proper, the player is named Baron and must juggle duties of adminning a region and personally exploring the Stolen Lands. The player Baron isn’t the only new lord: Maegar Varn is anointed the same day and introduces his right-hand General, the protagonist of Varnhold’s Lot. Their story fits perfectly into the narrative, and players should switch to the side campaign when prompted during chapter 3. This will seamlessly weave the Baron and General’s missions together. Other former PC DLC are well integrated into the console version: the Baron receives dreams nudging them towards Beneath the Stolen Lands - a multilevel or endless super dungeon - and will meet characters from The Wildcards starting at Restov.

Story beats are compelling but most twists are very predictable. It is easy to tell who is willing to betray the Baron or looking out for themselves. But with Pathfinder being a system about choice and alignment, it becomes more engaging with how the player responds to these treasons. There may be an obvious traitor but will they be forgiven, chastised, tortured, exiled, or killed? Some of these potential enemies are also love interests, with the two roles switching between chapters or simultaneously applying. The Baron may end of flirting with the NPC, blast them with lightning, and then profess their undying love all within several hours.

 Pathfinder Kingmaker,Paizo,Deep Silver,Owlcat,PlayStation 4

Maintaining the Barony is the subtle foundation of the game. Unhappy citizens or a weak army can lead to unexpected game overs in the form of rebellions or invasions. It is paramount to start building diverse settlements and establishing a functioning economy right away. Ignoring this can snowball into disaster dozens of hours later. The player can assign party members and other NPCs to take on these daily tasks, using their ability scores to determine success or failure. Most assignments complete passively as time advances, while others force time skips of several weeks. The player can usually tend to their territory while inside its borders, while other major issues require the Baron to hold an audience in the throne room. This can cause the player to rush all over the map, interrupting plans as emergencies crop up. Time management is very important, as some quests will automatically fail if not resolved within their limits, which range from whole seasons to a single day. At other points, the player is given almost too much leeway and will need to dredge through mundane weeks or months for any meaningful development.

While the Barony should always be in the back of the player’s mind, the outward face of Pathfinder Kingmaker is exploration and combat. Using the same rules as the Pathfinder pen-and-paper system, players will traverse and discover the world aided with a set of skill checks. Characters may have expert knowledge of creatures via high Lore, pick locks with Trickery, or swim through a raging river with Athletics. Making these checks will allow intended progression, while failure can lead to unexpected results like fights, injury, jammed passages, or alerted opposition. Other times, the party may resolve challenges with an array of magic spells, solving environmental puzzles, trading items, or by selecting dialogue options.

 Pathfinder Kingmaker,Paizo,Deep Silver,Owlcat,PlayStation 4

When a fight does break out, participants take actions represented over 6-second long rounds. Players can switch between real-time with pause (RTWP) and turn-based mode at any time. With RTWP, all characters take their actions and wait for their cooldown to end before moving to the next 6-second action; players can pause at any point to issue new orders. With turn-based, each character takes their turn individually. This allows one to stop and think about certain strategies and make subtle quick actions like moving only 5-feet, which avoids triggering some counters. While this does allow more methodical commands, in many situations it becomes unnecessary micromanagement. Owlcat has designed many encounters to last no more than 4-8 rounds - approximately 24-48 seconds - yet contain a dozen or more warriors. Relying solely on turn-based combat can stretch a fight out to 5-times its intended length. A great compromise is to use both systems: place advanced tactics while in turn based mode and then execute simple attacks in real time.

All of Pathfinder’s rules can be overwhelming to first time players with no prior experience of the system. Kingmaker does a poor job of onboarding these fresh adventurers in an organic way. The console version provides text tutorials and a full encyclopedia, but most of this will require the player to take time out to study and memorize many terms ranging from “effective caster level check” to “ranged touch armor class”. These are also presented after character creation, where players likely made their hero blindly. For most people, it would be more beneficial to play a few sessions of Pathfinder in real life, and then jump into Kingmaker as a sophomore campaign. Those that truly want to embark on a maiden voyage with Kingmaker should consider using a custom difficulty setting that reduces enemy power or allows an invincible Barony. Another possibility is to use Beneath the Stolen Lands and its dungeon as a training mode to learn rules and test builds. 

 Pathfinder Kingmaker,Paizo,Deep Silver,Owlcat,PlayStation 4

For veterans of Pathfinder pen and paper, they will be both pleased at how faithfully Owlcat has translated the system to consoles, but also surprised by other liberties that have been taken. All characters automatically cast defensively, making it easier to play as a mage. Due to the terrain, flanking bonuses are granted from all directions and even with ranged weaponry, which can allow new strategies to Rogues and Rangers. Players should be wary of Owlcat’s poster child: the Owlbear. The developers seem to be obsessed with over tuning this enemy with extra ability scores, natural concealment, and other imbalanced magical buffs. The Stolen Lands are also littered with monsters without much regard to challenge rating (CR), with brutal Elementals and Were-Beasts lurking near low-level hubs.

Compared to other PC-first RPGs, Kingmaker makes a fair transition to PlayStation 4. Its stability and interface are worlds above Pillars of Eternity, but lacks the natural designed for-console feel found in Divinity Original Sin and its sequel. Kingmaker will always behave like a port, adapting and compromising to the console’s limitations. Players can move characters directly with the left analog stick but will need to frequently switch to mouse pointer to interact with finicky environmental prompts or to examine enemies. When selling to merchants, one will need to trade each individual piece of equipment or stacked potion; only designated “bulk” items can be sold with a single button press. Character sheets and spellbooks are divided into multiple pages that need to be flipped through, instead of all of the information being digestible at once. Console owners will also miss out on the myriad of community-made PC mods that have greatly expanded replayability or balanced combat more fairly than Owlcat’s vision.

 Pathfinder Kingmaker,Paizo,Deep Silver,Owlcat,PlayStation 4

The game shipped by publisher Deep Silver is unfortunately incomplete and with major bugs. This includes the mouse pointer becoming unresponsive and soft-locking due unselectable transitions; menus not opening or closing resulting in overlapping UI; party members falling through geometry; infinite black screens; and every 3-4 hours full game crashes back to the PlayStation 4 home screen. Features like camera zoom are incorrectly mapped on the D-pad and do not function. Party reorganization on the world map is disabled, requiring players to return to their base to switch in members. Custom difficulties do not save, all default to the easiest story mode if any adjustments are made. The encyclopedia is also missing important entries about mechanics, such as the Slayer and most prestige classes being completely omitted. Thankfully, a 17 GB day-one patch has been released to alleviate most of these problems, redesign user interface, and return the game to smoother performance. The few consumers who cannot access patch version 1.01 should wait on purchasing Kingmaker.

The PlayStation 4 version of Pathfinder: Kingmaker - Definitive Edition appeals to an interesting niche: intermediate Pathfinder fans who don’t own or can’t run the PC version. The console port is noticeably inferior, but still an adequate representation. Those that are able to overcome the game’s difficulty, obtuseness, and potential glitches will be rewarded with a very fun and memorable role-playing experience.

Kurtis Seid, NoobFeed

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General Information

Platform(s): PS4
Publisher(s): Deep Silver
Developer(s): Owlcat Games
Genres: RPG
Themes: Fantasy
Release Date: 2020-08-18

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