It’s not often that a game receives a legendary status even before its official release, based solely on its early concept, storyline, and content offered by a limited beta, but that’s exactly what happened to Pathfinder: Kingmaker. It’s even rarer that after its publication a title satisfies all the wild expectations of CRPG fandom and completely earns that fame – but that is also true for this awesome CRPG title. Pathfinder: Kingmaker was universally announced as one of the frontrunners of flourishing CRPG renaissance, which was for the most part based on the fact that it involved legendary Chris Avellone in the role of the lead designer. The additional reason why Pathfinder: Kingmaker project enjoyed such a remarkable publicity from the get-go was that it was based on Pathfinder Adventure Path, a famous pen-and-paper RPG derived from the third edition of Dungeons & Dragons.
Although Pathfinder: Kingmaker was developed under the baton of proven RPG master, much could’ve gone wrong in its execution. After all, a game which relies on so many diverse sources may easily end up as just another insipid replica, a superficial tribute lacking its own identity. Thankfully, that never happened to Pathfinder: Kingmaker and we got a best possible outcome of all – a game that’s obviously firmly rooted in the hallowed tradition of pen-and-paper RPGs and CRPG genre, but that also manages to look, play and feel completely modern. This is a game with an immersive storyline, believable characters, complex gameplay and visual identity based on games such as Baldur’s Gate or Icewind Dale, but meticulously polished like the best antique silverware until it fully conformed to contemporary standards. Granted, you’ve probably already seen most components that comprise Pathfinder: Kingmaker. However, the game combines them masterfully, and it also includes a few fine points which provide it a truly distinctive feel.
We already wrote at length about Pathfinder: Kingmaker when we announced it, and all that we said there about its background, lore and game mechanics pretty much still stands. The game takes place in the world of Golarion and you’ll play as a band of adventurers thirsty of fame, recognition, and something to line their empty pockets. You’ve answered the call of a couple of illustrious individuals who tempted you with an offer no fortune hunter can refuse in his right mind. You are to travel to so-called Stolen Lands and bring to justice (i.e. kill) a bandit king who calls himself Stag Lord. Upon the completion of that deceptively trivial task, you’ll acquire a title of baron for yourself and become the titleholder of infamous Stolen Lands.
Now, even a casual player of CRPG games (if there is such a thing, of course) can suppose what kind of experience awaits him with Pathfinder: Kingmaker. If you expect an attention-grabbing storyline which starts in one direction and eventually somersaults in entirely other, forcing you to play a guessing game to the very end, you’ll be right. Intricate game mechanics with a bunch of classes, difficult combats, and interesting companions? Right again. However, Pathfinder: Kingmaker also hides several elements which aren’t so common. The first is so-called Illustrated Book Episodes, which developers introduced as a nifty way to represent some of the key events in the game. They basically function on the same principle as traditional Choose Your Own Adventure gamebooks: you’ll read a description of the event, and then you’ll get to choose your own path. What makes it considerably more complicated under the surface is that many of the outcomes will depend on the attributes and skill checks of your chosen hero. The other aspect comes into a play when you finally get to govern your hard-won barony. And while some RPGs allow you to build and develop your own castle (remember Neverwinter Nights 2 and Crossroads Keep?), the scope of your duties her will be much greater. Interestingly enough, the shape and look of your barony won’t depend only on your immediate decisions, but also on your alignment (or that of your companions) and other choices you’ve made in the course of the game, without knowing that they’ll prove relevant later on.
And precisely that’s a beauty of Pathfinder: Kingmaker. On one side, this is a slow-paced indulgence made for true connoisseurs of CRPGs which will transport them to the glory days of their favorite genre. On other, Pathfinder: Kingmaker approaches a kingdom building sim game, introducing a new and completely unexpected layer. Both aspects require patience and considerable foresight if you intend to be successful on your journey towards nobility and title. Combined together, they make Pathfinder: Kingmaker one of the most interesting and unique creations of CRPG renaissance.