Up to recently, I was pretty convinced that old-school RPGs were a dying breed – a rare and precious thing well past the point of extinction, kind of like dodos or woolly mammoths. Sure, there were fairly new games such as Pillars of Eternity, Torment: Tides of Numenora, and Tyranny, which continued to walk in the footsteps of the vanished RPG giants. However, I was inclined to write them off as curiosities made for hard-core RPG and tabletop enthusiasts, and all others who are stuck in the eternal childhood as they diligently cast their dice, mumble arcane rules, fight imaginary enemies, and drink tea from “My kiss cures 5 hp” mugs.
Fortunately, it seems that against all odds, a miracle is happening, and the market for this genre is considerably larger than we could even dare to anticipate. If all the stars align correctly, Pathfinder: Kingmaker is scheduled to appear later this year (perhaps even this August), and it’s bound to become one of the defining titles of this new RPG renaissance. This isometric, story-driven, old-school styled RPG is the work of Owlcat Games. In case that you’re unfamiliar with this studio which seemingly appeared out of thin air, you should know that they are an experienced bunch from Nival Interactive and My.com, responsible for titles such as Rage of Mages 2, Silent Storm, Etherlords, and Heroes 5. More importantly, they are led by RPG veteran and master storyteller Chris Avellone, the person who gave us Planescape: Torment, Fallout 2, Fallout: New Vegas, SW KOTOR 2, Neverwinter Nights 2, and other classics.
Another important detail is that Pathfinder: Kingmaker is based on the popular pen-and-paper RPG Pathfinder Adventure Path published by Paizo Inc., which is, in turn, inspired by the 3rd edition of the D&D system. That fact guarantees that the world of Pathfinder: Kingmaker will be totally immersive and intricate. This will be the first gaming adaptation of the Pathfinder universe, and developers promise that a number of well-known characters from Pathfinder Adventure Path will be showcased in the game, which is certainly something that will delight all the fans of the original pen-and-paper RPG.
The Storyline and Setting
Knowing Avellone and his work, the story will definitely be one of the stronger points of the game. Now, plots of all the best old-school RPGs are like avalanches, and Pathfinder: Kingmaker also shares asimilar pattern. What do I mean by that? One of the unwritten laws of classic RPGs is that plot should start slowly, and with seemingly inconsequential quests – as the game advances they will gradually gain momentum, taking you completely by surprise with series of nail-biting twists and turns until usually some grand impending threat of global magnitude is revealed.
Just like its pen-and-paper namesake, Pathfinder: Kingmaker is set in Golarion, an ancient world which already endured countless ages and saw mighty civilizations rise and fall like dominoes. You’ll lead a band of adventurers thirsty for fame and glory, who have gathered in the city of Restov at the behest of Swordlord Jamandi Aldori and Lord Mayor Ioseph Sellemius. It seems that this noble duo has an interesting offer to make – not to mention extremely lucrative. Their proposition is simple: south of their city lies Stolen Lands, a savage and untamed territory mostly untouched by law and civilization, repeatedly claimed and annexed by many surrounding states, but actually owned by none. This land is yours for the taking, providing that you can handle its savage inhabitants and inhospitable wilderness. In exchange for taming this region and thus providing necessary geopolitical stability for the whole region, they will proclaim one hero from your party a baron. There’s only one catch – the region in question is ruled by an outlaw known as Stag Lord. Eliminate him, and the title will be yours. As you see, Pathfinder: Kingmaker starts with a quest that seemingly promises a medium level threat at best – after all, what’s one petty self-proclaimed bandit lord for heroes of that caliber? However, on the eve before your journey to the Stolen Lands, some unknown force attacks the mayor’s manor, breaching all the defenses and decimating the mansion guards. At this point, the plot thickens and will undoubtedly provide us with many revelations and surprises until the very end.
Character Development and Party
Another aspect that will be just like in the grand old days of RPG games is complex character creation and development. Currently, there are seven playable races (Humans, Elves, Gnomes, Halflings, Dwarves, Half-Elves, and Half-Orcs) and each has its own set of racial abilities. There will be at least eleven classes (again with their respective skills and abilities), which will provide you not only with the basic class archetypes, but also with a number of specialists that offer a considerably different gaming experience. For instance, the Fighter class has two special classes: Aldori Defender and Tower Shield, with their own unique features, and the same goes for all the other classes. In practice, that means that at the moment there are 33 classes in Pathfinder: Kingmaker. Add to that equation six primary abilities, alignments (to additionally define the personality of your heroes) and more than 400 different skills and features, and you’ll begin to grasp the potential ramifications of each build.
Of course, expect that all those minutiae of character development will be fully reflected in the combat system. You’ll frequently be forced to pause the game during the combat to assess the situation, and strategically allocate each party member where he’ll do the most damage. Suffice to say, this won’t be another senseless action RPG clickfest, but a careful tactical challenge with plenty of moves, spells, preset and customizable combat formations, and maneuvers that will help you overcome any situation on the battlefield.
What we’ve seen so far promises that your relationships with your party members will be very complex. Naturally, some of it will be scripted, but the rest will probably be based on racial determiners and alignments. Some RPGs allow creating parties consisting of team members of incompatible alignments (for instance lawful good and chaotic evil), which is always an endless source of amusing bickering and personality clashes, while others require strictly homogenous parties. We’ll see how it will be with Pathfinder: Kingmaker, but for now, it is sufficient to say that there will be more than ten companions to watch your back on your journey…or deviously stab a dagger in it, depending on their own individual agendas, dispositions, and the way you’ve treated them.
As the time of its official release is getting closer by the day, it becomes obvious that Pathfinder: Kingmaker has many pleasant surprises in store for keen adepts of the RPG genre, but also for all open-minded gamers who are still to sample their first RPG. One of the most intriguing aspects of Pathfinder: Kingmaker will be the way your kingdom will develop according to your exploits, personality, and alignment. Many factors will be involved in this kingdom building process, and everything will unfold organically, reflecting your decisions – from the choice of the structures in your capital which will influence the profile of your realm, through the relationship with your companions, to your political affiliations. Adventurer, friend, foe, lover, conqueror, benevolent ruler, or a tyrant – this game will let you realize all those roles, and will truly test your mettle while you’re doing it. However, perhaps the greatest thing about it is that it will revive a lost sense of awe and high adventure that existed in some of the older RPGs. As one beloved character once exclaimed: “Camaraderie, adventure, and steel on steel. The stuff of legends! Right, Boo?” Let’s wait until August and see whether Pathfinder: Kingmaker will prove to be the true stuff of legends.