We caught up with Owlcat Games, the developer of Pathfinder: Kingmaker, in Berlin earlier this year and we were introduced to the studio's new CRPG. In its last game, the studio used the interest of the Kickstarter community to digitally recreate the growing popularity of the tabletop brand, creating one of the most exciting RPGs of 2018. Several thousand pages of scenarios, character dialogue and item descriptions were created in order to realise a fantasy world detailed enough to impress plenty of players. And even if you didn't want to read that much, thanks to the solid gameplay base, you could at least fight strategic battles in a more classic style.
This almost inevitable successor will try to mimic that formula, with Kingmaker acting as a foundation that Owlcat will build upon with fresh stories and new features (for example, we now can turn the camera angle to our liking). The grand story of Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous will deal with people who break down due to the expectations placed on them. According to creative director Alexander Mishulin, this serious tone is accompanied by the question of whether power comes with a price or not. It should be a serious story, then, one that explores shades of grey and thus fits nicely into the overall fantasy universe of the Pathfinder pen and paper RPG.
The linchpin of Wrath of the Righteous is a massive crusade against an infernal demonic threat that has overrun and subdued parts of the world. The remaining powers must join forces to dispel this dangerous enemy and that's where we come into play. We were shown the second of three acts, around 10-15 hours after the start of the game, where we were looking to recapture the mighty city of Drezen. We began that mission by attending a gathering where our allies went through different options for how best to storm the fortress.
Each member of the party shared their ideas, which actually led to tensions within the group. In this section, it also quickly became apparent that players will have a lot of text to chew through. Interesting facts that appear during the conversations are highlighted in order to offer players an additional overview of a specific topic. For example, if you click on a character's comment on a past event, a new pop-up window opens with a short summary of the situation and (if it's available) we can see which of our own decisions had an impact. Incidentally, Owlcat wants around 10-15% of the dialogue voiced or used in cinematic scenes.
Eventually, we had to choose one of the plans on offer, which turned out to be a prologue for the main mission. Our mission: to sabotage catapults to reduce the danger from artillery fire during the forthcoming siege. Mishulin told us that each of these missions was crafted by the developers to have a different impact on the large-scale conquest. In fact, if we choose one particular path then five alternative scenarios become inaccessible during the same play-through, which is astonishing because Owlcat is planning to crowdfund the project (the developer is once again relying on the community to add additional races and classes) to create an experience that still will last "at least 60 hours".
We were told that after Drezen was liberated from the demons and expanded into our base of operations, a new strategic layer will be added to Wrath of the Righteous. From this point on we can train armies and move them across a world map to battle demons on several fronts at the same time, although we didn't get see how this part of the game has evolved in the build that we played.
Back to our party, and when we entered the battlefield little seems to have changed since we played the game's predecessor. In passive real-time combat scenarios, we have to make strategic decisions and give orders to the different members of our team. We can suspend the action at any given time in order to guide our troops more precisely or get an overview of how the encounter has changed. We didn't notice many dynamic map features, but maybe they will play a bigger role later on. On the other hand, the dungeons - where the best loot is hidden - should be peppered with traps and ambushes, Mishulin explained.
If we move our entire group at once, we can set up our formation to have ranged combatants protected by stronger units. The most important thing here is that you pay attention to the damage and effective reach of spells so that you don't accidentally blow up your friends in the heat of a battle. This should certainly not be a surprise for connoisseurs of the Pathfinder universe, but for a newcomer, it's exciting to realise that we could run out of spells during the missions. Owlcat Games wants to add a total of 1,000 skills and abilities to the game, which should make for plenty of gameplay opportunities.
You can also make the game as easy or as difficult as you want, with the corresponding damage multipliers and options included in the settings. In addition to the number of enemies, resources become scarcer and encounters will be more challenging on higher difficulty levels. If the enemy is wiping the floor with your units and a character passes out for a second time in a mission, they are lost forever, cutting them from your experience for the rest of the game. That is unless you deactivate permadeath in the options and trick death itself. If you still find that you aren't strong enough for a certain mission, you can always look around for artefacts in nearby ruins or find other ways to improve your characters - it is an RPG after all.
We were also told a little about the mythic progression system that makes it over from the pen and paper game. It grants us access to some very powerful abilities alongside the more traditional classes, for example, anyone who turns into a trickster will be able to see through the tabletop rules and influence the dice results that the game is ultimately based on, and a critical failure can be turned into a success through simple cheating. As well as the trickster, we can become a righteous angel, a mighty lich, or a higher aeon (a kind of divine being who is only interested in the balance of good and evil).
How our future adventures are connected and what stories we will one day share in the tavern, only the developers can say. The team is just getting started and the Kickstarter campaign is so they can realise a more ambitious project and find out what the community wants in the game. So far, Wrath of the Righteous has seemed like a broader, more expansive successor that promises fresh and exciting options, with new classes (the Witch and the Oracle have been mentioned so far, with more to follow), a new race, and new archetypes to explore. How that will all come together remains to be seen, but we look forward to finding out more.
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