Pathfinder: Kingmaker or…
Woke D&D is at Least Partially Broke
In Pathfinder: Kingmaker, the player is cast in the role of a mercenary leading a team to tame a region known as the “stolen lands,” in exchange for the right to rule said region. An aspect I found pleasantly surprising about this opening part of the game is that it is timed, something I find that you don’t see much of in modern roleplaying games. Your party is competing against another team of freelance adventurers, so if you don’t accomplish the goal within 70 in game days, the other team wins and the game is over. The game is actually quite big on time limits. Most of the main chapters are time sensitive in some way. If you rest on your laurels and spend too much time doing side activities, monsters, bandits, barbarians, and all other manner of threats will invade your lands, the peasants will begin rioting, your kingdom will collapse and the game is over. Time limits also extend to many of the games side quests.
The “pause and play” combat from the classic BioWare D&D games is also present here and plays much as you would expect. I would say that it feels a little poorly balanced though, but i’m sure that is some kind of fault in the slightly tweaked D&D plagiarism upon which the game is built. You can have the best tactics in the world and get absolutely slaughtered. Conversely, there were several instances where I just charged into an encounter with absolutely no thought to strategy and walked off completely unscathed. Indeed, despite looking and playing like a tactical RPG, Kingmaker’s combat seems heavily dependent on sheer dumb luck. A fact that became abundantly clear some time around when my tank, who survived countless encounters with wizards, treants, and even a roc, was decisively done in by a couple of low level kobolds.
Aesthetically, Kingmaker resembles the old BioWare D&D games, but with a generous dose of Blizzard-like cartooniness. Everything is very bright and vibrant, and rendered in full 3-D as far as I can tell, rather than the pre-rendered style employed in the classic infinity engine games, as well as the more recent Pillars of Eternity games from Obsidian. The developers also tried to give each character class a distinct visual design. All in all, it’s nice to look at. That is when you’re not staring at one of the games myriad long loading screens. For a game that can practically run on a potato, Kingmaker has horrendously long load times. Upon launching the game, there is a several minutes long load screen. Loading areas between zones can also be quite lengthy, especially when compared to other party based isometric RPGs currently on the market that I have played. I don’t recall load times in Pillars of Eternity: Deadfire or Divinity Original Sin II (a far more demanding game) approaching anything near the ones that are present in Kingmaker.
The whole kingdom building aspect of this game could also have been handled better. It was one of the things that I really saw pushed hard in the promotional material for this game, and the fact that your a baron plays a pretty central role in the gameplay loop as well as the rather forgettable story. To put it briefly, whenever the time comes when I have to do kingdom management nonsense, it feels like I am playing some type of godawful mobile game. If you’re going to have me building cities and such, I want to be able to get into the minutia. Considering that I’m playing a chaotic evil elven rogue, I want to be able to set a policy that enslaves all non-elven citizens and half breeds, I want to set tax rates oppressively high, something that makes me feel like I’m in control. I also want to actually be able to go out and flush bandits and monsters from regions myself in order to claim them. Conquering regions should be something that feels like an accomplishment, it shouldn’t be handled as some sort of unseen, time lapse event on auto-pilot. That’s actually how kingdom management is handled 99.99 percent of the time, as a series of unseen events that play out in the background. It’s all very hands off.
The fact that auto-leveling seems to be the default for all non player created party members and there is no convenient option to turn it off is also quite irritating. In a party-based RPG, auto-leveling is a terrible thing. The computer is always abysmally stupid with regard to character builds and you end up in a situation where you have a party with a rogue who can’t disarm a trap, a cleric who can’t heal, and a fighter who is made of glass. Kingmaker is no exception to this. I did manage to disable auto-leveling, but that wasn’t before having to restart the game after having ended up in a boss battle with split parties with characters of the very same type I just described.
There are some things I like here, things that I wouldn’t mind seeing RPGs do more often. The timed quests for one, encumbrance affecting your combat prowess and how quickly your characters grow tired, an always refreshing in current year lack of forced crafting. However, the load times, dumb luck combat, idiotic kingdom management, and other smaller technical issues combine to create an experience that is often more frustrating than it is enjoyable. This is to say nothing of the myriad problems in the Pathfinder system itself carried over from 3rd edition Dungeons & Dragons. It’s not unplayable, but it’s not exactly enjoyable.