Pathfinder: Kingmaker – Definitive Edition – PS4 Review

This August, a PS4 port of Pathfinder: Kingmaker has finally arrived in the form of Pathfinder: Kingmaker – Definitive Edition. And, while this port faithfully adapts the deep story of the original and adds the turn-based combat option, it’s still plagued by some of the bugs that this edition was meant to eradicate. While the game isn’t unplayable, these problems hinder an otherwise enjoyable experience.

King of content

One of the game’s strengths is the story it weaves throughout many hours of play. While it’s hard to maintain a strong narrative in a game as vast as Pathfinder: Kingmaker, it does a good job keeping you interested. The first chapter embroils you in the feud between the Stag Lord and Jamandi Aldori. Within the first chapter of the game players will join a party and defeat the Stag Lord, then proceed to rule the Stolen Lands. After this point, the game offers a number of different questlines, and I found each a lot of fun. Developers Owlcat Games have done a good job balancing exploration with strong storytelling. And, true to its tabletop roots, you feel like your decisions matter in Pathfinder: Kingmaker‘s story. Each choice impacts how your created character develops.

Performance Lab®  - Not all supplements are the same

The DLCs only add to this sprawling tale with hours more of content to enjoy. You can play in two additional game modes: Varnhold’s Lot, a story parallel to that of the main game, and Beneath the Stolen Lands, an increasingly difficult and ever-changing dungeon for you to tackle. These DLCs, now free with the Definitive Edition, add even more hours to an already huge game, and each is an interesting addition. If you somehow get bored with the main game, try one of these. They won’t disappoint.

Lost in creation

The character creation in Pathfinder: Kingmaker genuinely took me longer than some parts of the story. This isn’t because its super clunky or anything. It’s because there are so many choices! From portraits to ability stats to combat feats, character creation is a deep experience. It feels like you’re making a protagonist who’s very much your own; nobody else will experience the game in the exact same way as you will with your hero (or rogue). But, if you don’t have the time for such a complex system, or just find it a little overwhelming, there are 6 preset characters to select. This lets players get right into the action, without worrying about any mistakes they’ve made before even starting.

Real-time or turn-based, that is the question

The question of real-time or turn0based combat is a big one for all RPGs. Luckily, Pathfinder: Kingmaker lets you choose whichever you prefer. Personally, I found that picking turn-based combat made the game far more strategic, but also far slower, even in minor skirmishes. This sort of combat, with its rolls for attacks and defence, really leaned into the tabletop origins of the game. Pathfinder, after all, was a tabletop series first. The game really functions as a simulator of these older Pathfinder games with the new turn-based system, but, as I’ve said, it sacrifices some of the excitement of your party’s battles.

On the other hand, the real-time combat feels more simple, and makes random encounters with generic enemies much less of a chore. Your companions will attack automatically, and you can manoeuvre freely around the battlefield. Real-time is probably the better option for those who don’t want to obsess over stats. Plus, you can choose to switch between the combat modes any time: just click R3 (for the PS4 version).

To add to all this, combat is based on a deep character development system. Levelling up yourself and your party will let you upgrade various stats and unlock new abilities. If you want to, this can become a huge part of the game, as you can spend hours trying to build the perfect party. It’s another example of the sheer number of choices that Pathfinder: Kingmaker offers the player, and it can be as deep a game as you want it to be.

Kingdom management

The final main gameplay element is managing your kingdom. After the initial chapter, players are placed in charge of their own domain. This part of the game, however, can be tough to take on at the same time as wandering the world of the game. Managing your share of the Stolen Lands is a full-time job, which means it requires constant attention. Problem is, time passes in your kingdom while you’re out adventuring. I found myself returning to a lot of problems many times. The option to have your kingdom automatically managed is available, but, unlike the combat, you can’t switch back and forth. While the kingdom management is an interesting element that makes Pathfinder: Kingmaker different to other RPGs, it isn’t pulled of perfectly. Instead, it adds a sometimes annoying commitment.

Unexplained, and a little glitchy

There are some issues that I had with the game, the first being the lack of a tutorial. The first area of the game, Jamandi Aldori’s mansion, is a story intro. It does very little to guide novice players through the complexities of such a dense RPG. Anybody who isn’t familiar with the pen-and-paper games that Pathfinder: Kingmaker draws so heavily from may struggle to get to grips with everything.

The other issue is the number of glitches in the game. While the Definitive Edition has fixed some of the problems faced by those on the PC version of the game, it has bugs of its own. The game can sometimes crash and need rebooting, more of an inconvenience with frequent autosaves, but a negative nonetheless. Other occasional glitches include problems changing the combat system, and one which began to really bug me: not being able to leave an area. Even when standing at the area exit and pressing “X”, it might take a while to register. Or, sometimes, you might just have to walk away and back again. While none of these bugs are game-breakers, they certainly took away from my enjoyment of the game.

Strong story and questlines
Good DLC modes
Great RPG elements
Deep combat, with two different styles
Lack of tutorial for new Pathfinder fans
Numerous bugs
Often harsh and tricky kingdom management

Review Summary

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Will Hitchcock

Games writer. 'Nuff said.

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