Pathfinder Kingmaker Preview: Teaching an Old School PC RPG Genres New Tricks (Pic: OWLCAT GAMES)
It seems our passion for classical roleplaying games never went away.
Thats the resounding impression one gets from seeing the success of Divinity: Original Sin II, Pillars of Eternity II, and Torment: Tides of Numenera – unashamedly hardcore RPGs that harken back to what many consider a golden age for the genre.
It wasnt long ago, during the early to mid 00s, that they seemingly went out of fashion. Advancements in tech and the booming console market led to the emergence of a cinematic, action-heavy strain of roleplaying game – Fallout 3, The Witcher, Oblivion and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic being just a few examples.
That said, the demand for traditional RPGs was still there.
Revered classics such as Baldurs Gate, Wasteland, and Planescape returned to the spotlight, no doubt buoyed by the recent surge in popularity surrounding tabletop, pen and paper roleplaying games.
Its clear to see where Pathfinder: Kingmaker draws much of its inspiration. Not only that, this debut from the Moscow-based Owlcat Games uses various systems and settings from one of the worlds most established RPG licenses.
Pathfinder is well known among tabletop and roleplaying enthusiasts, second only to the giant that is Dungeons & Dragons.
In fact, it was born from a modified version of D&Ds 3.5 edition, Paizo Publishing eventually developing Pathfinder into its own successful franchise.
“Your player character will travel between more than 145 locations, up to five companions in tow, completing quests, battling a menagerie of creatures, and generally soaking up Pathfinders rich fantasy universe”
In 2018 there are now more than 200 sourcebooks, not to mention a myriad of fan-made rules, adventure modules, and other supplementary material.
“Paizo are very involved,” said Alexander Mishulin, Creative Director at Owlcat Games, commenting on the relationship between the two companies.
“At a certain point during development we were contacting them on a daily basis, calling them to discuss various aspects. Every character made for the game has been approved with them and when we write some background lore we check with them whether it is correct.
"Theyre very easy to work with – the perfect partners. They are very open to our ideas and even if they dont fit with the existing lore, we discuss and find a way to make it work within the Pathfinder universe.
"Its their baby and one hand they protect it but on the other hand they are very happy to let us try and tell the best story possible.”
(Pic: Owlcat Games)
That story, as Kingmakers name suggests, is centred around establishing your very own realm in the world of Pathfinder.
It borrows from a tabletop module of the same name, allowing players to rule from their seat of power, forging alliances, dispatching emissaries, and expanding their influence within The Stolen Lands.
Beneath this overarching layer is a familiar blend of combat and exploration adept fans of the genre will instantly connect with.
Your player character will travel between more than 145 locations, up to five companions in tow, completing quests, battling a menagerie of creatures, and generally soaking up Pathfinders rich fantasy universe.
(Pic: Owlcat Games)
“We played a lot of the Pathfinder tabletop game and we really liked the setting and lore. Its not just fantasy, its very different. For example, just to the south of The Stolen Lands is a kingdom engulfed in revolution where the people are always fighting, destroying one ruler after another.
"They even have guillotines that suck a victims soul into the blade to prevent resurrection. Its a fun place to visit. On the other hand, if you go far to the north, there is a place where, a long time ago, a starship fell from the sky.
"However, this area is ruled by barbarians. Wherever you go in Pathfinder there is something interesting to explore.”
Despite the lore and setting being well-established, as is the case in many classical RPGs, players are afforded plenty of options when it comes to forging their own epic story.
Naturally, this starts at the character creation screen with a paralysing number of options to cycle through, including 7 races and 10 playable classes.
Then, in typical pen and paper fashion, you will spend points on skills, talents, and attributes, as well as choosing your moral alignment.
In Kingmaker, the decisions you make arent clearly signposted as being good or evil. Theres plenty of grey in between and these choices will have a notable effect on how your personal story gradually unfolds.
For instance, during Kingmakers prologue, at one point you have the option to save some guardsmen or make a beeline to protect the castles ruler.
Amidst the chaos, you can also decide whether or not to break into the armoury and procure some weapons.
These choices, combined with the bevy of dialogue options, will ultimately define who you become, what kind of ruler you are, and how you are viewed by your companions.
Owlcat has put a huge emphasis on fleshing out these characters, Kingmaker featuring 11 total companions.
Aside from each having their own unique skills and combat proficiencies, efforts have been made in crafting their motives, personalities and backstories.
(Pic: Owlcat Games)
As well as working with Paizo, the team also enlisted the help of Chris Avellone, a name synonymous with classic roleplaying games, who has helped bring these companions to life.
When asked what his own favourite RPG was Mishulin laughed, explaining that was the exact question he asks when hiring designers. His answer may surprise you, however.
“In truth, it tends to change all the time but usually I would say Final Fantasy VII. I know I am making a classical RPG and should say something like Baldurs Gate.
"Those games are great and Ive spent a lot of time playing those but I remember how many times I played through Final Fantasy VII and I still enjoy it to this day.”
He went on to explain that his love for VII was mainly due to its supporting characters. Given how inherently long roleplaying games can be its vital, he claims, for the players to become invested in those companions who accompany them.
Yet despite this being Owlcats first game, the Russian developer is far from inexperienced.
“The studio is made up of specialists who have each been working in the industry for 15-20 years. Part of our team came from Nival Interactive who, back in the day, made Evil Islands, Etherlords, and Heroes Of Might & Magic V.”
“Most of the team were working at My.com finishing Skyforge and we started to talk about what we wanted to do next. We have always played a lot of tabletop RPGs and we decided that we wanted a game based on Pathfinder.
"We tried to sell our idea to Paizo and managed to do so. Also, at the time there was a renaissance for RPGs with Pillars Of Eternity and similar Kickstarter projects.”
(Pic: Owlcat Games)
Pathfinder: Kingmaker was another game to join the crowdfunding platform: in 2017, Owlcat ran a successful campaign with more than 18,000 backers and $900,000 pledged.
In truth, Kingmaker was already well into development, bankrolled by Owlcats parent company.
However, like some Kickstarter projects, the team wanted to secure additional funding in order to improve the game and introduce a slew of bonus systems and features.
Aside from netting the developer almost another million dollars to play with, the campaign allowed Owlcat to communicate directly with the backer community, consisting of hardcore, passionate gamers, ready to impart valuable feedback.
Therefore, Pathfinder: Kingmaker feels like a genuine collaborative effort and one that isnt just a quick cash-in on the nostalgia surrounding classical RPGs.
While mid-00sa homage, having an enriched setting, kingdom-building systems, and a focus on character-driven stories allows Kingmaker to stand out as one of the most exciting roleplaying games of 2018.
Pathfinder: Kingmaker is released September 25, 2018 – For more info head over to Steam.