Review – Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous

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Overview

Developer Owlcat Games
Publisher META Publishing, Owlcat Games
Genre CRPG
Platforms PC
Release Date September 2, 2021

A while back, I was given the pleasure of reviewing Wildermyth, a charming entry in the storied genre of tactical RPGs. Its unique blend of modular storytelling and easy-to-understand mechanics made it a perfect entry point into a genre that I had, up to that point, heavily disliked. In addition to that, I’ve recently begun exploring the very extensive world of Dungeons & Dragons with a few friends. I suppose this combination of events gave me the hubris to take on a “grown up” CRPG when I was given the opportunity to review Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous . So…is this bastion of the genre worth your time? That depends on whether or not you’re already used to being knee-deep in grime, guts, and garbage nat-1’s.

‘Tis but a scratch!

Content Guide:

Violence: Pathfinder’s isometric viewpoint renders all violence relatively minor, but it’s nonetheless notable. Blood spatters when characters attack, and you’ll hear screams of pain and death rattles as enemies die. Particularly strong attacks can dismember characters, sending heads and rib cages flying across the map. Bodies remain after battle for you to loot. One story element involves characters consuming human flesh to gain power. Characters, including your own, make frequent threats such as “I’ll cut you wide open” and “I’ll rip you apart.”

Spiritual Elements: Pathfinder is heavily spiritual. The main story centers around the Crusaders, servants of the goddess Iomidae, and their war against the demonic horde from the Abyss. You directly encounter and fight demons and cultists who follow Baphomet, and your paladins can pray and lay on hands to heal. Characters cast spells to hurt and heal. You’ll explore cult hideouts, complete with pools of blood and the bodies of unfortunate victims of human sacrifice. The aforementioned cannibalism grants spiritual and physical power to those who partake. Your character can choose a Demon Mythic Path, which will lead them into these dark forces.

Alcohol/Drug Use: There are taverns throughout the game where characters partake in alcohol. You use potions to heal wounds and other stats.

Crude Language: Profanity is littered throughout, though not to an inordinate degree. D***, a**, b****, s***, and hell make appearances.

Sexual Content: Several female characters appear in revealing clothing. There are occasional references to sex and sexual acts. One of the characters early in the game is in a homosexual marriage.

Review:

Like I said, I was feeling my “CRPG Wheaties” and decided to take on Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous, a sequel to Pathfinder: Kingmaker. The entire Pathfinder series spawned from the Dungeons & Dragons universe. This means that the mechanics are extremely similar to a traditional D&D campaign, complete with rolling characters, rolling for initiative, skill checks, and more.

You’ll start out creating your character, and instantly, I realized that I was not in Kansas anymore. Dozens of classes, more than I was even aware existed, greeted me, followed by just as many, if not more, race selections. Combine that with sub-classing and racial bonuses, and Pathfinder’s extremely comprehensive character creator is sure to satisfy even the most obsessive of min/maxers.

I won’t go into all the details of the character creation, as we’d be here all day. It’s worth noting that the game does give you a selection of pre-rolled characters if you’re not quite feeling up to creating your own. I appreciate this addition for the less-experienced RPG players. However, as I soon found out, that sentiment doesn’t penetrate very far into this game.

Once you’ve actually started up your adventure, you find your character being carted into Kenabres, a crusader city. You’ve been badly injured after fighting a demon horde outside the city, but you’re quickly healed by Kenabres’ protector: a dragon named Terendelev. She tells you to rest and enjoy Kenabres’ City Day festival. You do, and everything is going swimmingly until a demon named Deskari attacks the city. Within moments, Terendelev is beheaded, and you’re sent into the depths of the city, presumably left for dead.

Of course, you’re the protagonist, so you’re very much not dead. In the abyss beneath the city, you meet a paladin named Seelah, a spirit hunter named Camellia, and an archer named Anevia. Together, you work to fight your way back to the surface.

Thus begins the sizable story of Pathfinder. As far as how that story is told, I was impressed. There’s a wealth of voice acting, and while there are moments that are less than stellar, overall, the performances are solid. The writing, too, is strong on the whole. There’s a bevy of flavor text to fill out the plenteous dialogue, and though there are a couple times where it veers toward the melodramatic, it’s solidly written.

In addition, the game’s music is absolutely stellar. Sweeping, grand fanfares encapsulate the adventure from the very first moments. When you’re in the dungeons, the music comes down to a whisper as you troll through the dank halls, only to kick back up to a crescendo when you encounter enemies. I do have a slight gripe about the length of the tracks, which I’ll get to a bit later, but overall, I loved the music on display here.

However, now we come to how that design blends with the gameplay. With no real signposts or landmarks, locations begin to feel monotonous very quickly. There were points early on in the game where I simply got lost and couldn’t figure out where to go next. I’m fine with a game not holding my hand, but Pathfinder straight up smacked my hand away and told me to use my map. That would be acceptable if I could use things within the world to mark my place, but there’s nothing like that. In addition, since you have full control over your viewpoint, sometimes I would make myself even more lost because I was seeing the world from an angle I wasn’t used to. All this led to far too many frustrating “what do I DO?” moments pretty early on.

And that brings me to the all-important aspect of the gameplay itself. Gameplay is separated into two major categories: exploration and combat. The majority of your time in Pathfinder will be spent directing your party through the various locations you’ll explore. You can click to send one character, or select all your characters and send them in a formation. The entire game can be controlled with the mouse, though there are keyboard shortcuts for spells and item use. The interface isn’t exactly user-friendly, using more symbols and shorthand than an IKEA instruction booklet, but with enough practice, you’ll get the hang of it.

But despite the developers’ best efforts, exploration just feels…off. This might go back to my having a hard time navigating the environments, but I never felt like I was in full control of the party. It felt more like I was suggesting a place for them to go, and they’d do whatever they wanted to do in order to get there. When I only had one character selected, it was better, but trying to maneuver all of them got frustrating. Instead of the thrill of managing multiple units to explore a location more effectively, it felt like I was controlling stiff chess pieces one at a time, making what should have been a quick exploration take MUCH longer than it should have.

As you explore, you’ll come across various elements in the environment that will prompt some kind of “check.” This means the game rolls a dice and adds your character’s stat modifier to see if you pass the check. For example, if you need to vault over a chasm, you’ll need to perform an Acrobatics check. If your character has a +2 to their Dexterity, that 2 will be added to whatever roll you get. If your final number is more than the check requires, then you pass. Otherwise, you fail. This sounds great in concept, but in actuality, there’s often no consequence for failing these checks. This means that you can simply click on the prompt over and over again until you win, which makes me wonder why the check is there to begin with. Other checks, like Perception, are a little more involved and have some risk and reward to them, so it’s not that the check mechanic itself is bad. However, there are enough pointless instances that it makes the mechanic as a whole feel a little half-hearted.

When it comes to combat, if you’ve played any sort of RPG like D&D, then you have a basic grasp on how Pathfinder handles its skirmishes. When you get into an encounter, all characters, enemy and friend, will roll for initiative to determine their attack order. You can choose to play the game in real time or turn-based. I went turn-based for most of my playtime, as I like taking the time to strategize, but it’s nice to have the option if you’re more of a “think on your feet” player. On each turn, you have a movement action and an attack action. For your attacks, you can use your weapon, cast a spell, or make an unarmed strike. Once a character’s turn is up, the game automatically moves to the next character, giving you control if the character is in your party.

This is where the game started to really fall apart for me. Yes, the exploration was clunky, and yes, the skill checks felt pointless, but they were absolutely thrilling compared to the combat. Everything felt so dull and lifeless that I had to force myself to keep going. It felt like every time I tried to do anything more than a basic attack or move, the game told me it was unavailable, but not why it was unavailable. I read all the tooltips and tutorials, and I couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t use any of the more advanced techniques. I even managed to remove a spell from my hotbar and for the life of me couldn’t figure out how to return it.

This makes the combat drag on for far too long, to the point that it felt like I was just standing next to the enemies waiting for my turn to swing a mace. And yes, I could have gone real-time, but I like strategizing and planning my moves, and I’ve played games where turn-based combat feels just as engaging as real-time combat. This just felt like a disappointment the whole way through.

In fact, if I’m honest, I found most of my time in Pathfinder to be some of the dullest gameplay I’ve ever experienced. The exploration feels sluggish and confusing, the skill checks feel arbitrary, and the combat is absolutely zombified. Nothing has any punch or life to it. On top of all that, the music for enemy encounters only has about a two-minute loop, meaning that I would get about three turns into a battle before the music simply stopped, leaving my characters shouting and grunting in a silent void until the music decided to kick back in. It felt like the game was actively fighting against me using any interesting abilities in combat, forcing me instead to use the basics because they at least WORKED.

One last note on the content of the game overall: this game does not shy away from the macabre and downright gruesome. Again, the isometric viewpoint keeps you at a distance from the carnage, but the amount of straight-up Satanic imagery at the very beginning of the game was off-putting, to say the least. The game does make it very clear that these are dangerous and destructive forces, and I didn’t feel like it was glorying in it in any way, but still, if you’re at all sensitive to spiritual content in media, steer clear here.

Conclusion

The difficult thing about reviewing games like this is that, objectively, I think Pathfinder is a high quality game. It has a lot of effort put into its world, and clearly the mechanics are fleshed out beyond anything I could even imagine. There’s a lot of game here for people who are willing to dig into the mechanics and learn how to best exploit them to their advantage. But for someone like me, a relative newcomer to CRPGs, there’s nothing here that entices me to keep playing. I was so bored for my entire playtime that I have no interest in ever returning, and it has undone a lot of the appreciation I’d been garnering for the genre. It feels a little like playing a D&D campaign with a DM who’s been playing for 25 years and has no patience for players who don’t understand the intricacies of builds and min/maxing their characters. The game might as well have been saying “What? You don’t know how this works? How can you NOT know that?” I was never properly introduced to the way the game works, and then I was punished with sluggish gameplay for not understanding.

At the beginning of this review, I mentioned Wildermyth. What I loved about that game was how it opened up the genre of tactical RPGs to the most greenhorn explorers out there, and subtly taught me how to think like a strategist. It was open, clear, and not bogged down by extensive mechanics. Pathfinder, on the other hand, expects you to be able to understand the inner workings of dice-based RPGs from the get-go, and if you don’t, then you will not have a good time. And you know what? That’s fine. I’m sure a veteran of the genre would have a blast with this game. There’s certainly enough content here to satiate the fiercest of RPG appetites. But if you’re anything but a veteran, you’re better off finding a different path altogether.

The Bottom Line

 

Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous is a beautiful CRPG with solid mechanics, but for any player that is less than a veteran of the genre, it's a sloppy, soggy mess of an experience that kills any desire to learn more.

 

7.0

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Wesley Lantz

Wesley's first memory of video games is playing through Super Mario World with his mom when he was 3 years old. Since then, he's been a classic Nintendo kid, but has branched out to the far lands of PlayStation in recent years. He enjoys the worlds that video games create and share with their audiences, and the way video games bring together collaborators from so many different disciplines like music, visual art, literature, and even philosophy. He is an advocate for excellency in all things, but isn't immune to a few guilty pleasure games, which may or may not include Disney's Party for the GameCube.

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