When Owlcat games released Pathfinder: Kingmaker, it was the first time the long-running tabletop game ever graced the video game world. Over 10 years of material, Kingmaker was a good - if flawed - RPG that showcases to modern fans the strengths and weaknesses of the classic isometric RPG. Now, Owlcat has a brand new experience to share with Wrath of the Righteous, their sophomore follow-up to Kingmaker.
After some extensive time with Wrath of the Righteous, I can safely say that Owlcat is truly reaching for the stars with its latest offering. If Kingmaker was a callback to classic isometric games, Wrath of the Righteous has all the hallmarks of a modern RPG epic that eschews the classical approach in a number of ways.
Trial and Triumph
Right out of the gate, Wrath of the Righteous has a more triumphant feel to it. You can even hear it in the game’s main musical theme. It borrows a few leitmotifs from Kingmaker, but where Kingmaker was subdued and a small epic in its own right, Wrath of the Righteous goes immediately for a bombastic sound, one that resonates with the newfound sense of epicness.
The musical score is just one indicator. The pacing is also different. If Kingmaker was a slow, long-form campaign, Wrath of the Righteous thrusts you into the action almost immediately. It actually does give it a more linear feeling. There is urgency in your actions, though this makes sense considering it is ostensibly a military campaign you are participating in.
A lot of Wrath of the Righteous has been balanced to the new pacing. Level ups seem to be gained faster, dialogue is shorter and even choices within dialogue are no longer restricted to alignment, instead, it goes for a simple Good, Lawful, Chaotic, or Evil response option. Fights are quicker with more brutal animations attached to them. Magical items are much more abundant, and gold is practically overflowing for you to pick up. Kingmaker was a struggle for resources, Wrath of the Righteous, by the nature of its pretty quick difficulty spike, gives you a ton of resources to use.
Trust me, you will need to use them. Often you will be thrown into massive set-piece battles, especially the early goings of the game. One fight saw my small party and a small group of survivors desperately try to lay siege to a garrison filled with demons. Another saw the defense of a tavern from an invading cultist horde. In many of these battles you are not alone either, you instead have a small army backing you in the fight, and surviving these battles just adds to the feeling of triumph.
Bigger is not Always Better
That feeling of triumph is all about raising stakes and new expectations. When compared to Kingmaker, Wrath of the Righteous is an epic story instead of a rise to power, so Owlcat games decided to go with what I presume is a simple mantra; go big, or go home.
Bigger is not always better, however. For starters, the sheer amount of character options at your disposal has pretty much doubled since Kingmaker. New classes and sub-classes are available to use, new races to try out, and even more features, like adding a background or even a deity to worship, are all part of the character creation process.
The sheer freedom to literally be any class you want is always a nice boon. A Damphir Cavalier with an undead Smilodon as his companion pet is pretty novel. Despite this though, knowing the parameters of each class really helps, and the amount of options available is just an overload of information for a new player. It would not shock me if players, even veterans of Pathfinder, are daunted by the options available. With the brisk pace of the game’s narrative, it’s sometimes hard to really know if you like a class until you're a few levels, and hours in.
This problem was in Kingmaker as well, but Kingmaker’s tutorial area was a decent indicator for deciding if you liked how your class felt. Wrath of the Righteous just puts you in the middle of the storyline. Sure, the tutorial area underground is solid, but the number of enemies and strategies you can employ, even with a higher difficulty level, is simply a joke in comparison.
Larger than Life
Companions also follow this mantra of being bigger. The majority of the supporting cast is just as bombastic and unique, with a lot of them having rather unusual character quirks to make them stand out. Daeran is an Oracle, a holy healer who also happens to be a decadent, evil nobleman out in the battle for the fun of it. Nenio is a wizard who is basically an annoying version of Sherlock Holmes without any charm or wit. My personal favorite so far is Woljif, a Thief who is so shallow and smooth-talking I can’t help but enjoy his company. You even get an intelligent weapon that chimes in every now and then.
This is just a sampling, but none of the companions thus far have any degree of subtlety to them. This is in contrast again to Kingmaker, where the characters had some hints of characterization despite their own one-dimensional quirks. In a lot of ways they actually clash with the narrative. It is an unequal blend of comedy or hijinks to what is effectively a desperate situation.
Of course, you can also revel in that comedy too. There are a lot of moments that are quite good despite being a tonal shift. Daeran’s introduction is a notable example, where you enter his estate only to find prostitutes, bards, and nobles having a party Masque of the Red Death style before Demons swarm in to kill them. It blends the sort of audacity of the situation neatly into the narrative in a way that works.
The big selling point for Wrath of the Righteous is the new mythic track, which works simply by leveling up at what appear to be scripted events throughout the game. Mythical paths basically give you a set of unique bonuses, make you harder to kill, and, depending on your pathway, bestow new powers upon you. For my playthrough, my Damphir Cavalier went on the Angel Mythic Path, which as I level up my Mythic abilities, will grant me the chance to summon Spirit Paladins, imbue my weapons with holy power, and gain access to mythic spells specifically for the Angel path.
How Mythic paths are used in Wrath of the Righteous is also brilliantly executed. For starters, you have to find the path to actually be granted the ability to use it. Some, like the Trickster or Angel, are fairly easy to get. Others, like the Aeon, Azata, or Lich, you really need to scour the first hours of the game to unlock it. Sometimes they are tied to dialogue choices, other times they are found in the game world.
Mythic powers also make your entire party more powerful, putting you on par with most of the Demonic forces you fight and providing a ton of options for character use. As always, the tactical complexity of Pathfinder is still present in the game’s overall mechanics, and with quality of life improvements and faster combat and outcomes, playing through Wrath of the Righteous felt less like a struggle as time went on than in Kingmaker.
Room for Improvement
Of course, there is still room for improvement. One other feature is a mass combat system, where your own crusading legions will go toe-to-toe with enemy forces from time to time. These play out in a classic Heroes of Might and Magic-style, where your units are represented by a number and avatar, and attack in unison against your enemies. It is also slow and boring since contextually it has little to do with your Commander or party. It also is pretty easy to get worn down, which fits thematically but is not fun to engage with mechanically.
Wrath of the Righteous is also still pretty rough around its edges. While the visual fidelity has improved, sometimes animation stutters and struggles to keep up with the ambition of what Owlcat is attempting to showcase. A lot of cutscenes really show the seams of the game, especially early on when you have over 30 or so characters fighting at the same time.
It is also a buggy demo. Kingmakers biggest flaw upon release was how it was riddled with game-breaking bugs. Wrath of the Righteous is attempting to avoid the same fate with their extended beta period for Kickstarter backers, but if the current beta build is any indication some work still needs to be done for the game’s official release.
Going on a Crusade
Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous is ultimately a different beast when compared to Kingmaker. In some ways, it surpasses Kingmaker as well, but in others, the strengths of Kingmaker shine even brighter now. Still, it is a testament to Owlcat games to make two titles, both in the same universe, that feels immensely different in style, tone, and even mechanics.
This is for sure a good thing. Owlcat’s Pathfinder as a franchise has a lot of potentials to be almost an anthology of RPGs set in the world of Golarion. Wrath of the Righteous shows us how an epic adventure can be played in this system. I, for one, can’t wait to see that epic through to its conclusion when the game officially launches this September.
TechRaptor previewed Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous on PC via a beta code. Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous is currently in beta, and will be released on September 2nd.