Pathfinder: Kingmaker is a game I both love and hate. The sheer amount of options and content, combined with faithfully adapting the tabletop setting makes for an experience reminiscent of BioWare’s Baldur’s Gate, a title that I personally adore. The hate, however, comes from a place of frustration with its openly excessive crunchiness and need to endure the game's multiple technical shortcomings. This is a dichotomy that developer Owlcat Games has grappled with for close to two years, slowly improving Kingmaker with each subsequent patch.
Now, Pathfinder: Kingmaker Definitive Edition takes that step even further outside the comfort zone of Owlcat Games into a new arena, the realm of home console releases. With a brand new interface, a new turn-based mode, and adding all of the DLC for Kingmaker in one package, the question now is did Owlcat Games create a solid port of the PC version of Kingmaker? The answer to this is more complex than you can imagine.
Those that have played Kingmaker in tabletop form will be familiar with the setup. You play an adventurer hired to investigate the Stolen Lands, an area of untamed wilderness in the fantasy world of Golarion. Kingmaker for consoles presumes a familiarity with the Pathfinder setting to an extent to understand some of the more interesting historic details, but for the most part, players can go in blind on their own adventure where they not only begin to tame the Stolen Lands but build their own kingdom in the process.
The most touted new feature is a brand new turn-based mode, which reportedly started life as a mod before Owlcat decided to implement their own version into Kingmaker. In one respect, turn-based combat is a massive improvement to the real-time pause and play style found on the PC ( and don’t worry, PC players, you will get the turn-based mode as an option as well). Strategically placing characters now in appropriate positions to move and attack, measuring out the distance, and having the automatic calculations for range being done with the click of a button is an excellent fit for the game's mechanics.
It is also a mode that plays to Kingmaker’s strengths, namely simulating a more authentic tabletop experience. Turn-based mode opens the doors for more complex tabletop maneuvers being easily tracked, from attacks of opportunity to spell and missile ranges. It also helps to emphasize important but often neglected details that beginner players may miss, such as how movement is limited and how certain actions are free or automatic.
The turn-based mode is not without its flaws, however. The biggest one is how it slows down the game immensely. Kingmaker was already a pretty long game, with a massive number of fights where the player may be outnumbered heavily. If there was ever an argument for a button to skip or fast-forward the actions, it would be these fights, as each character - friend or foe - is given a full turn to move that you cannot speed up.
The slow pace is normally not a major issue, but those massive battles can become a chore to contend with. It also doesn’t help that characters who have been rendered unconscious still get a turn as well; one you can’t skip. Strategically, the reason you get a turn is because you can be revived still. Practically, it becomes an annoyance that wastes five additional seconds in the turn initiative.
While the turn order is the biggest new feature, the console version of Kingmaker translates everything else from the PC version into a new user interface. Many parts of the interface are actually well designed visually; the use of cards to represent the members of your party for example is a nice visual flair that thematically fits the game’s design. In practicality, however, it is a bit of a mess. Scrolling through menus with a dedicated toggle button comes to mind as an example. To fit all of the information of the already menu-heavy interface of your PC counterpart is no easy task in a game that is already information-heavy. The scrolling is awkward at first, but you do get used to it.
Inventory and equipment screens however is another story. There is a dedicated button to switch between the two screens for each character, but selecting items to cycle through is incredibly cumbersome. Items do auto-equip, but to remove or change items requires going through three different menus by itself, from the selected character to the selected action to the re-equipping of the item. The loss of drag and drop and quick clicking characters is a massive blow to the interface's ease of use.
All of this is just the fundamental changes needed to translate the PC interface into a console one. For the most part, Owlcat Games did an ok job on that front; the sake of ease from the PC version was always going to be sacrificed here. This still doesn’t mean the clunkiness of the menus and selection of abilities is not noticeable, however. It is also exacerbated by one other major flaw; the game's filled with some crippling bugs still.
I should note here that Owlcat Games has stated that most of the issues known about the console version are planned to be fixed in a patch. Some of these, however, are too big to ignore. Loss of frame rate and model textures are some visual issues that I have encountered. Some menu items, such as the spellbook option in one of the user interface screens, simply does not work properly; bad news since I went with a wizard as my main character. Some cues, such as completing quests, don't even indicate they are completed properly as well, nor do they tell you of any rewards you receive, they just show up in your inventory.
The biggest bug of all is a particular save-game bug that has plagued me since day one. Every so often, attempts to save the game result in a crash that basically corrupts the save file; forcing me to go to earlier saves. To say the least, in an already 100-hour game that has fairly slow, turn-based combat, this is not a good thing. It also ironically reflects the state that Pathfinder: Kingmaker was in when it first released in 2018, something Owlcat Games has worked tirelessly on to fix for the PC version.
I have no doubt in my mind they will do the same for the console version as well, though, in its current state, it's a hard title to get through. Pathfinder: Kingmaker for consoles is a game I want to like, and with some adjustments, it certainly can be a great port of a CRPG. So far though, it’s not quite there yet.
TechRaptor played Pathfinder: Kingmaker Definitive Edition on PlayStation 4 using a copy provided by the publisher. The game is also available on PC and Xbox One.