I have never had a chance to play proper Dungeons & Dragons or a similar tabletop RPG of D&D's magnitude. I always had the enthusiasm for fantasy fiction, but never the group. And so, I turned to video games to fill that gap. There have been so many good fantasy fiction games over the years, but most of them force you to limit your imagination to the confines they present you with. That said, I don’t think I have ever played a game that limited me less in my own creativity without letting me overpower it than Owlcat Games’ Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous. A sequel to Pathfinder: Kingmaker, there is certainly a structure and story here, and those are good. That said, the way in which you cut your own destiny within Wrath of the Righteous might be as close to the creative freedom of a proper tabletop RPG campaign as I've gotten out of a video game adaptation of one.
Angels & demons among us
Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous starts off with a bang. In the opening act after you craft your character or pick a preset, you see a demon demigod slay a full-size dragon with a giant scythe, watch them cut a city in two with an incredible cleft, discover an ancient subterranean ruin with a prophecy that you may be the reincarnation of an angel, and climb to the service to band together with survivors. From there, you desperately establish a foothold of defense against a chaotic demon invasion. That could be like… the full plot in another game.
However, Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous isn’t just an A-to-B game either. The city of Mendev and the world beyond need your help. What’s worse, the demons have a plan to corrupt a sacred artifact and possibly ruin the world. It’s a scramble to keep your home base safe, amass allies and weaponry out in the world, and turn the tide against the demons before that ruin comes. In the chaos, you decide who will get your assistance, what kind of allies you will gather, what threats you will challenge, and whether your approach to the challenge will be one of lawfulness, chaotic whimsy, good-natured, or ruthless evil.
Along the main quest, Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous is full of unique stories and side ventures to explore. Some are simple, some frustrating, others actually quite funny, and some epic and riveting, all accompanied by decent enough voice acting and a pretty great orchestral soundtrack. Killing a demonic minotaur at the gates of your home base in a stormy battle is quite epic. Conversely, there’s also fun to be had when you discover a scientific character quizzing demonic cultists only to find they don’t know a lick about the demon overlord they’re killing and/or sacrificing folks over. She might be my favorite gainable companion and Wrath of the Righeous is filled to the brim with interesting discoveries and surprises like that.
Moreover, that whole “reincarnation of a holy being” thing doesn’t exactly go away. As you venture through the game and interact with supernatural beings, so too do vivid memories and visions come to you, prompting you to answer to the urges within yourself. This culminates in Mythic Paths, of which there are a few. You might have a choice to give into evil rage to smash your foes into bloody pulp under your power or reach deep inside to grasp the light and drench foes in dazzling holy judgement.
Good and evil aren’t the only options, either. You might discover an instinct that has you acting rather insane and inflicting other beings to partake in your madness or one that lets you foresee pinnacle moments of past, present, and future at specific places. At each of these moments, you make a choice that will lead you to powers, benefits, and consequences that can cut you off from other Mythical Paths. An angelic savior can’t exactly make the choices that would befit a deadly lord of liches. That is to say, Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous has a really great story with fantastic characters and moments throughout and a ton of replayabillity to explore all of the narrative freedom it offers.
An extensive character sheet
I mentioned far earlier that Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous begins with the way you shape your character. Those who just want to jump in have little to concern themselves with. You can just pick a preset character and start the game. However, it’s in making your character that Wrath of the Righteous really spreads its creative wings. There is an incredible collection of races, classes, subclasses, stats, dispositions, religions, alignments, and more that have affects on how you see and interact with the world and how it sees and interacts with you.
Here’s the character I went with: I decided on a Kitsune (fox person) rogue, specifically a Sylvan Trickster - very good at sneaking around, stabbing backs, and picking locks but with a touch of magic from my Kitsune blood and connection to the fae world. And so, I felt my character would be a traveler and enthusiast of natural lore and magic curiosities with the disposition of one who is generally good-willed, but not willing to necessarily bend to the laws of authority. Chaotic good, in other words. I also chose to be a worshiper of Desna, goddess of travelers, luck, and dreamers, all within my realms of interest and being.
Among the companions I gathered, I was the weak one in fights and forced to rely on the strength of others to be my bulwark. However, I was also able to strike a decisive blow, spot and disarm a deadly trap, use my fae wiles to hex foes or my fox magic to charm them, with a worldly knowledge to guide me through situations that would leave others paralyzed in confusion. That knowledge also left me leery of “good” beings that would manipulate my talents for their own gain. That’s the kind of freedom Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous allows you to have in your character build, as well as how you play through the narrative and the decisions it offers to you. Even so, I will admit, the sheer freedom of it all requires you know a bit about what you’re in for and it can be daunting if you haven't brushed up on your fantasy tabletop mechanics.
I think one of the places this is most apparent is in Combat. Battle in Wrath of the Righteous is pretty freeform as well with difficulties that range from letting you win to being outright unfair and you can change the difficulty at your leisure. There’s also two forms of combat. You can do active combat where everything happens in realtime on timers with a pause button to queue up action. You can also do turn-based combat where agility checks determine who goes first and everyone takes a turn carrying out move and combat actions. There's a toggle to switch between the two at your discretion as well.
The problem is that while Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous does have a tutorial system, I don’t feel it’s very well implemented. There are so many systems at play here and even at middle difficulties, making a mistake or not knowing you’re about to make a mistake can be dire. For example, the game warns you only once that there are optional encounters with creatures stronger than any in the area that represent very hard, but rewarding fights. It never tells you when those encounters are coming. After that first time, you can completely chance upon them. Heck, I had an encounter where an enemy was invisible and after it one-hit crit my character, the tutorial then popped up to let me know that invisible enemies could one-hit crit my character. Not game-breaking, but definitely frustrating in the moment.
There’s also the return of a strategy/management system. Though lighter than that found in Kingmaker, it returns in the form of Crusade Management. Eventually you will amass enough forces to take them into strategic battle against armies of demons and their strongholds. In these times, you must manage armies across the map in a very Heroes of Might and Magic kind of way, complete with top down battles between demon forces and your own. You can deploy different combinations of healing, fighter, and mage units, but you must also manage morale, finance, energy, and material points, as well as Generals that can turn the tide of battle. This is a pretty streamlined version of the management system players had in Kingmaker, and you can even automate much of it, but I far prefer the adventuring aspect of my personal part to this tactical conquest-like segment.
Righeousness or ruin in your hands
Owlcat Games captured the creative freedom and magic of tabletop RPG adventure in a way few others do. There is such a good story here with characters and music that really push the desperation of survival in this game’s world. And you get to answer to the ongoing narrative with a character you can truly make your own both before the game begins and throughout the adventure. I wish it wasn’t so unforgiving in its information or that it didn’t deviate so much from the adventure with the Crusade Management, but you can also tone down the challenge at will and automate much of that system to breeze through. Take that for what it is and Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous is one of the most enjoyable choice-driven tactical RPGs I’ve played.
This review is based on a digital copy of the game supplied by the publisher. Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous is available on PC as of September 2 with a console release coming in 2022.
Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous
- Fantastic story and characters
- Great orchestral soundtrack
- Character creation & dialogue choices are extremely open
- Great replayabillity
- Option to lessen or automate pain points is much appreciated
- Enjoyable whether in real-time or turn-based combat
- Assumes you know a lot about Pathfinder and its systems
- Tutorial system is limited & occasionally frustrating
- Crusade Management is a humdrum distraction from adventure
TJ Denzer posted a new article, Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous review: Go your own way
I like that the game is out there, but after kingmaker I do not trust owlcat to make a well balanced fun game, and that review sounds like they didn't consider most of the player complaints from the first one to be valid.
I wish I had a PC or the cash to buy a PC
This thing runs on my laptop. Unity is fairly flexible, runs like shit on high and low end hardware.
Still in the creator.