Review – Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous
Pathfinder: Kingmaker was a good, yet heavily flawed game. The foundation was solid. Character customization was unparalleled, the understanding of adventuring on point, and it was a clear product of passion for RPGs. However, implementation left much to be desired, balance was absolutely crap, and the headlining kingdom making feature was uneven at best. Updates helped smooth things over, and it’s safe to say it’s in great condition now. Still, there’s a difference between a good to great game, and an amazing to phenomenal one. Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous isn’t just an absolutely phenomenal game. It’s an amazing RPG, at every level we expect from the genre today. It is in fact, possibly the best RPG I’ve ever played. And trust me, I’ve played A LOT of RPGs.
Where else to start with an RPG but with the story. The game is set in Golarion, the world setting of the Pathfinder tabletop RPG. It’s a long established world, with years upon years of history, cultures, and associated adventure paths. Wrath of the Righteous is one of the game’s most well known, and a natural choice for a RPG set in this world. It focuses on the events of the kingdom of Mendev’s Fifth Crusade against the demon infested Worldwound, a hole in Golarion that leads to the Abyss itself. You play as the Commander of this Fifth Crusade, and lead armies of Crusaders against hell itself. Your adventure takes you from leading covert ops against underground cultists to waging open war against Demon Lords themselves.
But while this is truly a quest of epic proportions, it doesn’t forget the smaller stuff. There’s still plenty of quests and side stories dealing with the more mundane things you expect from an RPG. Sometimes you wanna take a break from raining hell down on…well hell, and just take a leisurely stroll through some ordinary dungeon. Or take a closer look at the collateral damage of the Crusade’s war against the Worldwound and assist some innocent unrelated village with whatever ails it. To be clear, this is not a short game. Even just the main story (and who just does the main story) will take you a while, longer than Kingmaker’s even. So anyone looking for a short game, look elsewhere. Anyone looking for the most epic of epic RPGs that will hook you in and seemingly never let go, you’re in the right place.
An epic story isn’t complete without epic gameplay mechanics to support it and Wrath of the Righteous has those as well. For some reason, epic level adventures are a rarity on tabletop and even more so in gaming. The last big one to do it and have it mean something was Baldur’s Gate II with its High Level Abilities. These were post Level 20 progression skills that took things beyond the ordinary power of mortals. Mages gained the ability to summon powerful extra-planar creatures. Warriors gained powerful new mass combat attacks. Clerics received the power to heal and revive whole parties at once. And for a long time this was the epitome of a game taking you beyond standard leveling. No longer.
Wrath of the Righteous has something called Mythic Paths, and they’re beyond anything High Level Abilities could do. These are story driven progression mechanics that allow you to achieve power beyond your level and class. There’s only a handful of them, but they’re far more unique than choosing between Fighter and Barbarian. For example, one of them is the Demon Mythic Path which allows you to embrace the powers of the abyss. Eventually you’ll gain the ability to transform into a gigantic Demon Lord yourself. Then there’s the Angel Mythic Path, where things progress a little differently. The best part about them is that they’re as much story as they are progression. And this is done via character alignment.
At its heart, Pathfinder uses the standard D&D morality system. Good, Evil, Lawful, Chaos, Neutral, and every combination therein. Where it differs, at least when compared to most other RPGs is how flexible and multi-faceted it’s used. We’re all used to making a decision, seeing people’s opinions move along a bar, and moving on. WotR does the same thing at heart, but instead of a bar its alongside the alignment sphere. And that sphere affects how your party treats you, how the world sees you, and even your Mythic Path. You’re not filling a bar to make someone like you. Your decisions shape your personality, and your impact on the world. And it’s inevitable some people won’t like you. Some Mythic Paths will close to you. Your decisions have consequences for both story and customization. And I think that’s phenomenal.
Too often nowadays, choice in RPGs is neutered. Players don’t want to be “punished” for their choices. That’s how we end up with immortal party members. Party Members that won’t leave no matter how they feel about you. And worst of all, story choices that all take you to basically the same end. Because people don’t want to be the bad guy. They wanna be renegades, good guys with attitude. Wrath of the Righteous has no such reservations. Party members die, they can abandon you, you may even have to kill some. Some will even betray you. The story and your Mythic Path progress as you do similarly. To be clear, there is a little playing against type. For example, my Chaotic Neutral Elf had no problem with the Demon Mythic Path. I doubt a Lawful Good Paladin would fare as well though.
A flexible, yet unforgiving, alignment system and Mythic Paths are only the tip of the iceberg though. And don’t worry, Angel and Demon are just the first two Paths you come across there’s plenty more to discover. Then there’s the celebrated Pathfinder character customization system, which is the most complex and intricate system ever. There’s an option for everything, every feature can be tweaked, and you can truly create the build you envision. New here is an almost as impressive character creator, with more things to tweak than in any other CRPG I’ve played. It’s not quite Black Desert, but keeping in mind this is an isometric RPG it’s absolutely stunning. As if all that wasn’t enough, there’s one last major feature that’s basically Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous showing off.
So I learned something interesting about Owlcat Games, the studio behind this and Kingmaker. Apparently a few of their devs worked on Heroes of Might & Magic 5, Ubisoft’s last attempt to treat the M&M license with any respect. If you’re wondering why this is relevant, it’s because WoTR’s big gameplay feature is essentially HOM&M lite. A huge part of this campaign revolves around you leading an army of Crusaders against the Worldwound, and this mode is how it’s represented. It’s basically the equivalent of Kingmaker’s Kingdom Building mechanics, but way more interesting. Essentially you raise an army composed of general Crusader type units, as well as some you unlock via class and Mythic Paths. Then, as you travel across the world map, you engage in turn-based battles on a grid against enemy forces. It’s a lot of fun and shockingly deep for essentially being a mini-game.
The story’s great and epic, character customization is unparalleled in its depth, the alignment system is deep and incredibly flexible, and it even comes with a great side mode. But what about general game mechanics. After all the original Pillars was pretty good, but was destroyed by terrible combat and wonky movement. Thankfully, Wrath of the Righteous has the best combat mechanics and smoothest movement since the original Infinity Engine games. There’s nothing here messing with the game’s flow, movement is smooth and is the best 3D CRPG out there. The transition from movement to combat is equally smooth, and let’s you just play the game versus fighting the mechanics. There’s also a fully supported Turn-Based Mode on top of all this, and while I didn’t play with it too much it’s definitely more fleshed out than Kingmakers’.
What rounds this game out is the looks. To be fair, CRPGs haven’t exactly fared the best in moving to 3D. Games like Pillars of Eternity looked weird and controlled just as awkwardly. The original Kingmaker was the best of the bunch, but even it suffered from some jankiness. All jankiness in the graphics have been ironed out however, and the game is simply stunning. From background, to character models, to effects, everything is eye catching and beautiful. It’s absolutely impressive and it was a game I never got tired of looking at.
However, nothing can be perfect, apparently. There is one big catch with Wrath of the Righteous, one main thing that holds it back. See it runs on the Unity engine. And while plenty of impressive games have been made on this engine, none of them have been isometric CRPGs. To be clear, WotR is a far cry from some of the absolute disasters like Wasteland 2. It only has one major issue, but it’s an issue nonetheless. It’s random and frequent stuttering. It only lasts for a second or two each time, and doesn’t affect playability in the slightest. But it’s absolutely annoying, and only gets more so as time passes on. I’ve never understood why this genre keeps suffering this same issue with this engine, but I wish someone would solve it. Although if a phenomenal highly polished game like this can’t fix it, I fear no one can.
Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous, is an amazing game. It’s far more than anything I could have dreamed for, in every way. I knew the character customization would impress, but I was blown away by the depth and breadth of the Mythic Paths, as well as the absolute mastery of the implementation of the alignment system. Finally, there was the simply fantastic story and party members, which is truly the foundation that no RPG can live without. I honestly can’t remember the last time I played a game that I found just as fun as I did find impressive. With the way this game works, there’s still so many options and paths I have left to see. And it’ll take a while to see them all, but I know I’ll enjoy every moment.
The game is stunning, with hand drawn elements expertly blending in with the 3D models. Lighting, effects, the art style, this game is simply gorgeous.
This is the first modern CRPG I’ve played where the movement and combat gameplay feels just as natural as the classics, no 3D jank.
Voice acting ranges from good to great, and the soundtrack, especially the battle tracks, brings to mind Baldur’s Gate in all the right ways.
This is, hands down, one of the best RPGs I’ve ever had the pleasure to play, at every level. The party, character creation and customization, the story and choices you make, it’s all simply phenomenal.
Final Verdict: 9.5
Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous is available now on PC.
Reviewed on PC.
A copy of Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous was provided by the publisher.