September 10, 2021

Gonna start with the good, which is good enough that I kept playing this for thirty-five hours. The
character writing in this is as uneven as a grand-scope CRPG with like fifteen possible party
members can be expected to - about a third are duds. However, the hits *fucking hit:* a
devil-may-care asshole completely unafraid to admit as such who nonetheless reveals his soft
spot in interactions with the youthful Ember alongside romantic declarations towards the PC that
make me blush as much as they're drenched in ten thousand layers of irony, a young witch who
survived being burnt at the stake and believes that while there's no hope there's also no reason
to not fight for a better future as much as possible, a succubus who views all relationships as
purely transactional and predatory and desperately hopes to understand human emotion after
accidentally eating somebody's dreams and getting exposed to true humanity, an impressively
psychopathic blueblood whose identity beneath the mask genuinely surprised me, and several
more that I really enjoyed getting to know.

The narrative in general offers way more branching than I expected. Discussing this alongside a
friend who is slightly past me has been an absolute treat as we casually discuss entire locations,
dungeons, and perspectives the other either missed, ignored, or couldn't access on their
playthrough. The realization that not every character, in fact, becomes party to a council of minor
gods and devils that meet in your closet, and that I had actually permanently missed a party
member by not checking the cellar? That's some Old School Roleplaying that I really enjoy.

Speaking of Old School Roleplaying, the character building is an impressively faithful recreation
of the tabletop RPG, with its omissions in the feat list being clearly intended (rest in peace
Intensified Spell my beloved) and its additions being pretty intelligently considered (i could not tell
you which Mythic Paths were created for the game and which weren't). Building my MC let me
take full advantage of my prior system mastery and its presentation felt remarkably digestible,
which is a *feat and a half* when it's Pathfinder.

The mythic paths, the fairly insane degree to which the party communicates amongst itself
(pretty much every narrative beat at every single location in the game with any meaningful
content had a conversation between a few of the party members I had chosen, and considering
that there are *fifteen party members to choose from* I do not want to think about how much
writing is in this game), and extremely faithful degree of player customization really make this
game fulfill that CRPG and TTRPG fantasy: I spent the whole of my thirty-five hours having a
latent belief that my choices all mattered and had logical consequences, because *a lot of them
do.* A world this reactive is an incredibly impressive accomplishment.

However, this is not a game I played to completion, and that pretty logically implies there's a lot of
bad here too.

One of my biggest issues lies in one of the game's strengths: its pure adhesion and accuracy to
the Pathfinder ruleset forgets that, to be blunt, Pathfinder fucking sucks to actually play half the
time. There's an optional dungeon in chapter three where basically every single enemy has
regeneration, meaning that after their hit points reach zero they will not actually die until you
disable their regeneration either perform a successful coup de grace attack on them or hit them
with electric damage. However, both of those have additional failsafes: those enemies knocked
on their ass can survive the coup de grace attack with a successful Fortitude saving throw, and
casters have to overcome the enemy’s innate Spell Resistance statistic in order for their electric
spells to actually land.

This means that *every single fight in the dungeon* ultimately devolved into watching my
characters slowly whittle down every individual enemy, occasionally smacking them back down
onto the floor, then doing a series of coup de grace attacks and electric spells for each of them.
The aforementioned defenses are, of course, up to you rolling well or not, and you're at the
mercy of the dice. Multiple times in the dungeon, I had to coup de grace enemies *upwards of
ten times* before moving on. Each and every enemy in the encounter had to undergo this
process. Nobody in the party was under any real danger, there was no imminent reinforcements,
and coup de grace-ing them also ensured they wouldn't get back up on their turn. Any competent
GM would end the fight on the spot, prompt players to describe any particularly brutal executions,
and then divvy up loot. However, the computer does not know to do this. The computer plays the
rules-as-written to the hilt, and so the dungeon dragged on, and on, and on, and on, and on.

Additionally, certain niggles with Pathfinder as a system are inevitably going to be emphasized
and de-emphasized at any table. For example, my group does not care at all for D&D (and
Pathfinder, by extension)’s portrayal of morality as a lawful/chaotic good/evil binary. A universal
order of Good and Evil flattens conflict and player expression, and often winds up creating
bizarre adjudications. Thusly, at our table we generally have a mix of reflavoring
alignment-oriented spells to emphasize ideology and shying away from classes that heavily
orient themselves around it. This is, of course, a slightly extreme example - but Wrath of the
Righteous, in its efforts to authentically portray ALL of Pathfinder, also centers itself around these

I’ve already established that I’m not very big on alignment systems, so I won’t bang on my issues
with the game’s particular handling of them for too much. I will say that this game has a uniquely
bizarre issue where the Evil-aligned companions are completely fantastically written, with a real
understanding of the spectrum of behaviors in ways that generally feel both grounded in the
setting and true to life, and then the own player’s Evil choices are almost invariably
cringe-inducing murderhobo behavior. Choices marked [Evil] are very rarely pragmatic, very
rarely calculated, and are almost always simply “[Evil] Well, I’m bored. I’m gonna kill you now!
(Attack)” on virtually every NPC you meet in the wild.

However much my gripes with the game’s faithfulness to Pathfinder may loom, they pale in
comparison to the mechanic unique to the game, the Crusade Mode. As far as I’m aware, the
adventure path used the (terrible) mass combat rules and had light decisionmaking centered
around that. Owlcat deemed it a worthy use of development resources to turn it into a full-on
Might and Magic clone, amassing armies and managing finances. The problem is that this Might
and Magic clone *fucking sucks.*

The second chapter serves as a tutorial and introduction, where your army size is incredibly
limited, your movement is fairly linear, and one fight has you fight a stack of enemies with
damage reduction so absurd that the fight took *twenty fucking minutes of clicking on the single
enemy stack for over 400 turns with zero strategy involved whatsoever.*

Helpfully, the game lets you ignore this godawful and tedious and boring HOMM clone! It warns
you that you can’t turn it back on, and that some side quests may be affected, but what’s the
worst that cou-

why did the game just confront me about sacrificing people to locust swarms in the Abyss

Yeah, it turns out that the strategic layer isn’t actually fully disabled, it just randomly selects
upgrades (that affect narrative branches and the player’s standing) and doesn’t tell you about
them. Confrontations about things the player never did, followups to plot hooks never
established, and a general disconnectedness permeate the game if you decide that, actually, you
don’t want to spend 400 turns clicking on one group of enemies. Additionally, this strategic layer
serves to add several QoL improvements now inaccessible to you, such as teleports around the
world map, which would be highly appreciated when the world map kind of fucking sucks to

The time limits are drastically lessened if not nonexistent compared to what I’ve heard about
Kingmaker, with troop morale being a very indirect ticking clock that can be beaten back with
secondary objectives. This means that pretty much every single system in the game
surrounding travel purely exists to waste your time, and there’s several. Exhaustion mounts
quickly, giving penalties to characters, locking off certain combat maneuvers, penalizing carry
weight (which then simply makes heavier exhaustion even more imminent), and a variety of
popups harangue the player to rest. When resting, however, the player must be mindful of the
steadily-increasing Abyssal Corruption, which mounts until they make the (increasingly lengthy)
trek back to their base camp. When this corruption reaches certain breakpoints, the entire party
suffers... you guessed it, more and more penalties that grow devastating enough as to make
spellcasters a nightmare to even think about playing. Returning to base camp, of course, takes
time too! And in that time, the party will get exhausted, which means taking more breaks, which
means building more corruption, which means...

The entire system fails to impress upon the player the dangers of the world, nor the particulars of
planning a voyage, it simply makes the act of exploring a pain in the ass.

This certainly added plenty of frustrations to my playthrough, but what ultimately broke me was
something far simpler and something to be expected: this game is buggy as hell. On a technical
level it’s fine (sometimes it’d start chugging if I played too long, but whatever) but quest
progression is shaky. Objectives will sometimes not mark themselves as completed, quests
won’t finish, sparring sessions will eat your gear and never return it. My breaking point was
realizing that the game had bugged out and not let me reveal to a person that I found a way
through a powerful barrier *after I found the way through* four hours *prior.*

I’m not fully giving up on this game, and when it works, it really works. However, just like the
tabletop RPG, I am keenly self-aware that I enjoy playing it more in theory than I do in actuality.
Theorycrafting builds is endlessly enjoyable and brain-tingling (if your brain doesn’t light up like a
fucking pachislot machine at the words “13-20(x3) critical hit” this game isn’t for you) and the
(not-terrible) companions are fascinating, compelling, and have a nice rhythm of questline
progression that keeps you invested in them all as the plot goes.

Pathfinder is an intensely flawed system, and the amount of fun I have with it is inversely
proportional to how much time I spend actually playing it as a game with a set of rules to be
followed. As a system to deliver structured narratives within certain confines that are contorted,
tweaked, and subverted to create an endless array of amazing characters that worm their way
into my heart, I love tabletop RPGs. As a system to spend four hours rolling dice to get to a
conclusion we already came to hours ago... not so much. I’ll always get invested, blow up at the
fastidiousness of half of its mechanics, and flame out. It’s just a damn shame that this game is
so faithful to the tabletop experience.