I picked up Pathfinder: Kingmaker during the Steam summer sale, after having the game on my wishlist for a while. When it originally came out, I figured the game was a second tier “Baldurs Gate-like” game compared to games like Divinity: Original Sin 2, or Pillars of Eternity. I’m happy to report that in some ways, I think I like Kingmaker more than either title.
This is all based on about 20 hours with the game, so by no means a complete review. It’s also somewhat early in the kingdom management part of the game, which from reviews is a very hit or miss aspect depending on who you ask.
With that said, here is why I’m really enjoying Kingmaker; it feels like Baldur’s Gate 3 more than either D:OS2 or PoE. A lot of that is because the ruleset in Kingmaker is based on D&D, which is also what BG was based on. Stuff like armor class, the more traditional stats, what stats weapons have; its all very very D&D, and for me that is a major plus.
Another factor is that ‘zones’ are more similar to BG; not too big, with one or maybe a few set pieces each, yet all feeling like they belong to the same world. In D:OS2 especially, the ‘world’ felt like a series of themed levels (start in the island zone, go to the mountain zone, then the lava zone, finish in the city zone), and the world in PoE2 was a big ocean, which wasn’t bad, but not my ideal. In Kingmaker you move around in a world that just feels very traditional fantasy, and while for some that might be too boring or ‘samey’, for me when its done well, that’s exactly what I want.
I also actually like that not every piece of text is voice acted. I know this was likely done for budget reasons rather than a design decision, but saving voice acting for the important parts helps set the tone, and also decreases on the amount of time you sit back and watch the game rather than play it. Even reading text is more interactive than having it read to you, and in a game with SO MUCH TEXT like an RPG, that adds up. The voice acting itself is good in Kingmaker, especially the banter from party members as you adventure and make camp.
As mentioned above, combat is very similar to BG, in that it’s real-time with pause, and the AI handles your companions well-enough in most encounters. Boss fights can be tough, and you can certainly go to areas you shouldn’t be yet and get destroyed. There is a particularly fun cave with a dragon pretty close to the start, that basically one-shots you, which in a lot of ways makes sense; why in other games are all the dragons and demi-gods always at the end? Wouldn’t a dragon be just as likely to pick a cave near the middle of the map as on the edge?
The kingdom management part of the game (again only a bit into it) for me has been really fun. Its deeper than in a game like PoE where you select one thing, it happens, and you benefit. Here managing the kingdom becomes the driving force for the story, quests, and basically everything else, and is so focal that if you screw up the handling of the kingdom, you actually lose the game (there is an option to have the game auto-manage the kingdom, but that results in you missing a lot of content, as well as rewards).
Kingdom events come in over time, both in the form of problems (don’t handle it and bad stuff happens) and opportunities (handle it well and good stuff happens), which you assign characters to handle. Who you assign matters, both in their success chance and the result. There are also projects, which require more time but have higher rewards. These are tricky because committing a character to one means they won’t be available to help with problems/opportunities as they arise. There are also buildings to build, resources to secure on the world map, and new territories to expand into so you can build more villages/towns.
As you do all this, you gain/lose stat points related to your kingdom, which then loop back into success chance for events and other things. It’s somewhat complex, and you basically get thrown into the deep end fairly early into the game, but overall I think it’s a neat way to move the story forward, and gives the game a unique twist.
If you are in the market for a classic-feeling RPG, Pathfinder: Kingmaker is very good. A lot of early reviews talk about balance issue, but I believe today, with the “Enhanced” edition that has all the patches, most of those issues have been resolved. It also has never crashed for me, and things like loading times are fairly snappy on an SSD.