Pathfinder: Kingmaker — Definitive Edition for Xbox review — An impressively faithful recreation of the TTRPG experience

The console version shows just how much effort Owlcat Games has put into improving the experience since launch.

Pathfinder Kingmaker Hero
(Image: © Owlcat Games)

When Wizards of the Coast introduced the 4th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons, a fairly radical redesign of the classic tabletop roleplaying game, plenty of players wanted to stick with the version they knew best. Paizo offered them the chance to do that. Founded by game designers who had originally developed supplemental material for D&D, Paizo launched Pathfinder using the d20 system as a base but introducing their own complex world, signature classes, and epic adventures.

As the game grew in popularity and became D&D's biggest competitor, it was inevitable that Paizo would want to make a video game. The D&D-based Planescape: Torment and Baldur's Gate remain some on the most influential CRPGs, and Paizo wanted to use the medium to both give existing tabletop players a new way to immerse themselves in the world while providing a gateway for video gamers to learn about its systems and setting.

Pathfinder: Kingmaker, which was released for PC in 2018, had great ambitions but a messy execution. By attempting to fully recreate the complexity of Pathfinder down to some of its stranger rules, Owlcat Games created an experience that delighted many experienced tabletop players but baffled and frustrated newcomers. An early encounter involving swarms of tiny spiders proved shockingly deadly as new players tried in vain to smash the bugs with their weapons, not understanding that swarms are immune to weapon damage and need to be killed with fire.

The modding community developed a way to move the game away from the traditional isometric mechanic of real-time combat that can be paused to issue orders to your party of adventurers, allowing players to turn it into a turn-based RPG that better replicated the experience of navigating a fight while sitting around a gaming table.

Owlcat took all of the feedback to heart and worked on a series of fixes while also releasing plenty of DLC that expanded the already massive game and added still more character options. The culmination of that effort can be seen in the Pathfinder: Kingmaker – Definitive Edition, which also brings the game to consoles for the first time.

What I love about Pathfinder: Kingmaker – Definitive Edition

Pathfinder Kingmaker Dungeon

Source: Owlcat Games (Image credit: Source: Owlcat Games)

Pathfinder is my favorite TTRPG, providing a rich world and all the crunchy systems you could want. Pathfinder: Kingmaker is the closest I can get to playing a session of the game without needing a game master to put in hours of prep, including wrangling four of our friends to show up on time.

While you can pick from a handful of pre-made characters and pretty much start playing, you'll want to take advantage of the rich customization options, including all the standard D&D classes and races plus a host of Pathfinder specific options like kineticists, who attack with explosive psychic energy. Even traditional options can be personalized by choosing archetypes, which could imbue your ranger with storm powers or turn your paladin into a bodyguard.

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TitlePathfinder: Kingmaker – Definitive Edition
DeveloperOwlcat Games
PublisherDeep Silver
PlatformsPS4, Xbox One
Xbox Game PassNo
Launch Price$45

You also have a dizzying amount of options when it comes to the higher-level game experience. You can tweak the difficulty in a wide variety of ways, toning down enemy damage and defenses, having your fallen characters get back up after a fight rather than needing to be resurrected with expensive spells, and choosing if you want to be notified every time a decision might push your morality in one direction or another.

The options only multiply when you actually start playing. As you might expect, you'll spend plenty of time talking to both your party members and various NPCs to learn about their personalities, agendas, and how they fit into the world. You've been tasked with taking down a notorious bandit lord preying on settlers in a largely unexplored and unclaimed area known as the Stolen Lands. Still, you'll also wind up being pulled into conflicts that are more fantastical and have higher stakes.

As you explore around a giant map, you'll come across random encounters with all manner of monsters, new areas to explore, and resources you can use to build a kingdom of your own. Your time will be split between traditional adventuring in the field and managing your holdings by deploying party members and other NPCs on missions in a method similar to war table found in Dragon Age: Inquisition or champion missions in World of Warcraft.

Pathfinder Kingmaker Kingdom Building

Source: Owlcat Games (Image credit: Source: Owlcat Games)

The game is based on the Kingmaker adventure path published by Paizo and combines characters and plot elements from that supplement with new elements and characters from other Pathfinder sources. For instance, the game's signature barbarian Amiri will join your party and want to prove her strength by taking on a particularly nasty boar all by herself, yelling at you if you try to even heal her. Your choices will determine which characters are willing to fight by your side and how much of themselves they'll share with you.

While all of the improvements found in Pathfinder: Kingmaker – Definitive Edition has previously been released as DLC or patches, the console version provides one entirely new element: turn-based combat. Developed initially as a player-created addon, the new functionality lets you see all your characters and opponents in the order they will act based on the TTRPG initiative system, letting you methodically issue commands rather than needing to furiously pause to queue up the next action.

I really enjoyed this mechanic in tougher fights where I wanted to be fully aware of what was happening and found it allowed me to appreciate all the little details that go into the game. Impressive graphics bring to life classic spells like mirror image, which summons replicas of your character that confuse enemies. Once you have a good grip on the fight, you can switch back to real-time with the press of a button and just let the solid AI do the rest of the work.

What could be better about Pathfinder: Kingmaker – Definitive Edition

Pathfinder Kingmaker Combat

Source: Owlcat Games (Image credit: Source: Owlcat Games)

The biggest problem here isn't surprising. Pathfinder: Kingmaker is a classic CRPG, and it's just hard to translate that concept perfectly to consoles. While Owlcat has done a good job mapping some key functions to controller buttons, the game overly relies on a cursor mechanic that clumsily replicates the feel of playing with a mouse.

I would have preferred something akin to the action wheel found in the console versions of Dragon Age games or even a more traditional dropdown menu for turn-based mode. You can swap to an action bar that lets you scroll through the abilities and items you've placed there, but that preference doesn't stay selected between turns. It's also annoyingly difficult to use some of the menus, requiring tabbing through cards representing your characters and then still more cards showing functions like equipment or leveling up. The portraits look cool, but a simpler menu system would have been appreciated.

Load screens can also be frustratingly long on an Xbox One, though I'm sure I would have a smoother experience if I was playing on a One X. I'll admit a lot of this just comes down to personal preference as I spend more of my time playing PC games, so I've invested more in my setup. The turn-based mechanic will also be available via a PC patch on the Definitive Edition's launch day, and I found myself just wanting to revisit the game on my desktop to take in the DLC I hadn't kept up with.

Should you buy Pathfinder: Kingmaker Definitive Edition

Pathfinder Kingmaker Chimera

Source: Owlcat Games (Image credit: Source: Owlcat Games)

You should definitely play Pathfinder: Kingmaker, but if you have a decent gaming PC, you might be better off picking up the Imperial Edition Bundle which has everything that the Definitive Edition does and the control scheme the game was build for. If you bought the original game when it came out, it's also a great time to snag a Season Pass Bundle and see how far things have come.

That said, if you have a more modern console and don't mind the controls being a little clumsy, you'll still be rewarded with one of the most satisfyingly fiddly RPG experiences around. Owlcat Games is already working on their next Pathfinder game, Wrath of the Righteous. If they take the lessons learned from Kingmaker to heart, it has the potential to truly live up to the genre staples the developer is looking to emulate.

PC Gaming


Samantha Nelson