Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous is a game of tremendous size but the devs didn't just stop at that. They learned from previous mistakes and created a masterpiece that is worth every penny and second invested in it.
Owlcat Games created a game that can easily put to shame the scope of many AAA titles to shame. Various big releases over the years grew in size but lost depth, which caused the gamers to utilise the phrase "wide as the ocean, deep as a puddle" more than they ever wanted.
I'm happy to say that like a Paladin of Iomedae standing in the face of evil, Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous is here to correct that wrong as it offers a scary amount of content in both the scale and depth.
Pathfinder universe is extremely rich in lore, thanks to more than a decade of world-building since Paizo decided to move away from their work on D&D. Owlcat Games took full advantage of this universe and offered players a massive pile of stories they can enjoy while adventuring in Avistan.
Storytelling kicks off with city fanfare and world presentation to immerse the player in this fantasy world but the devs certainly managed to subvert expectations even in the very beginning of the game. This rollercoaster of slow immersion and chaotic reaction to the world persists throughout your time in the most unfortunate parts of Golarion as the hero's party keeps showing more character and the NPCs genuinely inspire curiosity, empathy, awe or disgust, depending on who you interact with.
Environmental storytelling is present but doesn't take the centre stage. Instead, Wrath of the Righteous prefers to give players an opportunity to interact with the world, be it through its population, puzzles or dangers. Each of these interactions has its charms but the sum truly becomes greater than the sum of its parts as you pay attention to the smaller details, learn about the universe and pass various skill checks on your travels.
Since the main way of telling the story in this RPG is to interact with the world, cutscenes are not a frequent occurrence. They happen from time to time to convey something beyond the limits of dialogue and interaction in an isometric game but they do not overstay their welcome. Unfortunately, most of them can't be skipped, which is a thing that will always vex the gamers, no matter what.
That said, you will have to do a lot of reading in order to catch all the beauty and intrigue of the Pathfinder universe. Some of the dialogue has voice acting but it is far away from full VA support. This is bad news if you're not keen on reading but if you don't mind it, there is several books worth of content for you to consume.
On the topic of voice acting, most of it is done extremely well and it's evident Owlcat had capable people working on this part of the game. Whenever you hear someone's voice and see the character or learn about them from a lore entry, all of it fits like a jigsaw puzzle, which provides further immersion into the world.
Considering the D&D roots of Pathfinder, it's not hard to guess what it looks like. That said, Owlcat managed to give players so much choice in creating their characters and party that it can easily overwhelm newcomers to the series or the genre. It may sound and look terrifying at first but the devs didn't just give us a complex system and call it a day - there are measures to ease new players into it.
For example, there are 38 classes, 13 of which are born from the core 25 classes. Each of the 25 core classes has six archetypes. At the very start, while you're trying to figure out what to play, you are likely to get dumbfounded by the amount of choice and variety you have. How can someone not familiar with Pathfinder or D&D stand a chance at the beginning of character creation?
Well, Owlcat provided an option to choose one of the archetypes and then have the game automatically distribute skills, attributes, feats and everything else as you level up.
For those of the inquisitive mind that loves to read and learn, however, the classes and archetypes are just the tip of a beautiful iceberg. You will get to choose from bazillion weapon types, spells and more. You can also choose an archetype and disable auto levelling. Everything is possible in this game.
Once you get into the game and past the character creation, the game will show you the ropes in several ways. One is the pop-up tutorials and another is the ability to just hover your mouse over things you don't understand, at which point the game will open a new page to teach you about it. There is a lot of reading to be done here as well but it is highly fulfilling to see that your power doesn't only grow through levelling your character up.
You, the player, will make your party more capable the more you learn about the game and apply that knowledge to the party. It's in this unique way that Pathfinder: WotR further immerses the player through gameplay just as much as it does through storytelling and showcasing the world.
Furthermore, you can switch between real-time with pause and turn-based combat on the fly, allowing players virtually infinite time to learn about their character, party and enemies and then utilise the best tactics you can think of to overcome the obstacles.
One of the fantastic aspects of Owlcat's title is the addition of new mechanics and minigames that appear between chapters. Just when you think you might be nearing the end, Pathfinder springs a new surprising way to play the game but it's impossible to speak about these mid-game additions without delving into spoiler territory but there is nothing stopping me from commending the devs further for expanding the game as you go. Yes, this refers to Mythic Paths as well but they are not the only mid-game expansions you will get.
Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous manages to lead players through nature, ruins, cities, fortresses and countless other iconic landscapes without having to sacrifice story or gameplay quality. This is largely thanks to the isometric perspective but choosing it also has its own challenges.
Taking a beautiful environment in is not the same when you witness it from the first person, third person or isometric perspectives. However, the world is still 3D and you can turn the camera around to see more than one beautiful shot of the same scene, evidently owing to the exceptional vision and skill of the art and environment folks over at Owlcat.
Character models are not extremely detailed but they don't have glaring issues either. They all look pretty for their part and if there are any flaws that could be seen up close, it is not possible without modding the game in some way since the camera is a bit restrictive when it comes to zooming in and out. This is both a positive and a negative trait since everyone loves having more freedom but let's be honest - if you could zoom into a character's face entirely and see they are not as detailed as their portrait, it would inevitably change the way you feel about the game.
As for the performance, there have been some extreme frame rate dips during the time I played the game prior to the launch, even though the rig I played on was well above the recommended system specs. However, there were a few patches leading up to the release and these drops that originated in a memory leak seem to have been fixed for me.
That said, with Ryzen 5 3600, RX 5700 XT and 16 GB of RAM, one would expect a smooth performance from an isometric game that obviously utilised the perspective to avoid highly detailed models. On the other hand, the sheer size and depth of everything that Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous has to offer would undoubtedly create issues we can't even fathom down the line so it's only fair to cut the devs some slack in this section.
Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous has several editions, ranging from $49.99 to $99 and no microtransactions. The fact that the cheapest version, the one that includes "only" the full game costs less than a AAA title and provides an immense amount of content, really puts the fully-priced big games to shame.
Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous' countless storytelling and gameplay qualities contribute to the proper definition of "RPG", which is something AAA games often like to throw away these days. Simply slapping various colours on armour and weapons, introducing damage sponges without bothering to provide any depth and calling it a Role-Playing Game is an insult to the genre.
Owlcat Games put these flaws of the modern gaming industry into the spotlight in the best possible way - they created a game that showcases what can be done when you pour heart and creativity into the effort to make a player feel like they are in a fantasy world, doing their best, moderate or worst to alter it in a significant way.
In the end, Wrath of the Righteous is like a reverse matryoshka doll - when you're done with a smaller chapter of the game, a bigger one pops right out, offering you even more variety to continue the epic journey and a more distinct sense of wonder. It doesn't waste your time with the mind-numbing grind of any type. Everywhere the players go, Wrath of the Righteous offers beautifully crafted adventures they will be glad to be a part of.
We would like to thank HomerunPR for setting us up with a review copy of the game!