Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous

I am upset, dear readers. Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous is, almost objectively, an astounding game. A truly massive RPG full of intricate systems and with an engrossing story full of replayability. Never before have I been so invested in a game while understanding so little of it. My time with Wrath of the Righteous was mostly characterized by repeated vows to never play it again, only to resume my journey months later as curiosity got the better of me.

The story is simple on the surface. In the lost land of Sarkoris, there exists a giant, interdimensional hole through which Demons can invade the mortal realm of Golarion. The kingdom of Mendev, once Sarkoris’ neighbor, has been locked in war ever since; fighting off the hordes of demons through repeated crusades.

The game begins in the militarized city of Kenabres, situated on the border of the demon party zone. After creating your character, they are brought into the city on a stretcher, having been attacked by demons on their way to a local festival. The demons are not far behind and soon Kenabres is turned into one big battlefield. You then fall into a hole which takes you to the caves underneath the city, where you and other “fortunate” survivors have to find a way out of.

Kenabres acts mainly as a tutorial for the game’s systems and it sets into motion some of the intrigue and story arcs that will remain relevant throughout the game. After Kenabres, the player character is put in charge of leading the next crusade. You and your armies must liberate the ancient fortresses, defeat the demon hordes, and close the rift between dimensions.

It’s a cool fantasy story, made so much deeper by the people who’ll join you along the way. Pathfinder has a rich cast of eccentric party members to team up with, whose stories develop alongside your own. Characters like the Elf Witch Ember, who has a childlike mental state. She seems like a weirdo at first, but keep her around and you’ll notice that her worldview isn’t mere naivety. I was also very fond Regill; a sourly, aging hellknight. He believes that the only way to victory is by strictly adhering to the inhuman military principles of his order. He’s a fascinating character and his advice often convinced me to steer away from making the obvious paragon choices in the game, as I usually do in RPGs like this.

There are also hundreds of quests along the way, many of which are far from straightforward. You can expect twists at every turn and many moments where you get to decide the fate of the world, one little choice at a time.

An interesting addition to the game are the mythic paths. Effectively, you get to decide what kind of creature is the source of your powers. Are you like an angel fighting for order and goodness or a royal dragon elevated above mortal squabbles. Perhaps you’re influenced by Demons, the very enemies of Golarion, or mayhaps you’re something else entirely. On top of all the decision-making already present in the game, these mythic paths add new, personal storylines on top. In my successful game, I ended up following the path of the mystical Azata; curing the land with magic and my indomitable spirit.

The story is very close to a 10/10 for me, though there are some issues. Some storylines fell somewhat flat for me, including the finale that felt awfully rushed. I actually repeated the final battle because I wasn’t sure of why things happened the way they did. One storyline that you spend the entire game working towards also bugged out at the very end, with no way to fix the problem. It’s also a little too easy to miss things and not figure out until it’s way too late to do anything about it. For example, in Kenabres I overlooked a random cellar and missed out on two companions and an entire gameplay mechanic.

Still, those qualms are few and far between. My biggest issue with the game lies in the gameplay.

I don’t play the Pathfinder tabletop game and this adaptation did a surefire job of ensuring that I never will. Its systems are deep, but also so opaque that I was still confused by basic mechanics 200 hours into the game. Either I didn’t understand how these systems worked or I couldn’t believe that their jank was working as intended.

Combat is incredibly complex. It utilizes a wealth of stats and abilities, which vary in application based on context. Every ability and spell comes with its own manual that contains multiple paragraphs explaining what it does. Don’t even get me started on the multiple layers on math it takes to determine whether or not you get to cast a spell. Do you make your concentration check? Do you make your ranged touch attack against the target? Do you get through their spell resistance? Do they make their saves? Do they have immunities? Fail any of that and you waste an entire turn.

You also can’t get away with ignoring any of this complexity, because the game gets insanely hard. Around the midway point of the game, it starts ambushing you with buffed-up super demons around every corner. If you aren’t utilizing the full potential of your buffs and abilities, you’re going to run into battles where you literally can’t hit the enemy on anything except a critical hit. Good luck getting out of those battles with enough of yourself in tact to make it worth carrying on. Changing the difficulty only gets you so far. Even setting the enemies to their weakest, you may still not be able to hit them while they can knock out a level 20 party member in one round.

This wasn’t even fun to me anymore beyond a certain point. Having to browse through overloaded spellbooks to find the one odd spell that counters a certain issue or having to recast a laundry list of buffs every few minutes isn’t fun. I basically had to give up on using magic with anyone but my strongest casters, because late-game even the thowaway enemies have so much spell resistance and saves that nothing ever worked anyway. I felt simultaneously overburdened with choice and heavily restricted.

Several things don’t even seem to work right. Off the top of my head:

  • Healing magic and potions are so weak that I’d have to down 30 potions or use up half my spell slots, just to get a single injured party member back up to full health.
  • I used metamagic to empower my scorching ray spell. Compared the damage dice rolls before and after, and nothing had actually changed. promptly never used metamagic ever again.
  • Restoration, Lesser cures temporary status effects that reduce ability scores. Except when it doesn’t.
  • Freedom of Movement says it lets characters do their turn, even if they are affected by magic that would ordinarily restrict them from doing so. Lann is affected by Hold Person, so I cast Freedom of Movement on him. Lann still skips his turn.

I often wasn’t sure if things were bugging out or if I was failing to understand them due to the game’s poor explanation. Did I have a hard time with the game because it’s hard, or did I mess up my character builds in ways utterly incomprehensible to me? I don’t know and that confusion utterly demoralized me. I quit the game numerous times, taking breaks of several months. Then I’d reinstall it, play until I got into a fight, then alt+F4’ed right after. I restarted the game 4 times and put 220 hours into it before I finally beat 1 campaign.

What I do know for sure is that the game LOVES to waste your time. It delights in being utterly obnoxious. Travel speed across the world map is tediously slow, with a layout designed to make every trip take forever. You’re constantly prompted to fight random encounters or to micro-manage your party’s camp. The game LOVES to throw enemies at you that inflict permanent status debuffs, which you need to cure one at a time through a spell that consumes a valuable, finite reagent. You cast that on everyone, take five steps, then get into the next fight where enemies cast the same debuffs again. Repeat ad infinitum for dozens of hours.

Even if spell effects aren’t permanent, they tend to last for way longer than necessary. If you get caught in a pit spell with no way to counter it, you can be stuck waiting for half an hour before you get your character back. Same with Icy Prison, which renders a character basically useless. No combat encounter is going to last more than a few in-game minutes. These spells have no business lasting as long as they do. Other debuffs aren’t permanent, but will instead take upwards of 15 hours to go away. What’s even the fucking point of that?

The moment where the game becomes near-unbearable is in a chapter where you’re in a magical city. The layout changes based on the angle of your camera and it’s riddled with semi-hidden portals on top of that. You have to backtrack throughout this place a hundred times over and can never just do so on auto-pilot. Even if you prepare the path beforehand, the game spawns in new, overpowered ambushes to catch you off-guard. You have to micro your movement here constantly and I felt it actively drain my passion for the story away. I uninstalled the game thrice in this chapter alone.

I did have fun with the game in isolated encounters. There were tough boss-fights that I got to go into with a fresh party and ample preparation. I even turned up the difficulty at times, just to spice them up even further. The frustration comes during longer adventures, when the game feels like a constant test of endurance and patience.

Keep in mind, all of the above is just the RPG portion of the game. There’s an entire strategy game layer on top of that, which is, somehow, even more tedious. You must build up the armies of Golarion, level up powerful generals, and send these armies out to defeat their demon counterparts. Fortresses dot the map, which open up new areas as you conquer them.

Admittedly, I was quite excited when I first saw this. The gameplay is somewhat inspired by Heroes of Might & Magic, and the idea of marrying RPG and strategy elements seemed amazing. Going on RPG adventures to gain new allies and resources for my army, then have them bring back spoils of war that can aid me in the RPG portion. This does happen to an extent, but the strategy gameplay runs into a number of issues.

Each general can only have a small amount of different troop types of which there are a staggering amount. The influx through recruitment is slow and semi-unique troops are so difficult to come by that it feels wasteful to drag them into battle. Those 6 mages might do a fraction of the damage that a stack of knights will put out and they’ll die if something glares at them too intensely.

While it starts out okay, eventually you’re going to have to clear out such massive armies that you need to bring a staggering force with you. This means waiting week after week after week, slowly letting those recruits trickle in and hope you get the right mercenaries. You need hundreds upon hundreds of dudes and your progress basically stagnates until then. I ended up in a position where I had no quests that I could access, simply because I couldn’t raise the armies necessary to deal with the forts in my way.

The math that goes into the strategy battles is as impenetrable as that of the RPG component. Sometimes a stack of 200 soldiers that took months to recruit gets killed in one hit. Sometimes you can’t do more than tickle enemies to death, no matter what spells you have your general cast on them. Thought you had too few spell slots in the RPG? Those mages from before might be able to cast 3 mediocre spells before becoming deadweight.

Because of the massive time investment in recruiting, I ended up save-scumming a lot. I absolutely could not afford to just let an entire stack of dudes be wiped out instantly. This got tedious quickly and drained much of the satisfaction from the strategy. Then the game pulls a big ol’ prank on you and resets you back to 0. All your armies gone with no way to get them back. You also can’t repeat events that gave you special troops, so have fun doing everything all over again with even fewer opportunities.

You can turn the crusade mechanics off, but this is a monkey’s paw if ever I saw one. Yes, you’ll never have to beg outside the recruitment office again, but the story also makes a lot less sense. You never get to feel like the commander that the game makes you out to be. Even if you do get to make a choice, you may not actually be able to reap the reward from it. Worse still, you basically get locked in on the bad ending by doing this.

Turning the crusade off also doesn’t mean it’s out of your hair quite yet. Instead of conquering the forts, now they are on a timer that determines when they go away. Some of them will take hundreds of in-game days, during which you can’t do anything. I ended up using a cheat tool to skip that time, which I had to install to fix an earlier game-breaking bug.

To spare yourself the pain and trouble, set the crusade to the easiest difficulty right from the start. It massively boosts the troops you get, which eases the worst of the wait.

I realize this turned into quite a rant, but all this only captures about half of my frustrations with Wrath of the Righteous. I wanted so dearly to love this game and engage with its challenging gameplay, only to run into problems and bugs and annoyances at every turn. I did not appreciate it as much as I wanted to, though I can see how it may be a legendary RPG for somebody familiar with its ruleset. There is a lot to love in the game and, in the end, I was glad that I played it.

2 thoughts on “Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous

  1. Fantastic and in depth review. I think your most telling portion was how frustrating it was to find that one situational spell for a certain obstacle and how this interrupted your enjoyment of the game or being able to utilize your other, less powerful characters.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Yes, Your Grace – Legacy of Games

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