At first glance, Pathfinder: Kingmaker looks like a pretty standard CRPG. It's only when you pop the hood that you realise that there's quite a lot more going on. So, what is it, and is it any good on PS4?
For those not up to speed, Pathfinder: Kingmaker is based on the Pathfinder tabletop adventure that is akin to D&D. This game was originally put out on PC after it was successfully crowdfunded. For all intents and purposes, it has that old school CRPG vibe in the sense that it is filled with quests and tasks, framed from an isometric perspective, and overflowing with conversations and dialogue trees.
Now, there is a hell of a lot to like about this console port, yet this game was quite clearly designed for PC in the first instance - which is fine, but the issue for me was that I struggled with aspects of the port. The controls, for example, functioned fine, yet at times they felt a little clunky.
Another problem was the overall feeling of being a bit lost, which followed me around for the first few hours. I'm not the kind of gamer who wants arrows or instructions on what to do all the time, but likewise, I don't like feeling frequently frustrated. CRPGs often expect you to explore and discover things for yourself, yet all too often I found myself heading to the wikis to discover what to do next. That's fine and an easy Alt-Tab if you're on PC, but it's not so easy if you're on a TV and console.
Likewise, the tutorial felt a little rushed and while info did pop up at times to guide me in terms of what to do, often that involved a bit of reading, or more pausing and heading to a wiki on my phone. This move from one piece of tech to another left me feeling a little disconnected with the experience. Likewise, being on a console meant I had a few issues with the dialogue. I normally sit a couple of meters away from the big screen, much further than when playing on PC, and the text wasn't always clear enough. While some of the dialogue was recorded audio, there seemed to be a lot of writing and I spent a lot of time squinting.
The other main cause of frustration was the constant crashes. Since I finished the game, a huge patch has landed, and from what I can tell, many of the issues I experienced have been fixed. However, during the majority of my playthrough, it kept crashing, especially when there were huge numbers of enemies on screen. Not a good look.
Grumbles aside, let's talk about the things I did like: first, the world-building is great. While the story is pretty generic, it's well-executed and well-told, which allowed me to become immersed in this world. I'm not going to ruin it for you, but basically you set off on a quest to rid the local area of a tyrant and claim the area for yourself. Later on, you even get to set-up a base (which was also deeply confusing and required wiki consultation once again).
As mentioned earlier, this is a video game adaptation of a tabletop RPG experience. It's all about the rolls of the dice, the characters you meet, and the creatures you kill. It's about heading out into the world on quests and having random encounters with friends and foes, and making you feel like you're going on an epic journey that you help to author - and honestly, Pathfinder does it excellently.
If you can get past the crashes (which I hope are fixed but obviously I can't verify that without replaying the whole game) and the hours it takes you to learn everything you need to know then what you're left with is an epic CRPG quest. Yes, I think the tutorials could have been better executed, but after several hours and a fair few wiki checks, I started to really enjoy myself.
From a technical perspective, the visual design is superb and it looks like an old-school Diablo or Baldur's Gate. The combat can be approached in one of two ways: real-time and turn-based. I didn't much like real-time combat as much as I felt like I routinely lost control of what I was doing, but the new turn-based combat was fun and engaging. The only other minor issue was that the automated dice rolls seemed rarely to go my way, and I would often miss a beast right in front of me. If you're as unlucky as I am, never go to Vegas!
All in all, Pathfinder on PS4 was an enjoyable experience. The story was a bit generic, and the technical issues and poor tutorials somewhat frustrating, however, looking beyond those issues, overall I enjoyed the rest of my quest. This is a good fantasy-RPG experience, but if you've got the option between playing it on PC and console, head back to the PC version instead.