The Videogame Corner: Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous

Game: Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous
Developer: Owlcat Games
Releases: 2021 (PC), 2022 (Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, Xbox One)
Genre: Role-Playing game

Owlcat Games is certainly an interesting developer. Starting as a small group from Moscow, they eventually developed into the CRPG provider based in Cyprus that we know and some love. If you read my review of their first title, “Pathfinder: Kingmaker”, you might wonder why I would give the franchise another go. And to be honest, I do not know either: “Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous” was on sale on Steam for 14.99€ and that was when I thought that I have no big videogame project to write about at the moment, making that game as good as any other. And my experience with the title, now that I have played it for a while, is that it is better than “Pathfinder: Kingmaker” … and worse than it at the same time. Truth be told, I always write the introduction last, and I am still conflicted with a massive CRPG that managed to do so much good yet dashed it all with so much bad, a row of highs that tries to counter its many lows.

I am certainly not the only player being conflicted about “Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous” as you will see. But I will give it a fair share of my time in the form of the longest videogame review I have written. Therefore, a small heads-up for anyone willing to read through this article: Comparisons to “Pathfinder: Kingmaker” are unavoidable since they are from the same developer using the same system, and will therefore be made. This article is pretty wordy and sometimes borders more on my train of thought rather than a stone-cold reveal of facts about the game. And “Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous” is certainly diverse and multi-faceted, both positively and negatively. You might disagree with some of my points, and that is completely fine since this title caters to a large group of people with varied interests. Some of what I criticize might be exactly what you are looking for in a game, so let’s just say that this article is, more than any other review, very much subjective. Enough talk, off we go.

Before you can delve into the world of “Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous”, you have to make a character; and this is probably the first step that divides the fluff-loving players who write their own backgrounds for their characters from the hardened core of crunch enthusiasts. The Pathfinder rule system is quite complex, using the D&D 3.5 rules as their original source for all those rulebooks and additional materials that have been assembled over the years; and while taking it as is from the Pen&Paper version to a videogame means that you can make many of your old characters to live through the campaign in “Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous”, it also means that the barrier of entry for anyone without prior knowledge is enormous. With all the base classes and various options to transform them into whatever you want to play, there are many rules to know and follow; otherwise, you risk making an unfocussed mess of a character that does not excel in anything, which might prove problematic down the line. There are example builds you can take for your character and you can re-spec characters during the game, which makes experimentation possible and mistakes not as bad, but again this requires knowledge about all those tiny details that you might simply lack if you have never played Pathfinder before.

But once you managed to get past the character creation screen, you will see some festivities going on with full force; and your character being brought in, desperately in need of healing. We get to know the defender of Kenabres, a silver dragon by the name of Terendelev, personally healing you to bring you back from the brink of death. There is a strange wound on your chest that does not really react to being healed, which the inquisitor nearby immediately suspects to be some sort of demon influence, but with so many jolly people around and you only just being back on your feet no one really wants to stop you from doing your thing. Get used to your new surroundings, consume some of the free food and drink, and then watch in horror that Deskari, demon lord of infestation and locusts, personally visited the party to slaughter the innocent and spell doom over the city. Terendelev tries to defend the city but dies in her vain attempt to do so, and while you might be willing to die fighting, you will drop into one of the chasms caused by the earthquakes Deskari conjures.

This is where the real game begins: Underground, surprisingly alive and kicking, and ready to get back to the surface to help the forces of the crusade fight against the evil invaders. You meet your first few party members, slaughter some giant bugs, visit the mongrel population around, and come in contact with powers that are greater than all of you. What starts as your personal quest to get back at the demons for ruining your day soon transforms into you becoming the leader of a small force of resistance fighters that try their best to make sure Kenebres does not fall, or at the very least make the loss of the city as costly for the demons as possible. During the first act, all signs will at some point direct you to one major artifact: The Wardstone. Brought to the crusaders by the herald of Iomedae, this structure is integral to the defense of the entire world against the demon forces that spawned from the so-called Worldwound. The Wardstone of Kenebres is linked to similar structures in other cities in the nation of Mendev. While its protection is very powerful, it only requires one faulty link to break the entire chain; which is exactly what the demons are about to do. Your character and their party will have to face the demon aggressors and stop their plans.

Managing this feat, in whatever way you got it done, will bring your jolly crew to the attention of various powerful players on the world’s stage; among them Queen Galfrey, who would later become the new herald of Iomedae and therefore the divine tool of the goddess’ will. During “Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous”, she is still the mortal queen of the crusader nation of Mendev, but already very much necessary to the war effort and kept alive and young by powerful magic such as the sun orchid elixir paid by the church of Iomedae. This powerful ruler sees potential in your character, and more so a chance to finally bring the battle to the demons rather than just defending the remaining settlements and living in fear of failure. Therefore, you get a promotion: As the new Knight Commander of the Fifth Crusade, you really only have to answer to the queen as you are now in charge of the entire operation. And that is where the battle against the demonic forces truly begins…

I have to admit that I liked the start of “Pathfinder: Kingmaker” more. The mansion of the Swordlords was a well-made tutorial level that not only gave the players to try out their build for the first time but also managed to give further information about the world, its people, its cultures, and customs. In “Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous”, the start is way more forced: You were wounded, now there is a demon lord, and now you need to get back to the surface to help fight back the demons. My character is a blank slate which means that I could imagine decisions that go contrary to what the game wants me to do. Maybe I like demons and hate other people, but it is also possible that my character cannot imagine anything more stupid than risking their life for that of random strangers, demon incursion or not. What the game does manage though is making you feel important and powerful, since the inclusion of mythic levels and powers, as well as the constant appearance of powerful beings up to demi-gods that all want something from you can lead to some serious player-based power fantasies.

But the player is not going this road alone; in fact, there are plenty of other souls willing to join the cause or at least fight by your side for various reasons. The characters you can acquire as companions in “Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous” certainly are a mixed bag. And I do not mean that they are all middle-of-the-road, but rather that I found the full spectrum of quality, from dreadfully boring characters that probably think white bread is exotic to interesting characters with understandable motivations and sometimes not only an agenda but past struggles and personal gripes that form them into what they are now. I am fully aware of the fact that liking or disliking characters is entirely subjective, but let me give you my thoughts on the various companion options you can have during your stay in “Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous” since we are already in for the long haul.

With Amiri as the iconic Pathfinder character in “Pathfinder: Kingmaker”, we get another iconic character in form of Seelah, a Paladin of Iomedae for “Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous”. You meet Seelah as soon as the game begins, forming a party of the survivors found underground. If we are to believe the Pathfinder wiki, Seelah was orphaned at 14 during a Gnoll raid. She stole a paladin’s helmet from a paladin squad arriving in the city to defend the populace, which eventually caused the paladin without said helmet to take a fatal wound to the head. Seelah returned the helmet to the funeral pyre and climbed onto it to atone for her sin, which moved the paladins enough to take her in instead. So much for her past. In “Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous”, she basically fills the role of the standard paladin with unwavering resolve and pious belief but being more focussed on helping the innocent rather than fighting for some “higher” cause. She works as a character but is as interesting as milk toast besides that. I honestly tried to invoke some sort of reaction in her with my action, like supporting the Tiefling thief in his business or letting the Witch of the group finished a demon summoning circle, but there was no response to any of those actions. Seelah will basically act in either of two scenarios: The belief in Iomedae is put into question, or there is alcohol to share amongst the party.

Character number two that you have right from the start is Camellia, a Half-Elf Shaman. She seems to be from a noble bloodline and speaks highly of herself; and managed to gain all my red flags about a minute into the game since her alignment was listed as undetectable. To be frank, what alignment would you need to hide in broader society where clerics and paladins roam around everywhere? Sure, evil, chaotic evil probably. In fact, I looked up her alignment for this part of the article, with only about 25 hours in at this point, and sure, she is a serial killer and a lunatic. I disliked every ounce of this character and dreaded taking her with me. With her alignment hidden, she has absolutely no character to speak of rather than disliking commoners and having a rich dad with a not even that crazy of a hidden past. She is a blank slate up until you find out her dark secret, and then you can decide for yourself whether you want to employ a, quite frankly not even that effective, murder-hobo into your party. I don’t even play a character that is objecting to the killing of people, but turning the entire killing affair into weird rituals? And then having sex with the player character next to the freshly murdered corpse? Come on, there are better ways to display chaotic evil as an alignment. But I mean, I am sure that there are people liking those vibes since Yanderes seem to work for some people.

While you are traveling underground, you also meet the two mongrels Lann and Wenduag. I cannot really say anything about Wenduag since I did not play an evil character, or rather decided to use the Angel Mythic option which locks you out of recruiting her, but Lann is a perfectly fine if somewhat boring character. He is fully aware of the drawbacks that come with being a mongrel, which not only limits to his appearance but also means a drastically shortened lifespan. This is exactly why he tries to do something meaningful in the time he is given, with stopping the demons during the crusade being a goal he can see himself working towards. His story is basically a redemption arc for his entire race, wanting to show the people of Mendev that mongrels are more than just freakish abominations. He is unoffensive, down-to-earth, and pretty vanilla when compared to other options you have companion-wise; but he was a mainstay in my party since he was both relatable and helpful in combat.

Woljif is the classic rogue character: Lots of charm and self-esteem, a silver tongue, and sometimes too much courage for his own good, but never letting an opportunity slide that could mean getting richer or at least getting his head out of the firing line. Him being a tiefling also makes certain scenarios more interesting since people already only assume the worst with his race; and Woljif does not want them to think any differently. He had a troubled past, basically being ditched at his grandmother’s house by his parents since she seems to be the reason for the taint in their bloodline. As it turned out, she was not the best caretaker either since she rather invested her time into booze, which left young Woljif fending for his own and is a major part of who he is now. And throughout the game, the influences from the past certainly try to catch up to him, which is an interesting side arc in the entire crusading business. I certainly liked the cocky rogue.

Nenio’s first appearance was a pleasant surprise. The idea of this shrewd scientist asking cultists about their knowledge regarding the cult they belong to and them failing spectacularly was a genuinely funny scene. She is basically the stand-in for Jubilost Narthropple from “Pathfinder: Kingmaker” with the key difference that Jubilost actually published his studies in books and therefore has at least some reason to be smug, while Nenio really just perceives anyone near her as unimportant due to not wanting to clog up her mind with random information like names. Owlcat managed to kill this character for me by randomly revealing that she is a Kitsune, another piece of information she seemingly forgot. There was absolutely no reason for such a reveal, especially not since it does absolutely nothing in the greater picture except for making her furrier.

Daeran has absolutely no reason to accompany the party whatsoever. You meet one of his servants in the burning city of Kenabres, seeking help against the demons storming his master’s mansion. You basically crash the party just before the demons do, fight them back together, and then Daeran had such a jolly good time that he accompanies you for a little while. Surprisingly enough, I now feel like he is one of the best characters. Sure, he is an arsehole, knowingly provoking whoever he can while living his hedonistic lifestyle in all its facets, but as far as this neutral evil Aasimar goes I can relate to him. This man is living life like it might end tomorrow, so he wants to make the most out of it, caring little about political squabbles or demon armies threatening to destroy civilization. Him sending tons of roses into the headquarters to make the place smell better is one of the fonder memories I have about the game and I can only imagine that writing the character must have been a blast.

Ember is actually one of the more interesting characters, even though you can basically guess how she will react in every given situation since she believes in the good of every being, going as far as praying for the demon lords to make them see the errors in their ways. She is an Elf Witch who burned at the stake for the over-zealous crusaders seeing treason and evil influences everywhere, but unlike her father, she survived the ordeal only losing some fingers and toes to the fire. This did not turn her away from the good though, her from it. Whether through madness or just good nature, she only sees good intentions in people, even in those who want to harm her. This strong belief against any sort of inherent evil is probably also what brought her a powerful ally: Ember has a crow named Soot, which whispers her magic powers to use as she sees fit. Not only that, but as the orphaned child that she is she is protected by the emperyal lord Andoletta, also known as Grandmother Crow, although that fact is something that Ember is completely unaware of. She is a preacher for the good in everyone and actually manages to make demonic cultists return to the light. As I said, her actions are crystal clear before she partakes in any conversation or potential battle, but the character idea is pretty cool.

Sosiel on the other hand is extremely boring. There is no big introduction to this character, he simply happened to be in my army camp at some point and then asked me whether I could accompany him to a funeral. He is “painted” as a mild-mannered and gentle soul, a cleric to Shelyn, and therefore an artist that always has an easel at hand to give his creativity form. However, his entire character actually revolves around his brother Trever, who he wants to seek out as he is a fallen paladin of Shelyn and then simply disappeared without leaving a trace. I have not found Trever so far, but looking him up on the wiki I think that he is a way more interesting character than his brother. The game constantly tells me that he is hard to anger and composed, but I have encountered him in more situations where he is willing to spill blood than I have in his more controlled phases. Trever seems to be more accepting of that character trait and moved on after leaving the church, with his class progression showing a rather non-linear path through life. However, if a character is defined more through a character he is trying to find or interact with, it cannot be a very interesting character; which is why Sosiel is so boring in my opinion.

Regill seemed somewhat weird to me the first time I saw him; as did so many of the characters that I learned to love over the course of the game. He is a Hellknight, a member of what I can best describe as the Cheliaxan military police. He is also a gnome, which to me seemed to be odd since I was not expecting about a meter of military authority with purple hair commanding one of the most efficient and feared armies on Golarion. Regill stands in stark opposition to what a gnome normally is: He is taciturn, effective, and at times brutal. He orders to kill of the wounded during a gargoyle raid to stop the discussion of whether they can save those people, but I cannot deny that my military counsel normally does whatever Regill suggests. He is even aware of the fact that the Bleaching is slowly taking effect, aging him unnaturally and eventually causing his death because he lost his curiosity in new and exciting things, but asking him about it makes him state that this is no different to other races dying to old age. An interesting character concept that works for some reason.

Arueshalae is yet another surprisingly interesting concept. Originally a succubus doing what her demon ways ask her to do, she managed to track down a cleric of Desna but toyed with him before his final moments. In his mind, she saw things that made her realize what evil she is doing and decided to go against her demon nature, spying for the enemy of her former masters. I certainly like the idea of a succubus seeking absolution for her sins, and I even think that she has a charming personality; and I do not mean that as an innuendo. She is actually somewhat unsure of her role in life, trying to acclimate herself to her new surroundings as best as possible. She tends to mix up idioms and is surprisingly somewhat shy; nevertheless, she is both a valuable ally as a spy and a solid shot with a bow; and if any evil players would like to have a succubus in their party, you even have the option of corrupting her again which allows for more freedom of choices. Good idea, plus one point for Owlcat Games.

The last “normal” companion to acquire is Greybor, who is not really your friend and more someone you hired for help for quite a bit of money. Greybor is a professional who kills whatever beasts there might be with deadly precision. He is not the jolly sort that tries to win friends, and that is exactly what I expect of his character. Since he was paid for a job, he does everything to bring it to an end; and friendly banter is not part of that deal. He seems to get more open towards the party after a while, but the idea of a hired assassin that happens to be a monster hunter is quite good, and he seems to be extremely good at what he does since he can demand payment up front due to his solid reputation.

The game obviously also has tons of side characters, and they follow the same trend as the companions. There are some characters that I found … confused, like Nurah being a saboteur for the demon army due to the crusaders not helping her when she was a slave. Seems to be quite a far step between “some random crusaders did not help me” to “I am going to doom the entire world”; but what do I know? I let her go at the end of act 2 and she still insisted that this is just giving her another opportunity to get back at me. However, in the same room is Staunton Vhane, who I find to be an excellent character. The entire idea of a fool-hardy youngster committing a massive mistake gave me some Sand dan Glokta-vibes from Joe Abercrombie’s “First Law” series; and that is high praise from me. This dwarf had to endure seventy years of pure hatred from his allies, he has more than redeemed himself in my view, but the queen does nothing to resolve him from his status; and then the guy snapped with the realization that he can either be spit into the face for the rest of his mortal life or try to work for the forces that he actually helped with his move all those years back. The dialogues in that small room in Drezen in act 2 are definitely a highlight of the game, your party against this battered-but-not-beaten ex-crusader that will take his final stand and is willing to let fate play his cards for him. This is character design at its best (at least in my opinion) and makes his drift into the evil alignment very much understandable to the player.

One additional character that I want to praise is Aivu. See, if you decide to pick the Azata Mythic path, you gain a young faerie dragon as an animal familiar. Turns out that your familiar can talk and has a penchant for chocolate trees and strawberry jam. Aivu is a perfect representation of her home plane, the Elysium. Creative, free-spirited, sometimes even hard to grasp, or chaotic in nature. This little dragon makes some of the other characters shine: Aivu asked Sosiel to paint her, but Sosiel refused to add the creative input from the dragon into the picture; which pretty much aligns with how I see Sosiel: Boring. Arueshalae is forced to watch an illusion of herself charming the player character when your party enters Areelu’s laboratory, and therefore shows her falling back to her old behavior which causes her to panic. Aivu’s way to calm her down was genuinely nice to read and shows that the little dragon serves both as a companion and a sort of mascot to the party; a role that the small creature is very happy with. Unfortunately, only a small portion of players will ever see Aivu since she is locked behind one of several Mythic paths, but this small critter alone makes going Azata a good choice in my opinion.

The only other Mythic path with special companions is the Lich Mythic path, and the ideas are certainly cool as well. At some point during the Lich line, you learn how to revive characters as permanent undead, which allows you to acquire some interesting characters for your ranks. Remember Staunton from a few paragraphs further up? Well, if you decided to give him a proper burial, you can revive him to gain another character for your fellowship. But the idea alone of reviving characters that die for plot reasons is worth kudos, so good job there Owlcat. And if you are unhappy with the classes the game offers you, you can always opt to pay the money and gain new recruits over the Pathfinder lodge, which basically allows you to create a new additional character from scratch. And depending on the difficulty you decided to start with, you will have to recruit quite a lot of additional characters, the reason for which I will talk about next. Brace yourself.

Hey, I got a buff for the first big boss fight! Let’s see what it does … WHAT?

If you have played one of the “Pathfinder” games from Owlcat Games before, you should not be terribly surprised by what comes next. But just so we get this straight, there is one thing that I need to get out of the way right from the start: The balance in “Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous” is ABSOLUTE ASS!!! “Pathfinder: Kingmaker” suffered from utterly bullshit battle design and the bigger project in form of “Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous” tries its best to top all of those flaws with even bigger clusterfucks. But before I start ranting without talking about any substance, do not worry, I can elaborate. “Pathfinder: Kingmaker” had multiple interesting choices for encounter design that are not really player-friendly in various ways. Teleporting enemies in a previously empty room is dickish, especially if you do that for an entire dungeon. Placing enemies with armor class so high that the characters only manage to hit on natural 20s is frustrating beyond belief. Blind-siding the player party with hidden spellcasters that shoot three lightning bolts through the now-dead group of people sure is fun when I reload to re-do the encounter. But you asked for examples, so you shall receive:

Like I said before, teleporting enemies was already fun back when I played “Pathfinder: Kingmaker”; NOT! And we sure get more enemies plopping up in the middle of nowhere, this time with the reasoning behind it being that demons can materialize wherever they want. I mean, the entire idea behind regaining the “Sword of Valor” banner during the attack on Drezen was to hang it up to activate its ability to suppress demonic teleportation. So yeah, it adds up from a fluff perspective; but that does not mean that spawning four Brimorak near a staircase in Delzen that I am forced to wait on is a good idea. You should be aware that the game spawns demons whenever you try to break down a gate, but placing them in a pincer movement so that your entire party on the stairs takes four Fireball spells straight to the face before they can react is an absolute dickmove; and keep in mind, in my case nobody died since the damage is multiplied with 0.4 hence the trap could be fatal under normal circumstances.

Let’s talk about random encounters because those were quite a bit of fun as well. What starts as minor annoyances that keep me from going from point A to point B in form of three badly equipped demon cultists soon turned into boss-level encounters of unrivaled idiocy. At the start of act three, I took care of some crusading before I went out of the city to tackle some quests. Oh, what a foolish idea. A random counter greeted me, and therefore my level 9 party saw to their dismay a squad consisting of four CR 14 Abyssal Huntresses, placed atop a cliff that takes at least three turns to navigate around, and one Vrolikai with CR 19 that I can only hit with natural 20s regardless of what I do and that will shred any member of my party in about two turns with the lowered damage due to nine attacks per round. Standing in front of the mountain of arms with way too much health that I cannot hit while I am peppered with elemental arrows from the side, I took the entire affair to Google to see whether I simply suck at Pathfinder. Turns out, I might not be the only one that was somewhat shocked to see this constellation greeting me in a random encounter: One unfortunate soul was ambushed by a Vrolikai during act 3 while resting while another asked if the encounter is a bad joke. The community-suggested solution against this encounter, by the way, was not encountering it. Having a high perception character as your night guard when resting to lower the chance or savescumming yourself around the issue. Because that is what I want to do in a CRPG: Constantly reload.

In general, act three seems to be the point at which balance simply jumps out of a window. The quest “The Dragon Hunt” is pretty much available from the start of the act and does not give you any warning signs as to why tackling it early would be a bad idea. Sure, as someone who knows about the Pathfinder universe, you might say that the idea of fighting a dragon could be warning enough, but not only do those come in different sizes but it is also perfectly possible that the commoners who have seen the beast compare it to a dragon while it is actually a much less dangerous wyvern. But no, “The Dragon Hunt” pulls no punches: A Chaotic Evil Dragon named Devarra greets you on the way to finding her lair; and comes with CR 25 to boot. Granted, this first encounter probably serves as a warning but the fight is not that much different with your party being two levels higher since you are still outclassed by the massive lizard.

See the picture above? That is a semi-boss fight against an Ancient Blighted Treant. I was not aware of anything special that I should have known about this thing before the encounter, and in all fairness, there is really only one number in the stat block that is even remotely interesting: “27 Plant”. This thing, this abomination of an encounter, has a challenge rating of 27 against a party of level 10 characters. Oh, Owlcat, you absolute (- insert colorful words of your choice here -). It damages my party by walking through them, is nigh indestructible, and hit like a truck even with a damage multiplier of 0.4. This is yet another fight that shows me that a casual round of “Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous” was not intended to be possible by the developer. You can either min-max your party to the point at which your rule books start to bleed from being used so much, casting any buff like “Haste”, “Bless”, or “Heroism” before every encounter (therefore even knowing that an encounter is about to happen); or you struggle and die like the fluff vermin you are. No CRPG that I am aware of needs you to do so much busywork to fight enemies efficiently, and it really takes away from the fun to be forced into “meta builds” this way.

And when you are not pounded into the ground by an encounter sixteen levels above you, chances are that you will be bored out of your mind with some of the battles you need to fight. I understand that Owlcat wanted to make some of the battles epic but at some point in a videogame, the pendulum swings toward tedium. And there are also plenty of examples of that. Defending the tavern in Kenebres that the crusaders use as their headquarters is a slog of huge proportions with boatloads of enemies spawning everywhere. Every time I thought “They cannot spawn more enemies, right?”, whoops, here are another ten cultists to fight against. The battle in Drezen is incredible in its own right; but as an endurance marsh. I dare you to play that section in one sitting, because from the start of the battle until the “Sword of Valor” finally hangs you will have fought in around fifty encounters, most of which are the same stupid demons in form of Babaus or Schir. Fun tidbit at the side: I did not even want to start the campaign just then, since I had a full inventory and simply entered the camp to sell things. Bad mistake, said the game; and forced me through the three-and-a-half-hour death marsh constantly throwing loot away that I could not carry. By the way, this way of not telegraphing where giant sections of battles happen is something that happens more than just once in “Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous”

Instant-killing cultists might be fun for about five minutes, but why does this torture continue for half an hour more?

The Drezen dungeon has one particularly stupid encounter with ghouls. You see a great pit in front of you, from which then four ghouls will emerge. Kill two to gain another four, and proceed to kill them with their ranks growing ever stronger to then get blind-sided by a demon porting in from nowhere and tossing negative levels around like free candy. I can imagine that Owlcat tested the game for bugs (of which there seemed to be quite a lot during release) but honestly cannot believe that they tested the game for player engagement and overall feeling. Sure, opinion can differ as to how many ghouls are the right number in an encounter, but I refuse to believe that some of those encounters would have stayed the way they are if a tester told them that it is somewhat tedious to chop down enemies in their system without an end in sight. The balancing is out of kilter, plain and simple. You cannot expect me to praise a system in which random encounters can be either whatever is left in the sink after washing the dishes given a CR or some near-immortal demonic being of all-consuming pain and terror; but this is exactly what Owlcat serves up in “Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous”.

Enough ranting about the combat. I understand if some people do not feel as … hateful towards it as I do, but I did not expect it to be as dreadful, slow, and crunch-driven as it turned out to be; even on the lower difficulties. There are other points I wanted to mention in the game; and one of them is alignments. And I do not mean how alignments are used in Owlcat games alone, but in general. So, here we go: Pathfinder alignments are a muddled concept that is meant to give an idea of how a character works and what decisions they will and won’t do. Here is the first problem: I cannot describe a character with some cryptic alignment like Chaotic Evil; or, at the very least, as a DM I try to do more than just convey evil = bad. There are enough stories of players being allowed to make evil party members and everything going down in half an hour due to the massacre in the streets they inevitably cause. That is the alignment I call “chaotic idiotic”. I mean, even evil characters need to lay low to get by, else how did the characters manage to get where they are in the first place? It does not help that the internet is quickly jumping onto comparisons like lawful evil is the Nazi party or chaotic evil is Charles Manson, because that is not how that works! In the end, the alignment of a character is just a fraction of what makes them a character (and honestly, I do not think I want to be in the same room as someone who thinks that the Nazis are “lawful” evil). A good character can be driven to evil actions with very little incentive, just as a lawful character can be made to break the law if it protects their interests.

I don’t know whether Daeran refers to the demon’s blood being spilled or that of the concubine; but since he is Neutral Evil it could apply to both.

Why do I write this? Well, “Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous” at a very basic level does have a conflict between good and evil, namely the crusade against the demon forces. However, it hints at things not being that simple: The knights that try to kill Ember to have maiden blood on their swords in the hopes that that drives demons away (hell of a plot point, by the way) might have a good alignment but are clearly partaking in evil actions, no matter for what reason they might do it. I would go as far as saying that anyone calling his defense maneuver a crusade cannot reasonably talk about partaking in a good action anymore, if I take a look at the real-life pendant to crusades in Mendev’s name. The fifth crusade in “Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous” hints at that with options like giving peasants slings to defend themselves against the demon hordes since the sheer number will provide a decent defense; no matter how many die in the process. I would have loved to see this put into question more, especially since the crusade spawns lunatics like Camellia who thinks she sacrifices people for the good of the crusade.

And yet, with glimmers of the moral ambiguity of the entire crusade, we as the player often get rather … one-sided choices for dialogues. There are no neutral choices whatsoever, so I can only imagine that whatever has no alignment indicator is automatically neutral. Good options help people, or absolve bad people from their sins, while Lawful is sticking to the law as the name suggests, which means punishment for all parties involved. Chaotic is often exactly that, with manifesting demon powers being regarded as “cool” to give a drastic representation. And then there is evil, which brings me to what I have written before: You can basically attack whoever you want since evil often boils down to hitting someone in the face until it dies. This can technically work in some scenarios in which you dislike a faction because they oppose what you do, which is tyrannical and therefore evil. But why in the name of all would I want to kill Horgus Gwerm while he is not only paying me for a quest but also willingly revealing the secrets of his family? Why would I kill Arueshalae after her quest when I clearly saw no reason to do so before? Why should I attack the villagers in Chilly Creek for no other reason than them seeming a little weird? There are better ways to do evil alignment, and this is clearly not how it is done.

Press colors, gain a price! (Source:

Owlcat Games also has absolutely no hand for puzzles. I understand that you can spice up your adventure by adding puzzle elements, but I lose interest in cryptic horseshit in which I cannot even make out if there was anything to hint at the solution anywhere or if I even have the necessary items to progress. It might result in gaining some powerful longsword or some other trinket for my party, but with the decision being between thirty minutes of trial-and-error or three minutes of cheating by looking up the solution online, I’d rather continue my quest and ignore some colored switches on the wall. And when you do look up the solution, for example for the color button puzzle above, you find that you should have seen the four random pictures hanging on some wall not even close to the puzzle and notice the color of the clothing of the characters in said pictures, because that would have been the solution. Yeah, so blatantly obvious, how could I be so stupid that I could not solve it myself.

There is yet one major feature that I have not talked about. Every Pathfinder campaign that Owlcat decides to go for seems to need that one additional game mode that is not really related to anything you do but is necessary to progress anyway. In “Pathfinder: Kingmaker”, we had to manage our own kingdom and see it burn to the ground due to some faerie’s pranks being too deadly for an entire army to handle. Well, “Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous” introduces the Crusader mode, in which you need to assemble armies and send them against the demonic hordes to show you the extent of the war you are fighting. Or, in simpler terms: Do you know “Heroes of Might and Magic”? Yep, that is the crusade mode. The drawbacks compared to the original are that I cannot really decide what faction I want to play, the rules for the said mode being a confusing mix of Pathfinder rules but with armies instead of characters, and it taking up waaaaay too much of your time after it has been introduced. It is not as terrible as the kingdom mode in “Pathfinder: Kingmaker” and I am sure thankful that I can skip battles against weaker armies, but it is still a major distraction from the game I actually intend to play.

In fact, when you start the game there are various choices for how difficult you want that mode to be; and I sure do not want it to be any difficult at all. Even at hour zero of me playing “Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous”, I was fully aware of the fact that this mode would not only take away way too much of the time that I would want to spend using my party of characters, but it would also have some mechanic to raise the stakes with enemy armies being able to raze my cities and losing me the game that way. And it turns out that they can do that; even though I have not seen it happen so far. I dragged the difficulty down to the lowest possible setting and basically buy whatever mercenaries I can get to have a somewhat decent army assembled. And even then I find myself in battles that I find frustrating since “managing” my armies is not fun, especially if the opponent can simply stunlock one giant squad of mine until they are all dead or cultist squads damaging themselves to melt half my army in one fell swoop.

I feel like Owlcat introduced more items to the trader of the game to give players more room for experimentation. I decided to give my rogue a complete focus on daggers since those are pretty much available everywhere unsure whether I would be able to get more exotic items. Turns out, you can buy a lot of crazy weapons later on with your own exotic weapons trader even standing in Drezen. However, I still wonder why there is no elaborate way of creating one’s own items. I mean, if we go by Pathfinder rules the system exists since the Core Rulebook, and with how many effects can already be found on items everywhere in the game it could not have been impossible to simply make a menu like the spell crafting in “The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind”. But I can appreciate how many different options there are and that the developer really wants to support lots of different character builds.

Something, something, Dark Souls.

Ironically, “Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous” has some bad pathfinding. If you want to leave an area, chances are that your character first needs to shuffle into position before said transition happens. Granted, this takes only a few seconds, but this is a long game in which this minor detail really gets on your nerves when it happens for the hundredth time. And certain dungeons can lead your party down completely different routes than you attend them to run. This rarely causes any serious issues, but any armed trap still being around sure appreciates a party of adventurers running straight through the trigger.

If you managed to read my review this far and think that I sound somewhat schizophrenic, then you know what my major problem is with “Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous”. The game is a definite improvement to its predecessor “Pathfinder: Kingmaker”, but only just. The game features the entire range, from unbearable horseshit decision-making that I cannot believe someone put into a game to absolutely stellar pearls that make me feel bad for writing some of what I do here. This also explains why the reviewers are so split on whether this is a terrible, mediocre, or brilliant game. I am not kidding: Ignoring the 10s and 0s because they are silly in both directions, look at some of what people said on Metacritic. This is definitely not a perfect title since the battle system is still confused as to whether it would like to be real-time or turn-based, has some silly encounters left and right, has a dreadful game mode that takes up way too much time, and was riddled with bugs (even game-breaking ones) when it came out. On the other hand, some of the characters and dialogues are engaging and beautifully written, the game is vast so people looking for a long game find lots to do, you can really make your own character here rather than just changing the looks and stats, and the visuals are very nice both in terms of game visuals as well as the artwork.

“That’s the fate of a tomato.” absolutely killed me upon reading it.

“Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous” is a title that splits the player base, which on its own is quite an achievement. I have rarely seen games with so many people hailing it as the greatest invention since sliced bread while others want to throw it into the deepest recesses of hell. As is so often the case, the truth is not as black or white, and in this case, lies somewhere in the middle. When players on Steam tell you things like “I recommend this game with a big asterisk.” or “Honestly don’t know whether to recommend the game or not.” in their POSITIVE reviews, there might be something going on there. And in the end, I feel like this is only partly the fault of Owlcat Games as a developer but rather the logical thing to happen when you try to make a massive game that tries to cater to all role-players out there, from the fluffiest storyteller to the crunchiest rule book fanatic. The fluff players will be annoyed by the sometimes unfair encounters that the crunch players will take as one major challenge to overcome by finetuning their party. The crunch players on the other hand will probably loathe the phases of not much going on aside from world-building and talking to characters since it takes them away from the dice-rolling action.

At the end of the day, I probably end up more on the side of fluff than crunch; and I think that is fine. But with “Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous” having something for everyone, it also comes with long sections of events that people will feel strongly about in a negative way. For me, meeting characters like Staunton Vhane or Daeran gave me memories to tell to people when they ask me about the game; which at the same time will trigger the nightmarish encounters like some CR 27 Treant. Whether you like or hate this game, more than some of the other titles I looked at, really comes down to what you are searching for in the first place. “Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous” features an epic story in which your character actually has a massive impact on what happens in the world of Pathfinder. It also is a great game if you really want to get into the rule system and have fun tweaking your party to perfection. But you can only eat this tasty bowl if you are also willing to fight through the tedium, unfairness, randomness, and faults that the title comes with. For me personally, the game ended around 45 hours. Not because of some event like in “Pathfinder: Kingmaker” though. I downloaded a trainer to get around stupid encounters that I got stuck with at my level at hour 40, but with my interest in the game waning I found no reason to continue for another 80 hours at least to finish it and rather switched to something I enjoyed.

2 thoughts on “The Videogame Corner: Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous

  1. Pingback: Humble Choice – February 2023 – Indiecator

  2. Pingback: The Videogame Corner: Othercide | Cubic Creativity

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