Monday, January 17, 2022

The World In Crimson!

Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous has continued to absorb almost all of my leisure time, and I couldn't be happier. It has its warts, but on the whole it's a deep, meaty, crunchy and satisfying traditional RPG. Particularly coming on the heels of Cyberpunk (which wasn't as much of an RPG as I'd wanted it to be), I've been very satisfied with the opportunity to actually role-play the character I want while diving into a sprawling, messy, ridiculously epic storyline that seems to be at pains to adapt to my whims.

 


 

I've finished the game at (according to Steam) 288 hours, which is really ridiculous: it's more than twice as many hours as I logged on Cyberpunk, but feels a lot shorter, mostly because there hasn't been any grinding and I've constantly been facing newer stuff. And, to be fair, the gameplay itself tends to be a lot slower, for better and for worse. I've been playing virtually the whole game in turn-based mode, unlike the RTWP of Kingmaker. Early on I typically played encounters in RTWP and just switched to TB for boss fights; but TB feels so rewarding, plus as usual it makes certain things like placing AOE spells a heck of a lot easier.

 


 

And there are plenty of things that just plain take a lot of time. I've complained at length about inventory management so I won't do so again, except to briefly note that it becomes much less of a pain later in the game: once you get used to ruthlessly selling off any gear that you won't immediately use instead of hoarding it, the process goes pretty quickly and you don't need to reconsider the same items each time you're at a store; and once you have high-level animal companions, your party carry weight becomes so astronomical that you no longer need to worry about party encumbrance.

 


On the flip side, something that becomes more time-consuming at higher levels is respeccing. This isn't strictly necessary; highly skilled players will probably make great choices from the start, and at lower difficulties you don't need an optimized build. Personally I went through it a couple of times. You don't really fill out your party until Chapter 3, so you can end up with a lot of skill overlaps and/or role gaps for your preferred party configuration. Similarly, sometimes you will get abilities or items later in the game that will make previous Feats obsolete. In the most recent example, I picked up a Mythic ability that lets me share my Teamwork feats with all of my allies, which is cool, but also means that the Teamwork feats they'd previously selected are now useless.

 


 

But, these are things that are mostly of interest to min-maxers. Most of the time you're doing the things you want to be doing in an RPG: Navigating large dialogue trees, exploring huge maps, building a party, planning tactics to take down powerful foes. And you'll be doing things wholly unique to WotR: issuing decrees, moving armies, acquiring supplies for the war effort, studying astronomy. It's a lot of fun.

 


Some random spoiler-free gameplay tips up top:

Party-wide encumbrance isn't much of a problem later in the game, but individual encumbrance continues to be really important: it can massively tank your AC, lower your skills, slow your movement in combat, and decrease the time before Fatigue hits. It's worth a little micromanaging to shave a few pounds off your lower-strength characters, even if it means equipping slightly worse armor or keeping some convenient items out of your backpack until you need them. Later on, you might accept higher encumbrance as long as you have a strategy to boost your strength, which could mean potions, spells or items. I actually spent some level-up attribute points on Strength for particularly weak characters to let them use the equipment I wanted them to have.

As with most D&D-influenced games, buffs are incredibly important. If you wander into a major fight without being prepared, you may get curb-stomped; after a reload and spending a minute re-casting Bless and Protection from Evil and Bear's Strength and Barkskin and Stoneskin and True Seeing and all the other things, you will absolutely annihilate those same foes. It goes both ways too, and the later you get into the game, the more important Dispel Magic and Dispel Magic (Greater) become. It's worth setting up a dedicated caster specializing in Abjuration to reliably get those off.

 


In keeping with the story of the game, most enemies you meet, including most bosses, will be Chaotic Evil. That helps you plan appropriate spells, abilities and builds while leveling and equipping your party.

 


 

Likewise, you'll face lots of demons. All of them are immune to Electricity, most are immune to Poison, and all have resistance to Fire and Cold. Again, that should influence your builds. Sonic damage is available to most spellcasters and is especially useful early in the game. Later on, your casters can gain the Ascendant Element ability that lets them bypass resistance and immunity for a specific energy type.

 


As with Kingmaker, everyone in your active party can contribute to skill checks. So, unusually for me in an RPG, I didn't take any Persuasion on my main PC, since it didn't fit her build and my companions were much better suited for it. There are a handful of exceptions, three that I can think of over the course of the game, where your main character specifically needs to use their skills or pass a saving throw in dialogue. That's what the Load Game button and potions and scrolls are for. Unlike Kingmaker, you won't go through any long combat sequences without your party.

Crusade tips:

As noted in my previous post, the single most important thing is to avoid casualties. You can help this in a few ways:

  • Follow the Powell Doctrine and try to engage with overwhelming force.
  • Use higher-ranking Generals with bigger Infirmary space to soak losses.
  • Pay attention to Initiative. In particular, if the enemy general has an AOE, try to go first and stun or kill the earliest enemies in the initiative order.
 


Very broadly, in Act 2 you'll want to focus on recruiting as many units as possible. In Act 3 you should keep enough units to easily beat your enemies, but don't go overboard: surplus Finance Points should go into building up your forts and other resources instead of your armies.

Materials Points are the main bottleneck in Act 3, so building lots of Supply Depots is a great choice. But there's a finite number of things to build that require MP, and an infinite number  you can spend FP on. Late in the game I started tearing down those same depots to replace with more useful buildings, and in retrospect I should have started that process earlier.

Energy Points seem pretty well balanced, I had a surplus at the end but not a crazy amount. They have very limited utility early in the crusade, but later on you unlock repeatable decisions to spend them.

MINI SPOILERS

I've referenced Kingmaker a few times. KM was my introduction to Pathfinder and to Owlcat, and was one of my favorite RPGs of recent memory. I think I like the idea of Kingmaker more than the idea of WotR: the relatively humble origins, the idea of ruling your own country and engaging in Castles-style building and decision-making. But I think the execution of WotR is far better: as an example, you can't build nearly as much stuff in Wrath; but in Kingmaker, 80% of the buildings you could construct would actively hurt you in hard-to-discern ways, so only maybe 3 structures were actually worth building. WotR has fewer choices, but nothing is actually bad, so it becomes a more classic trade-off for where to spend limited resources to accomplish your goals.

 


I'll talk about the party in more depth below. On the whole I think both games' companions are equally good, with a great mix of archetypes and counter-archetypes and personalities. Wrath seems a little more extreme with unconventional characters and some very very good and a couple of (to me) very very annoying companions.

 


The single biggest improvement over Kingmaker, though, is the endgame. KM's penultimate zone is notoriously brutal and boring. WotR has a somewhat similar difficulty curve, where the random mooks you fight are harder than the actual final bosses of the game, but it isn't as severe or nearly as long as Kingmaker, which helps this game end on a higher note than Kingmaker did.

 


I forget whether this was an issue in Kingmaker, but the alignments in Wrath seem really weird. There's a well-known trope in D&D-style games of "Lawful Stupid", where a [Lawful] choice requires you to do something that's actively harmful. That crops up all the time here; an early example is with Inquisitor Hulrun, where the [Lawful] choice is to say "Yes, go ahead and burn people who you think are witches at the stake. Sure, you don't have any proof and are clearly prejudiced and pursuing a private agenda, but you have an official title so go right ahead."

I love Seelah partly because she cuts from the classic mold of the Lawful Good Paladin. That said, I don't see how her in-game alignment can be Lawful when her character's whole deal is about kicking back and having a good time and not getting hung up on authority. Lann suffers from a more minor version of this: he needs to be Lawful for his Monk class, but all of his dialog is about wanting to escape responsibility and being catty with Camellia about aristocracy.

And then there's Greybor. His supposed alignment is "True Neutral", and he claims that that's right. He doesn't care about good or evil: he'll murder anybody at all, as long as he gets paid for it. Um, murdering people for money is evil, dude!!

MEGA SPOILERS

Let's do a party run-down:

My final loadout was pretty consistent from Act 3 onward: my PC (an Azata Cavalier), Camellia, Regill, Lann, Arushalae, and Nenio. I'd occasionally swap in other party members for their personal quests. I recruited everyone I could, but not the secret companions.

Camellia. Wow. (Seriously, these are Mega Spoilers, so skip if you haven't finished the game.) I suspected from early on that her hidden alignment must be some form of evil, but I wasn't prepared for the depths of her depravity. If I was properly roleplaying this I would have killed her, but by this point in the game her build was integral to my core party so I swallowed my principles and figure-skated through the dialog tree to do her bad stuff without technically picking any [Evil] options. I'm very curious what a romance with her as a male would look like. Anyways, Camllia's main role was as the party buffer. This got really great later on when I picked up Greater Enduring Spells. I eventually gave her the Air Domain, which made her a lot more survivable. I respecced her out of Trickery as much as I could and made her my Religion specialist; Nenio had a higher skill level, but Camellia handled the protective rituals in camp. Camellia was pretty useless in combat by the end game, with only three attacks per round and a low attack bonus, but she could draw aggro and tank a bit.

 


Regill was one of my favorite characters. His Lawful Evil alignment is diametrically opposed to my Azata, and I disagreed with much of what he said, but he's so well-spoken and interesting that I always enjoyed hearing from him. (The voice acting probably helps a lot here; he sounds like the final villain of the game, but he's constantly traveling with you and critiquing your decisions.) Regill is one of the examples of a counter-archetype in the game: we're so used to gnomes always being Chaotic that it's shocking to see a Lawful one, let alone a Hellknight. I love that it's always played straight, too: people treat Regill with respect and don't make fun of him for being a gnome. Regill's build took a little while to get going, but by the end of the game he was probably my most reliable damage-dealer: with the right upgrades, he can reliably do 175 damage in a round to any demon even if he misses every hit. I also appreciated his simplicity in combat, as one of only two characters whose abilities all fit on a single bar. Regill and Arushalae traded places as my main Persuasion character.

 


Lann is another monster damage-dealer. For most of the game he was my strongest fighter, although near the end he was outclassed by Regill and Beodea. He's another character who's pretty easy to control too: just stay out of fire, hit those buff buttons, use Point Blank Shot if you can, and fire away. Archery has two big advantages: you can do a full attack round every round, without needing to move to your enemy; and you don't need to worry about overkill, since if you have extra attacks you will automatically move on to another target after the first one falls. I eventually specced Lann into Stealth, which isn't part of his default build but he's pretty good at it. The game really wanted Lann to get together with my PC, and I lost count of how many times I said "Nope, Lann, sorry, not interested." He does seem like a pretty good guy, though.

Arushalae is really sweet, and was my romance in this playthrough. It's tempting to compare her to Falls-From-Grace, but their personalities are very different. Arushalae is timid, shy, uncertain, and needs a ton of nurturing and support to bring out her confidence. I carefully respected her boundaries throughout the game, and liked how the romance ends up culminating. It's a lot less saucy than the ones in, say, Divinity Original Sin 2; given the little I've seen of Camellia, though, that might be specific to Arushalae and not to romances in general in this game. As an archer, she obviously overlaps with Lann. I ended up giving her the shortbows I found, though in retrospect I probably should have given them both longbows, as there are a lot of good options late in the game. She also had Bismuth. She doesn't get as many attacks as Lann, but with her crazy-good stats and ranger buffs she is a lot more likely to hit; against the same enemy, he would often need a 20 while she's hit on a 7. She has a lot of high skills, and would sometimes take Persuasion checks, but her dedicated role was Lore (Nature).

 


And, speaking of Lore, we have Nenio bringing up the rear. Like Arushalae she has really high skills. I mostly kept her as a Scroll Savant, but took a few ranks in Loremaster near the end; this was mostly for roleplaying purposes as it seems to totally fit her character. She specialized primarily in Illusion and secondly in Evocation. She was an amazing utility player, not always reliable in every fight, but an absolute gamechanger in certain situations. The most consistently awesome move I had with her was Phantasmal Killer, particularly with Persistent metamagic feat. If an enemy fails both a Will and a Fortitude save, bam: they are dead, instantly. Doesn't matter if they have 1000 HP and 80 AC, they're just dead. Obviously it's less effective against enemies with high Will/Fort saves, or the few with Fear immunity, but it's much more useful than I would have thought. In the big picture, Nenio was usually trying to solve the puzzle of "What is this enemy's weakness?" and casting an appropriate spell: Pit traps for low Reflex, Baleful Polymorph for low Fortitude, PK or Hold for low Will, rays for low Touch AC, AOE for low energy resistance. Late in the game she got Ascended Element with Cold, which made her Polar Rays super devastating. Story-wise, I wasn't too taken by her at first as her writing seemed to be "LOL So Random"; but at the end of her personal quest, I belatedly realized that there was an actual reason why she was the way she was, which made her much more compelling.

 


I wrote about my PC a bit in my last post, but updating that again: Beodea is a Neutral Good Halfling Cavalier from the Order of the Paw, who rides her trusty dog Good Boy into battle. I respecced her a lot over the game, shifting things around as new feats unlocked or old ones became redundant. For much of the middle game I had a 2-level Rogue dip, but after hitting the class cap I respecced back into pure Cavalier. She followed the Azata path, mostly taking martial Superpowers. One of the advantages of mounted combat that I hadn't initially appreciated was that all of the movement comes from your mount, not your character, which means that you can move across a battlefield and still get a full attack round. Beodea used a Greataxe, a devastating two-hander, and by the end of the game she and Regill were neck-and-neck; he dealt more reliable damage, but she vaporized any enemy on a successful Charge, and could pull off monster crits. Her Tactician stuff was interesting, but early on it wasn't worth spending a standard action to share the feats, and later in the game the always-on Azata superpower outclassed the Swift version. More on her story below.

 

 
End game character sheet and inventory (only permanent buffs shown):
 

Good Boy mostly carries around Beodea so she can whack people four times with her giant axe, but he does a lot on his own. He has surprisingly high Perception, and I enjoyed hearing his excited bark when he spotted a deadly trap or an intriguing secret door. His absurdly high Strength meant that I never needed to worry about party encumbrance again, and he could hit even very high-AC enemies. His Trip ability is fantastic because it doesn't require an action, it's just a free proc on any attack. For leveling, I gave him Intelligence 3 so he could get Teamwork feats; technically Beodea and Good Boy are next to each other, and flanking any enemy they attack, so those feats are constantly up and running. I got him the best Barding and some of my best defensive gear (cloaks, necklaces, etc.), since enemies always direct their attacks against him instead of Beodea (though she still gets hit by AOO and AOE). I mostly took defensive Feats for him, but most stat boosts went into Strength.

 


Aivu was really awesome from start to finish. Like much of the Azata content, she sometimes seems like an interloper from another game: whimsical, silly, sweet and indignant. I want to give her all the cookies. She's an amazing combatant, too. You can't ride her, but she has huge raw power, an unlimited-use breath cone attack that deals sonic damage, and a great selection of spontaneous-casting spells. One thing I didn't grok at first was that her level is much higher than your party's, which means that the save DCs for her spells are correspondingly higher: she can cast Dispel Magic (Greater) as a level 35 caster, which will strip protections from even the final bosses. One good-news-bad-news situation is that at higher levels she also gains an always-on Fear aura that will make most of your foes turn Shaken and eventually Frightened. This is kind of great, since an enemy who's running away isn't trying to kill you; but it also means that what would be a nice short fight turns into an interminable chase as you try to follow foes across the entire huge map. In retrospect I probably should have just turned off turn-based mode instead of chasing them.

 


Outside my main party, there were others! For most of the following I just followed the default level-up suggestions and equipped them with the best looted gear not used by my primary companions. In rough order from favorite to least:

Seelah has a great personality and a great mix of buffs and power. I kept her for much of the early game until my party became too crowded; Camellia had more buffs and Regill and Beodea both had more raw power, so she was forced out. Like the clerics, she is very effective against undead, but after act 2 you almost never see undead again so her Channel Energy is less useful. That said, her Holy-related abilities are HUGE in the late game when you face a lot of enemies with Damage Reduction 15 / Good, and if I ever replay I'll be much more tempted to keep her all the way through. I generally encouraged her chaotic ways while being supportive of her.

Ember is possibly my favorite narrative character of the game, a child with a frank and serene view of the world: accepting the presence of gods and demons, and utterly convinced that this is all just a big misunderstanding that could be wrapped up if everyone would just agree to get along. Her arc with Nocticula might be the best of the game. For mechanics, I generally really dig spontaneous casters like her, where you don't need to plan in advance what spells to memorize for the day. Like Seelah, I didn't really have room in my party for her. 

 


Sosiel is probably the straight-up nicest character in the game. Well, I guess the competition with Arushalae and Ember makes that debatable! His DEX is terrible; in theory his Reach Bardiche should let him fight without directly exposing himself, but he tended to die a lot when I had him in my party. More broadly, I didn't feel like I had a whole lot of use for clerics in particular or healing in general in this game. For much of the game, you're traveling a whole day to reach a destination, then fighting a few rounds, then traveling for another day, so in-combat healing isn't necessary and out-of-combat you may as well just Rest. On the much longer maps healing is good, but I'd rather heal with scrolls or potions out of combat and have six awesome fighters than some middling healers. Like with Seelah and Daeran, Sosiel was great when dealing with Undead in Chapter 2, but not as useful later on.

Woljiff is pretty entertaining, and I like how the game makes it clear early on that he's lying about everything. He's an interesting counterpart to Octavia in Kingmaker, as both are rogue/mage hybrids, but they play very differently and despite both being Chaotic have very different personalities. I was generally friendly-but-firm with him, joking around and taking things lightly but also emphasizing the real threat posed by the demons. He was a bit squishy for me early in the game, and by the time he got his better survivability skills I was settled into my final rotation, but again I'd be interested in trying him more in a future playthrough.

I didn't have Wenduag in my party much, since I sided with Lann in the Undercity. In other D&D-style games I've tried to have an all-lady party, which might be interesting to try sometime here (Seelah, Wenduag, Ember, Arushalae and Nenio would be very formidable). Even though I didn't give her any special attention with builds or the best equipment, she seems to be a really effective archer. But I already have two of those. I (spoiler spoiler) killed her after she predictably betrayed me to Savamelekh.

Greybor really rubbed me the wrong way. He's the latest incarnation of a decades-long trope in RPGs, a character who is introduced as an NPC doing totally awesome and powerful stuff, and then when they join your party they're a limp noodle that couldn't hit the side of a barn. He can defeat a demon lord in a single strike, but can't hit a babau?! All of his dialogue is "Oh, I'm the best assassin on Golarion, nobody can kill as well as me", and then you bring him into a fight and it's all "Miss! Miss! Miss! Critical miss! Dies!" His personal quest was probably the most boring of all the companions. As noted above, the writers don't seem to realize that they were writing an evil character. Ugh. He kind of reminds me of Harrim from Kingmaker, but Harrim was a lot more interesting and actually had an arc.

And then there's Daeran. Mechanically, I have the same issues with him as I do with Sosiel and Seelah, even more so: if you're casting lots of healing spells in the middle of combat, you're doing something wrong. Story-wise, I was pretty intrigued by the whole plot line with The Other. I went along with the Inquisitor's investigation the whole way, not cluing in Daeran to what was going on. On a personal level I disliked him pretty strongly, for being a rich and pompous sociopath who not only ignores but actively jeers the suffering of others. I kept him in my party and was generally polite, but also made it clear I didn't approve of his attitude. I was hoping to turn him over to the Inquisition at the end, but he murders the Inquisitor if you do this (at least in my playthrough, apparently he doesn't if you're nicer to him than I was), so I reloaded and executed him myself.

 


Phew!

It was kind of fun to get that big battle in Threshold where your left-behind party gets attacked; at first I was really frustrated since you don't get any time to buff them before the fight starts and I got my ass kicked pretty severely on a first try, but a reload went much better, and I was impressed by how far along everyone had come. Sosiel's summons were amazing and kept the balors occupied for the entire fight, Seelah spent eight rounds buffing herself and then just annihilated every demon in sight, Woljiff did huge damage and applied lots of great debuffs and then teleported to safety when his health ran low, Greybor actually hit something (he's way better with his late-game Slayer abilities) and made a great flanking partner with Woljiff, Ember was able to charm some enemies and keep everyone healed up. It goes to show how some builds take a long time to come together.

So, let's maybe summarize the story and major choices:

Beodea was officially Neutral Good, leaning more Chaotic but not uniformly so. For the most part she's all for dispensing mercy and letting reformed villains off easy, but every once in a while she's like "Actually, no, you really do need to go to jail." The biggest example here was probably Nurah. I liked how Nurah's storyline went: it's great that you can discover the betrayal and get the upper hand, and her motivations  make sense in a way that most cultists' didn't. But she's fully unrepentant, so I didn't feel bad at all about leaving her to languish in the Drezen prison cells.

 


I initially took the Aspect of the Angel, which has a nice beam weapon that can also be spent as a heal. Later in the game I respecced into Aspect of the Demon to get an additional melee attack, which was a lot more useful to me as a frontline fighter. For the actual Mythic Path, I unlocked several including Aeon and Gold Dragon, but selected Azata and stuck with it the whole way. I talked down the angels inside the wardstone, kept the wardstones intact, and had Queen Galfrey finally release them at the end.

 


I rescued the Hellknight squadron and was generally friendly with the Hellknights, in a "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" kind of way. It helps that their battle unit is so powerful in the Act 2 Crusade.

In general I rescued everyone who could be rescued. Sometimes it turned out later that they were a cultist. Whoops. Sometimes being saved would inspire them to turn to a life of good, hooray! Sometimes they resumed culting, boo. But I generally avoided any straight-up murdering, other than Daeran that one time.

In the Battle of Drezen I followed Regill's suggestion to strike from the side and take out the giants. He's not perfect, but a lot of his advice is tactically sound.

 


I suspected early on that something was fishy with Early Sunset. He's supposedly my Azata advisor, and yet his advice generally skews towards damping any frivolity and focusing on getting serious work done. That said, I wasn't expecting him to turn out to be an actual devil, let alone Mephistopheles himself. I've done some reading since, and the whole Devil mythic path is really baffling to me. Azata and Devil are literally opposite alignments, I don't know why the one is an onramp to the other. (Aeon may make some more sense, but why Azata and not Angel or Demon?) It was a whole lot of fun to kill all of the slavers, though. (After buying all of their stuff.)

 


The Azata island was pretty fun and silly. Nearly all of my choices were driven by the [Choice effect] I wanted most and not the story impact. I accepted all of the allies, including the little crusader kids and the mimics; I love that the mimics make it into the ending slides! There's one bit of dialog that makes it sound like the island starts following you around, which sounds awesome, kind of like an airship in Final Fantasy or the pocket plane in Throne of Bhaal, but as far as I can tell it actually stays put and is only accessible near Drezen.

 


Lore about Sarkoris is sprinkled throughout the game with sidequests and conversations and books. It's interesting to occasionally meet actual Sarkorians: as ghosts, or residents of a Potemkin village, or Fallout-style refugees hiding in a vault. I was struck by the absence of any mention of Sarkoris in the ending slides. The century-long tragedy of the Worldwound has forever changed this land, and it is getting a fresh start instead of returning to the (now mostly-extinct) nation.

 


Let's see... I decided to storm Midnight Fane in advance of the Queen's arrival, supporting my chaotic Azata allies. At least I decided that narratively; in gameplay terms, I spent many many months researching every single trinket I'd discovered and building my armies into an unstoppable juggernaut before finally popping down below Drezen. I showed mercy to Minagho, for no particular reason other than that it was an option. Probably due to my "loose cannon who doesn't play by the rules" mindset, the Queen ceremoniously stripped me of rank and tossed me into the Abyss in what felt like the ultimate corporate power play. "No, no, you're being promoted! To oversee special projects in Siberia!"

 


I was initially bummed to lose my commandership, not so much for story reasons (Azata hate titles and responsibility!), but because I genuinely enjoy the Crusade sidegame of tactical combat and resource management. Act 4 gradually won me over, though. Alushinyrra is an amazing city, visually unique and very well-realized, with its own internal districts and factions and trends. It made me think a little of Sigil, especially its impossible architecture and slums-to-grandeur scale, but Alushinyrra is a lot prettier to look at.

 


Being a good guy in the Abyss doesn't seem ideal, but actually goes way more smoothly than you would think. You gradually come to discover that this is due to Nocticula herself. She became a demon lord and ruthlessly carved out this realm and has turned it into a crossroads, one that welcomes travelers from other realms and frowns upon needless violence. It's all oddly non-demonic, and (super spoilers) I'm fascinated to see that there are some endings where Nocticula ascends to Elysium to become the Redeemer Queen. One rhetorical question that the loading screen asks is "If an angel can fall, can a demon rise?" I always thought that was a reference to Arushalae, but it could just as easily be for Nocticula.

 


Anyways, in Alushinyrra I generally followed quests and followed the rules, while maintaining my Good choices, and only occasionally attacking the guards for the heck of it. I enjoyed this "rise to the top" segment, where you gradually become better known which brings you to the attention of more powerful patrons who in turn you eventually surpass as your star grows.

 


Around this time I became aware of the "secret ending", an astonishingly convoluted sequence of choices you can make that will result in a particularly exciting ending for your main character. During some major story beats I had the relevant Steam guide open in my Steam overlay; I'm glad, because there are some actions I definitely would have taken otherwise, like handing the Lexicon of Paradox over to Galfrey or Nocticula.

Act 4 is the one spot in the game where your main character needs to pass several checks on their own: first succeeding in a series of increasingly difficult Will saves (very tough for my martial character!), then a combination of four very high Lore checks (which I punted on until Act 5 and a lot of Lore-granting gear), and finally an exhilarating but challenging and long storybook sequence that sees you sailing an airship between the abyssal islands.

 


After my triumphant return to Drezen, I realized that the return wasn't very triumphant since the city was on fire and demons were everywhere. That idiot Galfrey had repeated Staunton's mistake and taken the damn Sword of Valor back out of the city again! I cleaned house, then was very impressed at Iomadae's dramatic appearance, then annoyed at Iomadae's singularly underwhelming offer to surrender my mythic powers.

 


It was fun to be back in charge of the crusade again, though obviously annoying to lose all of my armies. Before too much longer I had them back up and running again, though, along with my very experienced generals. My main was a fighter named... Furia, I think? She was unstoppable for a while thanks to her Shout that could stun a 3x3 grid of foes; a later patch nerfed that ability to only be usable twice per combat, but by then she was very high level and could handle everything, especially with double Strategems and a near-infinite Infirmary. My second-in-command was... Setsuna Shy, I believe? He's a very powerful mage who can directly wipe out some enemies by casting Fireball before anyone has a chance to move. By the end of the game I had six armies; Furia had hit level 20 and was in retirement to give others more XP opportunity, two or three chased down invading demon armies, and the rest were just placeholders for the random units I'd picked up from events that didn't fit anywhere.

The crusade stopped being fun after I had conquered all of the forts and armies and was just playing defense. It eventually hit an annoying point where, narratively, we were doing amazingly well: no demons at all left on Golarion, and literally any time that an army materialized, we pulverized them before they could reach us. But mechanically I was at -100 morale, because it had been too many days since I'd conquered a fort, and demons weren't reaching the part of the map that matters for morale. And all because of the secret ending, which required me to continue playing for nine months after I'd finished everything else.

Despite that morale of -100, my crusade was in pretty good shape. I had a huge number of units, and I could directly collect more, say, Signifiers by using a repeatable Ritual. My Finance Point gain had gone down to 0, but Woljiff's repeatable "Tricky Steal" decree could net me a huge sum. (It's supposed to give you 10% of your existing FP, but due to a bug [that will probably get patched because I reported it, sorry] it actually gives 110%.) And the repeatable Azata decrees gave me a steady trickle of mythic armies.

I could have further juiced the crusade by dumping gold into it; as with Kingmaker, you can convert your main game currency into your side-game currency (but not the other way around). By the end of the game I was closing in on somewhere around 4 million unspent gold coins. I was saving it to buy some good gear, but guess what: there's no good gear for sale in Act 5! I know, I was surprised too! The game economy actually feels pretty good up until the end of Act 4, where you need to save some money and decide which of several very expensive items you want to buy. Act 5 has all of the same gear as Act 3, though, and at its Act 3 prices, and all of that gear is way worse than what you got in Act 4. So, that was a bit of a shame... not gamebreaking, but a letdown from the generally well-tuned economy up until that point.

Oh, I think I mentioned before that I romanced Arushalae: I had to reload a conversation earlier in Act 4 because I was too eager in some dialogue, but I eventually dialed in to her level, and enjoyed the very sweet (and mostly-but-not-entirely-chaste) conclusion. I think that all of the companion quests conclude in Act 5, to various levels of satisfaction. Camellia's is a horror show, Greybor's is eye-rollingly inane, Seelah's is triumphant, and so on. (Oh, hm, I guess Sosiel's concludes in Act 4, but still.) After doing all of the companion quests and side quests and a very buggy new "DLC" quest, I finally turned to the main quests.

 


I broke into the... Ineluctable Prison, I think? and rescued the Hand of the Inheritor. As with many many things, this required reloading after I initially discovered him before finding his heart. I'm very glad for the guide on how and where to find Hepzamirah, because otherwise I totally would have missed her. 

 


Then (after Christmas!) I finally tackled Iz, although in retrospect it probably makes more sense to do Iz before the Prison. I high-tailed it to the library to further my Secret Ending goals, which set off a chain of events that ended in the death of Irabeth. I haven't dug into that too deeply, but I think it's possible to save her: obviously if you go after the Queen first, and probably also if you do things differently at the end of Act 3. With the Queen I was always gracious and polite, letting her berate herself for her poor judgment in casting me aside. I tried to flirt with her because I am (in games) an inveterate flirt, but my chaotic disposition firmly placed me in the "not her type" category. Oh, and I also killed Deskari with a midnight bolt because of course I did.

 


And then (after New Year's), Threshold! The big conclusion to the game, although I'm pretty sure it's shorter than Drezen. This had some uncomfortable echoes to the interminable Wild Hunt sequence in Kingmaker, with the game throwing lots of enemies at you with very high stats and saves and immunities. But Wrath's enemies mostly just deal buckets of damage and not unblockable debuffs, and there aren't nearly as many of them, so on balance it wasn't bad at all. But it's always funny to see how easy a boss fight is after nearly dying to the random trash outside their door.

 


 

I do genuinely enjoy the "All Skate" sequences that many big RPGs do in their final scenes, where in the grand climactic battle you're joined by all of the allies you've collected over the course of the game. In my case that included (deep breath) Inquisitor Hulrun, Paralictor Whatshisface and the Hellknights, Queen Galfrey, the Storyteller, Cian, Chief Sull and the Mongrels, those Sarkonians, the Free Crusaders, and probably more who I'm forgetting. It would be more meaningful if any of them had lasted more than a couple of rounds in combat: the friendly AI in this game continues to be dumber than a bag of rocks, and even their raw stats don't seem to be much to brag about. Still, it's the thought that counts!

 


I had to play through the ending three times. The first time I handily beat Areelu, but then my compulsive need to click on any skillchecks in dialogs thwarted me: I missed my chance at the secret ending, and instead got a pretty cool ending where Nocticula dropkicked Areelu into the Worldwound and eventually ascended into Elysium. On my second run I navigated the dialog successfully by doing what I can't do in blogging and getting right to the point. Baphomet went down easily, and I had Deskari down to 25% health when he raged on Beodea and killed her; she already was at Death's Door, so despite having plenty of Resurrection spells available it was an instant Game Over. Nertz! I think that's the only time that happened in this game (playing on Daring) that wasn't also a TPKO. On the third try, I cast Resurrection on the very-much-alive and at full health Beodea, fed everyone tacos and gave them a good night's sleep, then rebuffed and went through it again. Once more, fighting the two demon lords was vastly easier than fighting a Vavakia Vanguard.

 


So, hooray! I'd collected enough crystals that everyone in my party could ascend to divinity, and we brought Areelu along too. I briefly swore at the first slide: "What do you mean DEMI god?! I didn't go through all that to not be a full god! Iomedae got it, why the hell can't I?!" Of course the ascension changes many of the slides, and I was particularly interested in how much it changed the companions. Camellia is much less happy as a demigoddess than she is as a mortal murderer, since it's missing the thrill of challenge. On the other hand, Woljiff seems to be having a blast with his powers, and Greybor digs having worshippers. As I suspected, Sosiel seems to be the best equipped for divinity. As I also suspected, it's a real shock to Ember's worldview, but she seems to be adapting. Areelu is also less comfortable in Elysium than she is in the Golarion ending, but happy to be there. Regill's ending might be my favorite, other than the mimic pirates.

 


The game ends with Areelu facing Pharasma's judgment. In the first ending I intervened on her behalf, and she was exiled to... I think Maelstrom. In the second ending I declined to intervene, and Pharasma straight up ganked her, it was pretty sweet. Pharasma was much more complimentary of me in the first ending, but in the second ending you don't really need her compliments, it's much better to be a peer. I'm curious what happens if you chose to sacrifice yourself to close the worldwound, as I imagine you yourself would face Pharasma's judgment in that case, but I have a hard time thinking of any character who would choose to use their own blood instead of Areelu's to close the worldwound.

 


I've gotta say, I'm pretty impressed with the story in general and Areelu in particular. Well, first of all and taking a step back, this game has a huge number of villains: it's hard to remember that Minagho seemed like the main bad dudess for much of the game, and you don't even think of her for most of the ending. There are tons of lieutenants along the way like Xanthir the Plagued One, and optional evil villains lurking around like Zaccharius, story-only villains like Shamira, friends-and-foes like Staunton, etc. etc. So, that alone is interesting, it isn't just a Big Bad but an entire galaxy of bads, with certain bads forming particular constellations that may or may not align with other constellations of bads. 

 


But Areelu is (arguably) on top, at least positioned as the final boss, and a well-written villain. Actually, she might accomplish the elusive goal of being more of an antagonist than a villain. She has strong motivations for her actions, and those motivations become clearer over time. Early on your hear the broad outlines of her story - she was a witch, who was imprisoned by the magic-hating Sarkoris, and escaped captivity by opening the Worldwound. By the end of the game, you learn a lot more about what was actually going on, and she explicitly explains that she did not open the Wound to escape: she could have escaped at any time. She's a woman of huge ambition, a huge thirst for knowledge, who wants to understand how the universe works and how it can be changed. And that's tied with a more mundane but still very touching tale of grief over her murdered daughter (I wonder if this is a son if you play as a male PC?) and her doomed attempt to bring her back. 

 


And of course your own character's motivation can be equally complex. You can be fighting for personal survival, or to eradicate evil, or to become immortal, or to inspire others, or to have fun, or whatever. It's hard to imagine me spending this amount of time on a second playthrough, but I'd love to see the game through as, say a lawful aeon druid romancing Galfrey, or a chaotic evil demon alchemist romancing Camellia/Nocticula, and so on.

Now, let's have the envelope!

Favorite companion: Regill

Favorite Helm: Mask of the Most Worthy. (Follow-up: Gnawing Magic)

Favorite Glasses: Goggles of Malocchio

Favorite Cloak: Skinned Leather Cloak

Favorite Ring: Ring of Summoning. (I never summon with it, but love the passive buffs.)

Favorite Bracers: Heavy Hand

Favorite Amulet: Vellexia's Magnifying Amulet. (Follow-up: Voracious Spirit)

Favorite Armor: Chainmail of Comradery [sic]. (Follow-up: Web Strider)

Favorite Robe: Robe of Determination

Favorite Belt: Belt of Demonic Shadow

Favorite Gloves: Passion's Sweet Poison, but I also love Surefire Gloves and Fencer's Gift

Favorite Boots: Boots of Stampede

Favorite Weapon: Deadeye

Favorite Villain: Areelu Vorlesh

Favorite Not-Quite-A-Villain: Nocticula

Favorite Allies: Free Crusaders

Favorite Music: Mythic Power


Favorite Main Quest: Lots of competition, but probably the Act 2 battle for Drezen

Favorite Map: Hm, maybe the Upper City? Kingmaker's maps were prettier, although Wrath's are probably technically better.

 


Favorite Friendly Location: Azata Island. Drezen was cool but felt way too big. 

 


Favorite Ability: Challenge

Favorite Spell: Phantasmal Killer

Most Useful Spell: Dispel Magic, Greater

Favorite Summon: Elemental Swarm

Favorite Mythic Ability: Lots of great choices! Maybe Cleaving Shot, although Thundering Blows is excellent too.

 


Favorite Mythic Spell: Rejuvenating Poem

Favorite Class: Although I didn't use them much, I love the design of Witch and Oracle.

Biggest Surprise: Camellia. (Close second: Your personal connection to Areelu.)

Least Favorite Enemy: Balor (both in crusade mode and normal play). Runners-up: Mandragora  and Vavakia Vanguards.

Most Annoying Bug: Fear immunity not working

Favorite Buff (Short): Danger Ward

Favorite Buff (Long): Magic Fang, Greater

Least Favorite Debuff: Exhausted

Favorite Stratagem: Overwhelming Shout

Favorite (Crusade) Spell: Fireball

Favorite (Crusade) Ability: Song of the Last Push

Favorite Ritual: Call to Arms

Favorite Building: Hall of Strategy

Favorite Repeatable Decree: Tricky Steal, at least until it's patched

Favorite Cut-Scene: Iomadae's arrival

 


Favorite Banter: Lann and Camellia snarking at one another

Favorite Dialog Line (PC): "You swine! You pieces of shit! Come down here! I'll kill you all! I'll crush you! I'll tear you to shreds!"

Favorite Dialog Line (Companion): "Don't bring your metaphysics into this. Stop blaming your own incompetence on cosmic forces. The side of good isn't weak. It's you."

END SPOILERS

Yep, this was a pretty long game! Also a great one. Playing Kingmaker felt like playing nine full RPGs back-to-back-to-back. Wrath of the Righteous felt more cohesive to me, which is kind of odd since its mechanics change more strongly between acts than Kingmaker's did, but I think that's because it keeps the threat of the Worldwound front and center for the entire game and makes each chapter subordinate to it instead of a more-or-less independent story.

 


Games with huge scale can feel overwhelming and unfun; I used to cringe whenever I'd open an Elder Scrolls map and see hundreds of quest markers filling my screen. For whatever reason, though, I didn't have that problem with Wrath. Sure, some of the quests and levels feel very long; in particular, the act-ending battles are probably the longest sequences I've played in any RPG before. But with very few exceptions this feels like an asset and not a punishment: they're internally varied and dramatic and feel properly epic instead of padded. It surely helps that everything is handcrafted and not procedurally generated.

 


Oh, I somehow got this far without writing about bugs! Weird. So, the game has a ton of bugs, but pretty much nothing gamebreaking. It also has a nifty in-game bug reporting feature that I've probably used fifty times. I just need to figure out where to send my invoice for quality assurance testing. The most annoying thing is that many many of the items in the game just straight-up don't do what their descriptions say. In general most weapons work fine, but any unusual ability on a piece of armor should be treated with great skepticism, and if you don't see a buff appear on your character or an update to your stat sheet after equipping it, it almost certainly just does nothing. There are some occasional annoying issues with UX and combat that start to manifest after playing for several hours that can be easily "fixed" by quitting and relaunching. Pretty much everything else can be worked around by reloading your last save, so don't be shy about hitting that quicksave button. (And ideally some named saves at periodic intervals, but personally I didn't need to use those.) But playing Wrath shortly after release felt about as stable as playing Kingmaker more than a year after its launch. And Wrath was a really good time.

So, somehow, Wrath of the Righteous is the game that does everything I claim to hate, and makes me love it. It's huge, a big time sink, a power fantasy, a save-the-world-from-destruction storyline, a playable character who's incredibly capable and beloved by all. And I felt thrilled every time I opened it up, heard the dramatic music ring out, watched my enemies fall before me. I guess Owlcat knows my tastes better than I do!