Friday, January 24, 2020

Let Me Shake Your Hand!

I've reached the end of the first chapter of Pathfinder: Kingmaker, which seems like a fine time to check in on my progress!

Speaking of time: As noted in my inaugural post, I'm mostly pleased with how the time system works in this game. There's a time limit of 90 days (I think) to complete the first chapter, and I accomplished the main task with 46 days remaining. So it's definitely on the generous side, while its mere existence solves the "problem" of just resting to full health after each and every fight. This was a decently completionist playthrough, too... I think I had visited every area accessible through the fog, and had cleared all but two maps, both of which had extremely high-level enemies.

I'll start out with a bunch of random petty complaints:

Speaking of those two maps: I strongly suspect that P:K will be a lot like BG in that it would be more enjoyable to replay than to play the first time. On the one hand, it's fun to explore new areas and not know what to expect; on the other hand, it's extremely un-fun to be ambushed by a bunch of invisible wererats and annihilated without being able to respond. These sorts of encounters can only be solved with meta-knowledge that you, not your character, possess: that this one particular map, unlike all the other maps around it, is an especially high-level challenge and you need to come back later. As a player, all you can do is reload a previous save game and leave; as a character, all you can do is die.

I really enjoy the idea behind camping and cooking, making its own system with resources and trade-offs, but there are tons of mechanical and lore aspects of it that irritate me. For starters, camping is by far the biggest time-sink in the game, with most of that coming from hunting. Which... if I'm cooking a recipe that's consuming a slab of beef AND a bag of flour AND a bag of rice, why am I also hunting deer for 20 hours? I'd expect to either hunt (more time but less resources) or use recipe ingredients (more resources and less time), not both.

Instead, if you want to skip the huge time devoted to hunting, you need to use camping supplies. These are ridiculously heavy! For a while I was carrying one for each party member, and it was more than half of the total weight carried by my party, at a whopping ten pounds per person. I think that I finally get the purpose of this - it's so you can rest while inside a dungeon, without returning to the overworld map for hunting - but ye gods, the weight is absolutely terrible. I finally stopped carrying the supplies and am glad I did, they aren't remotely worth the encumbrance.

In general, I'd like to be able to:
  1. Store all my cooking supplies in my shared storage back at base.
  2. Look at my known recipes.
  3. Decide what dish(es) I'm going to make.
  4. Take those ingredients with me.
  5. Leave everything else back at base.
Except... as far as I can tell, there's no way for you to view your recipes unless you're actively camping. And you can't bring up the camping UI while you're in your base. So, you don't know what food items you need to bring with you. And so you end up lugging around a bunch of heavy food that's useless because you don't know any recipes that require it. (I think this will get better once I have enough recipes and raw supplies to, say, just bring along 15x meat and potatoes and flour to bake a bunch of shepherds' pies; but in the current game, where I know about six recipes and have 3-4 each of like 15 different ingredients, I don't have that luxury.)

And speaking of weight: I'm a little baffled why the game has a whole system around using Lore (Nature) to skin wild animals for their pelts, when those pelts turn out to be totally useless. They aren't used in anything or for anything, and are only valuable to sell; but their price-per-pound ratio is some of the worst in the entire game.  Likewise you can pick up bottles of wine and mead and stuff that seem like they must be useful, but nope: They're just practically-worthless vendor trash.

The user interface definitely isn't the worst I've used, but also isn't the most helpful. I didn't realize until reaching Level 3 that my PC's cantrips weren't appearing on my quick-bar to cast. It took me an embarassingly long time to figure out how to assign them. Likewise, I didn't realize until even later that my mage had more memorization slots after leveling up that she hadn't yet filled: new spells are automatically memorized into slots, while newer slots for older levels just hide way back in your Spellcasting screen until you go hunting for them. Anyways, it's all fine once you know where things are, but it doesn't seem super-learnable in-game, compared to other RPGs I've played that have more detailed tutorials or friendly-nag prompts.

Economy-wise, I'm experiencing my standard generalized paralysis of whether stuff is worth buying or whether I should be hoarding my gold; I'm now up to around 10,000 gold pieces and haven't bought anything interesting. There's, like, a +2 belt of Strength for 2,000 gold; that sounds good, but will I be seeing +4 belts in Chapter 2? Will I find more free belts while questing? I just don't know!

Finally: it's a tiny interface thing, but I really with that you could use your numpad to select dialogue responses, instead of needing to use the mouse or the top row of number keys. I've gotten used to driving conversations through the numpad in the Shadowrun games, and Divinity games, and the Dragon Age games, and pretty much every other PC RPG with branching dialogue, and it feels weird to be playing a game without it.

Okay, with random pettiness out of the way, let's move on to random compliments!

In my first post I'd noted that the maps in this game feel small. I'd wondered if that was an engine limitation, but nope, I see now that they're capable of being very large, indeed! Old Sycamore is probably my favorite area in the game so far and has great design. Each individual level is big and varied and filled of interesting stuff and routes; and the system as a whole is cool and nicely interconnected. It reminded me slightly of the Nashkel Mines, for giving me the sense of venturing into a proper dungeon for the first time after wandering the surface for weeks. At the same time, after experiencing Old Sycamore I'm glad that most other maps are on the small side. In my opinion, the density is what's important, having interesting and worthwhile stuff accessible, and there doesn't seem to be much useless padding in this game. A typical map might have one big fight against a tough opponent, a treasure cache, and a hidden secret with some more treasure, and that's it. You don't need to wander for long to confirm that you're done before moving on.

The maps are pretty, and good, though in my opinion a notable step down from Divinity: Original Sin 2. The first thing I notice is much less verticality: the terrain is three-dimensional, with rolling hills and occasional cliffs and chasms, but that's really just important for pathing and choke-points, there isn't an advantage to being on higher ground. That isn't necessarily a problem in this game; I loved the combat in DOS2 but the arenas did feel contrived sometimes ("Here's another ladder climbing 50 feet up into a tree!"). Where DOS2 combat was very tactical and focused on fine positioning and sequencing of actions, P:K combat feels more strategic: it's about resources and focused targets, is very forgiving about line-of-sight and positioning. One of the best examples might be how sneak attacks are handled: other RPGs will require you to move a rogue into a spot directly behind a foe and unleash a melee attack with a specialized weapon in order to get a sneak attack bonus. P:K's requirements are far simpler: if you have the sneak attack skill, and are "flanking" an opponent, you get the bonus. All that is required to "flank" an opponent is for at least two party members to be in melee range of the target. This makes good intuitive sense: if a foe is distracted by the big scary tank in front of them, you'll have an opening to slip a shiv through their armor. But it also opens up some really interesting scenarios: now you can sneak attack with projectiles, or even spells, letting you build proper rogues that don't need to directly expose their bodies.

Speaking of rogues: I'm planning on resetting at least a couple of my party members, and rogues are the main reason why. One thing I didn't fully grok until recently is that thief and rogue are two pretty distinct roles in this game. You do need a thief, someone who can pick locks and disarm traps. But that person does not need to be a rogue! Your rogue class is all about your combat skills, the sneak attacks and so forth. Your thief role is all about your Trickery ability, which is open to every class; it is improved by your DEX, so there is synergy with Rogue, but it's definitely not necessary. I do like this trend in RPGs of separating out combat and non-combat skills to different progressions, somewhat like the Inquisition Perks in DAI or like skills in Pillars Of Eternity, though the ability system in P:K makes more sense to me than the skill system in PoE did.

At a high level, I'm really digging the party composition so far. I'm guessing the order of recruitment varies depending on the initial choices you make during the prologue, but in my game, the first three companions after the prologue were all women, and five of the first six recruits were as well. This has been a really nice change of pace from DAI and PoE, which were both 2/3 male. There's some fun subversion of stereotypes here, too: your tank and your heavy hitters are women, while the first (and so far the only) healer is a man. You have a ton of flexibility in how you grow your party, which I think helps you pick companions at least somewhat based on their personality and then level them up to fit your party: you're stuck with their alignment and initial stat choices, but otherwise can choose any legal class each time they level and have total control over their skill progression. There are three free respecs, and more respecs at a cost after, so once I'm confident I've recruited most of my party and have a handle on combat synergies I think I'll go back and redo a few of my favorite characters so there's less overlap and more capabilities in my party loadout.

Those characters themselves are good. The "Getting to know you" conversations with companions back at your base can feel a little wall-of-text-y, and tend to feel more like lore dumps of the world than personal anecdotes from a person. The dialogue usually sounds like "I'm X, I'm a citizen of nation Y, I come from city Z, I worship god A [APPROVE/DISAPPROVE?!], I belong to faction B", etc., etc. It's very exposition-focused and doesn't feel directly relevant to my immediate circumstances or quests, so I end up just kind of glazing over.

That said, the characters are a lot more fun pretty much everywhere else. They aren't super-chatty in most dialogue, but will occasionally jump in when you're facing a decision that they feel very invested in. As I noted before, they have wonderful banter in the camping interface whenever you rest. I've recently been pleased to see that they can also appear in the storybook segments (which I think is just flavor, but very welcome flavor!)

The voiceovers seem kind of inconsistent. Some companions are pretty much fully voiced, with all lines read out in full. Others aren't voiced at all, except for their fireside banters. Some (apparently) minor NPCs get voice acting, while (apparently) more important ones do not. The quality varies a bit from person to person, and in one or two cases it sounds like someone may not have great microphone equipment or technique, but everyone is pretty good, and I don't generally find myself skipping past spoken lines.

I'm starting to hit some of the very early romance content, and, well, I'm glad that this game has romance! So far it feels a bit on-the-nose, with both your dialogue prompts and your companions' responses sounding extremely flowery and over-the-top. But I shouldn't complain, I'm just happy for it to be here!

I don't have much plot stuff to share yet, but some minor characters to chat about, so let's visit


Speaking of romance: so far I'm flirting with Octavia. I kind of hope Amiri is a romance option, but haven't seen any clear openings there yet. It looks like Valerie is romanceable. The game acts like Valerie is the most beautiful creature to ever exist on the planet, and... I just don't get it? I mean, she's definitely fine, but her portrait, model and description don't seem drop-dead gorgeous. Of course, taste is unique, but the game wants to emphasize that everyone finds her extremely attractive and are instantly smitten by her beauty, and it's a weirdly hard sell.

I do dig her as a character, though. At least her personality, which, despite her being a Tower Shield Specialist, tends to sound very paladin-esque, befitting her Lawful Good alignment. Mechanically, she can be pretty challenging, mostly due to my biggest frustration in this game, weight. She has surprisingly low Strength, which in most games wouldn't be that big of a deal since her job is more to absorb damage than to deal it out; but because this game has both personal and party-wide encumbrance, and she's lugging around freaking heavy armor and a super-freaking-heavy shield, she's constantly under a malus that diminishes her effectiveness at everything. I've been mitigating that a little by giving her a STR-boosting belt and dropping all unnecessary equipment, but still, if I had rolled her stats I would have respecced her long ago.

My current party loadout looks like this:
  1. Valerie takes point in our flying "V" formation, usually drawing threat on new engagements. She's single-classed as a Tower Shield Specialist, with very few active skills but some passives that boost her survivability and support other melee fighters.
  2. Jaethal is single-classed into Inquisitor. I've started loading up on Teamwork feats for her since she can proc them herself, but that's leading me to put those feats on Valerie and Amiri as well. I'm still using her scythe. She'll bless the party before a fight, and can hit damn hard. She's surprisingly survivable, probably thanks to her decent armor and Valerie's threat acquisition.
  3. Amiri is my glass cannon. I gave her one rank in Vivisectionist, which gives her Sneak Attack (any time she's flanking, which is always) and a once-per-day mutagen that boosts her STR and AC. Everything else goes into Barbarian. I think she should get some durability buffs at higher levels, which will help a ton, because she's by far my most vulnerable companion at the moment. I need to micromanage her a little so she doesn't rush ahead of Valerie and get slaughtered. During more complex fights, I like to have Amiri juke to the side while Valerie and Jaethan meet the front line, then have Amiri rush to the enemies' back line and destroy the casters and archers there. 
  4. Guchok, my PC, is a single-class Bard. I'll often open up fights by having Guchok summon a monster next to my foes, which will cause them to burn abilities and a round of actions targeting it, while my party can do real damage to them and close ranks before they respond. Once the fight is joined, Guchok usually just attacks with her light crossbow from the rear. After it's done she'll help heal wounds incurred. She has a set of utility spells that are situationally useful.
  5. Linzi is another Bard! I gave her one rank in Thug, which gave her Sneak Attack and some other goodies. She's usually the one singing morale for the party, though on very long adventuring stretches between rests she'll eventually run out and Guchok will take over. Otherwise she's mostly overlapping Guchok, but with a slightly different spell loadout.
  6. Finally, Octavia, who seems like a great party member but I can't quite decide how to build her. She has fantastic thief abilities and is my go-to for out-of-combat thievery. In combat, I mostly use her as a mage, focusing on direct damage spells (which can land sneak attacks!).
I really like the mix of personalities in that group, but there's a weird mish-mash of arcane and roguish stuff going on between Guchok, Linzi and Octavia, so I think I'm going to eventually respec them into more discrete roles.

In terms of story: Guchok is Lawful Neutral, and I've been trying to follow that, but do definitely find myself veering towards the Lawful Good side fairly often. Like a lot of D&D-inspired games, it can be really hard to make a compelling "Evil" side, which pulls the whole center of gravity towards the "Good" side of the scales. I am digging how the game handles alignment stuff. You get ample opportunities through dialogue to take actions that will shift your alignment, and those are clearly marked. And, more rarely, your alignment will unlock specific outcomes: by being Neutral, I could negotiate an armistice with two warring factions at Old Sycamore, for example. I do like this, as it feels like cases where your reputation would realistically open up a certain possibility that might not be available to someone else.

I don't feel like there have been many proper, big-picture choices so far. It sounds like there was a chance to capture Tartuccio alive, but if so I didn't have the opportunity to do so. I'd wondered if you could persuade the Stag Lord to stand down, but it doesn't seem like that can be done, either. There are plenty of smaller choices along the way, though. As noted above, I avoided fighting either the Kobolds or the Mites, and ended up re-establishing peace between the two; I'm not sure yet if that will have any longer-term consequences.


Yup! This is A Game. I think I'm going to start getting into the Kingdom Management side of things soon, which is very exciting. I've always loved stronghold-management stuff in RPGs, and kingdom decision-making since the old Castles game, and am really looking forward to seeing whatever Kingdom stuff is in store for me.

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