Estimated reading time: 8 minutes
Back for the final release of Owlcat’s newest interpretation of an Adventure Path by Paizo Publishing for their game Pathfinder, called Wrath of the Righteous, and I am excited to have had my hands on this. I play a smattering of these tabletop systems, and Pathfinder’s first edition (with some tweaks, admittedly) has been my home for over a decade now. I’ve even got a play-by-post campaign I’ve been running with one other friend over Discord almost as long as Discord has been the gaming go-to. It’s a system that works in a lot of mediums, can be adjusted for a lot of settings, and holds a cornucopia-world setting that doesn’t feel too forced. These are all true for other rulesets, other settings, but while we can list wonderfully crafted CRPGs that hold true to their world, how many truly capture that feeling of the source material? I’ve only got one hand worth of fingers for my answer to that question, and Owlcat crafted two of them.
I already talked about how the game opens and the first chapter or so’s story overview in general in my beta preview article, so we’re not gonna rehash the story, since they didn’t change any of it. Here, we’ll be talking primarily about mechanics and design choices, limitations, comparisons with Kingmaker, which I also reviewed, as well as the revival of both isometric adventure computer RPGs and tabletops. If you’d like to see where Owlcat came from, or more context for the plot than you get here, check those out. In Wrath of the Righteous, you’re the Commander of the Fifth Crusade against the invading demon hordes of the Worldwound.
My biggest gripe with the game brings down one of my otherwise favorite parts, the narrative choice. Just like Kingmaker, this game is interspersed with scenes framed as if taken out of a book written by a bard you’ll meet. Unlike Kingmaker, this bard is a side character, not involved with the party, and I didn’t meet at all that I remember until Act 2. Wrath also seems to want to force an extreme out of the character outside of situations that don’t directly impact your alignment. At one point, I came across a Hellknight, an order allied to the Crusades, unarmed, unarmored, bruised and battered, looking as though he’d swum the abyss-plagued river to reach us, to tell me of his squad, under attack and outmatched by the ambush.
Your choices are binary: You can either ride out to save them immediately or, and I quote, “Throw him out.” instructing your guards to just eject a wounded ally from the camp. No middle ground, no chance to help him another way. I’m Chaotic Good, and while the game does a decent job of making sure your alignment can shine through, the fact that I just didn’t have time to backtrack my entire army two days to save his squad kinda felt like something Kingmaker’s final form would have at least had some option in the middle attitude wise, if not leaving the whole thing open as an issue for the Baron themself to solve as a choice. Pretty minor complaint, but one that stuck out to me.
Switching gears, I’m a huge fan of the characters in this one. Irabeth and Anevia Tirabade are paizo creations, the dynamic of a half-orc Paladin and a human rogue who leads a Crusader spy network, married and stomping demons together, but their personality and voice are all the work of Owlcat writers and the fantastic voice actors slotted into these roles. Companions too, Woljif holding steady as my favorite so far, we’ve got a pretty solid and intriguing cast that has me wanting to know more, from the Life Oracle with a taste for the cruel to the odd elf girl with the new Witch archetype.
Here’s another thing Owlcat has nailed this time around, the variety. Increased classes, races, and archetypes to choose from, backgrounds that affect your skills and proficiencies, it’s all golden to bring out that feeling of the Pathfinder RPG. Along with the standard Paizo fare (with all Unchained classes being represented instead of the CRB versions), Owlcat has created a few archetypes (and all of the background traits) of their own. Some are interesting, some are simple, all fit the way official Pathfinder RPG archetypes interact with their classes. The Arcanist has a “Nature Mage” archetype that didn’t exist whose only purpose is to give an otherwise unaltered Arcanist class the Druid spell list instead of the usual one, the Witch has one that shifts the class to function more akin to an Oracle, gaining a curse and a Charisma casting ability score instead of the Intelligence and a Patron, they get to keep the familiar though, which is golden. Arcane Enforcer is a Slayer archetype that replaces Slayer Talents with Arcanist Exploits, allowing me to make a martially capable assassin character with full Base attack bonus and a telephone ability to ignore obstacles and Attacks of Opportunity keeping me from my sneak attack. I enjoyed this archetype so much that I converted it to work in the tabletop and have it currently in use in a game.
While Kenabres kinda hurt to get around in its limitations, the real overworld opens up into a dual-map system with wide open roads like we remember from the Stolen Lands. The default map is your party travel, it works essentially the same as Kingmaker’s did. You travel based on your party’s average speed, settings to determine if encumbrance slows, rest to avoid fatigue, the whole drill. Wrath of the Righteous adds to it though. Two new feats, which each come with their own camp task, and a third camp task. With the same six-member party, you’ll have to divide responsibilities a little more carefully, and prioritize what you need. Brewing Potions and cooking a meal for a camp benefit take the same task slot, for example. Scribe Scroll is the other new feat, taking its execution at camp rest as well. these two are party-savers in the core difficulty, especially the stronger my Cleric and Wizard get.
The final new camp task is a ritual to prevent corruption. This entire game takes place in a land called simply the Worldwound. Once a mighty Kellid kingdom of Shamans and Witches, it is now a festering wound profusely bleeding, demons directly from the abyss flooding the land and everything from the soil to the weather corrupting to hostile, toxic, barren waste, and the longer you spend there, the worse it gets. Wrath includes three stages, and each one comes with significant stat penalties. You get a view of the corruption level every chance to rest, and your army’s Camp is a consistent safe place to get that cleaned out.
The map comes with a secondary layer though, the Crusade Map. Shifted near the overworld’s clock, the new map shows your armies, which have limited movement each day, while those movements don’t take up your party’s clock time. As you win battles, your morale will increase, and your armies will gain levels and resources. Spending these resources is as important as earning them, as improving and recruiting more armies will keep you making progress in the Worldwound, the game actually leaving you unable to progress unless you can take the fort before the next city, Drezen, using your armies instead of your party. These battles play out on a grid, with most units not really having abilities, and I couldn’t find myself engaged by them. Staying true to their tendency toward a customizable experience, I simply turned off the automatic decision to fight these battles. I still get the option when I move my armies over them, but for the most part, I just take what happens based on a dice roll and move on.
Kingmaker’s release was painful, I love the game and I think most would agree. Wrath of the Righteous is not. While there are some issues here and there, mostly odd interactions between effects, Owlcat is on it and has released a couple patches already since release. Both issues I had noted to bring up in here were known bugs by the team, and don’t exist at all now, so if you’re weary of the game that direction, feel secure knowing that the lesson was learned.
While not a perfect one-to-one of the tabletop experience, it might be as close as you can get. Bringing the best of both RPG worlds it stands firmly planted in, a whole stack of options and sliders to adjust which one of those worlds you play in, and the return of the on-the-fly toggling between turn-based and real-time-with-pause, Owlcat’s Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous is an exciting, attention-snatching, replayable role-playing experience you’ll spend dozens, if not hundreds of hours in. Whether you play it now on PC, or after it releases on consoles March 22nd, welcome to the Fifth Mendevian Crusade.Score: 9 / 10