I had high hopes of reviewing Pathfinder: Wrath Of The Righteous this week. However, somewhere around six hours into the game, when I realised I was still honking great tracts of story away from even unlocking most of the game's core mechanics, reality set in. Without properly no-lifing it for at least the rest of the week, I knew there was no way I was going to see enough of it to give any kind of overall verdict. It's months' worth of game, before even starting on replay potential. And honestly? If you're a certain kind of CRPG player, that should be all the recommendation you need.
Wrath Of The Righteous, much like predecessor Pathfinder: Kingmaker from 2018, is an RPG. Specifically, the kind it's most pragmatic to describe as "a bit like Baldur's Gate 2": a high-fidelity recreation of a tabletop RPG system, viewed from a top-down-ish perspective, and involving party management, hybrid turn-based/real-time combat, and absolute truckloads of dialogue.
I'll be upfront about it too, and say that if you - like me - loved Baldur's Gate 2 to bits, you should be playing this game. For the reasons stated above, I am in no sort of a position to say whether it's as good an experience overall. But it feels uncannily similar to play in terms of tone, story and pacing, and I've had loads of moments so far where, had you asked my hindbrain what it thought my conscious mind was up to, it would definitely have said, "Playing Baldur's Gate 2".
I've recently realised that a lot of my adult life playing games has boiled down to a desperate mission to relive those moments from my adolescence, when I first encountered games that would go on to become all-time favourites. These are, for the most part, elusive dragons to chase. As such, when a game genuinely manages to immerse me in the Proust-hole like Wrath Of The Righteous has, it makes me really sit up and take notice.
Still, while I remain wowed for the time being, it'll be interesting to see whether I make it through to the end or not. Because one thing which has already been brought home to me by Pathfinder's talent for evocation, is just how much more time I had on my hands back when I first played Baldur's Gate 2. Honestly, I'm not sure I want to spend hundreds of hours in an RPG any more, no matter how compelling it is.
Pathfinder, if you don't know, is the name of a roleplaying system which is a sort of evolution of an old edition of Dungeons & Dragons. I've played it precisely once, and I played as a sea-worshipping dwarven monk who kicked a millipede in half. Just like in real life. It was cool. And if I'm honest, I had no idea what I was doing. This is because Pathfinder's old-school ethos eschews pretty much all rules streamlining, for the sake of offering the most detailed simulation possible.
Wrath Of The Righteous does this, too. It's an extraordinarily faithful adaptation of the tabletop system, in fact, to the point where, even with a PC doing most of the thinking for me, I have found myself bamboozled more than a couple of times.
Even the character creation process, usually a piece of cake, left me feeling like I'd woken up with a major concussion in a European supermarket, unsure of what I'd been sent there to buy. There are, quite genuinely, hundreds of things you can be; more than you could ever hope to play through in a regular human lifespan. A category so seemingly basic as "Ranger", for example, has more subclasses than many games have classes full stop, with each offering a full-on archetype that will radically change your experience of the game, right down to dialogue options.
It's a paralysing amount of choice, with very few clues presented to the novice as to what meaningful differences exist between the options presented. Furthermore, knowing that you're committing to more than a week of solid game time whatever you choose, the decision becomes genuinely stressful: for me at least, it felt very much like I was choosing which 150-odd unique experiences to miss out on.
In the end, I opted to play as a half-orc druid who reveres enormous beasts. Just like in real life. Among other things, this allowed me to start the game with a pet Triceratops called Basileus, and that made me well happy. It also emphasised just how broad the options presented to me had been. If I was packing a fucking dinosaur from the word go, then what wonders might have been hidden among the other 150-odd archetypes I didn't pick, and which I mostly skimmed through with a rising sense of bewilderment?
I am having a lot of fun with Basileus, and I am killing loads of devils. Wrath Of The Righteous' story is genuinely a bit of a belter, putting you in the shoes of an itinerant crusader who has travelled to a city in order to fight a sort of bleak forever war against a load of satans coming out of a hole. Unfortunately, the chief satan - a bloke with clouds of locusts for wings - bins the whole city the moment you arrive, and changes your plans quite drastically. You fall down a hole, find a weird god sword in a knackered underground church run by mutants, and things really get motoring.
Still, as I said above, I'm not sure how long I'm going to be able to stick with it. There are just a few too many numbers floating around for me to truly get lost in the story. I think it's the fights, actually. Since I'm nowhere near any level of mastery required to play them in real-time, and because a lot of them are surprisingly hard, even early on, I'm pausing with extreme frequency. This is really slowing things down for me. It feels a bit like I'm reading a 3,000 page fantasy novel, but constantly having to put down the book to decide how each fight gets won.
I'm more than compelled to carry on for now. Apart from anything else, I'm intrigued to see the parallel grand strategy game about leading an army, which apparently kicks into gear during the next act. But at the back of my mind, I'm already feeling a quiet dread about the sheer amount of RPG admin I'll have to do before I get to that point, and how much of the rest of my life is worth sacrificing for it.
If you're happy with a slower-paced, mammoth-scale RPG experience, and are the kind of person who enjoys being fussy over the numbers, I expect that dread will not be something you tend to feel. You will likely fall in love with Pathfinder: Wrath Of The Righteous. Conversely, if what you're hoping for is an action-RPG along the lines of Diablo... Well, this place is not a place of honour; no highly esteemed deed is commemorated here.
Ultimately, I suppose I'm just a humble druid, looking to make their way through their world with their massive scaly mate, and I'm not sure which side of the fence I will eventually fall on. Still, another fifty or so hours should make up my mind, right?