Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous is a cool game, creaking underneath the burden of all its techniques, subclasses, sidequests, and God, that identify. It is also the game that noticed me by way of first catching Covid, and retroactively my private game of the 12 months for 2021. Wrath of the Righteous additionally simply makes an outstanding first impression. Nicely, second impression.

Your first actual gameplay with WotR (I am submitting a grievance if I’ve to preserve writing it out) is cramped dungeon crawling in some caverns underneath the town of Kenabres. It is fairly customary CRPG tutorial/prologue fare, elevated right here by WotR’s punishing difficulty and tactically wealthy encounters. When you’re above floor although? Act one is juicy.

You are caught in a metropolis underneath siege by demons, together with your solely secure haven a fortified tavern within the thick of it. The powers that be saddle you with a pair principal targets like uncovering the enemy’s plans or rescuing a plot-important particular person, however you have additionally obtained a bevy of optionally available targets like saving townsfolk or recruiting companions to pursue. Necessary areas to hit are sprinkled by way of a Baldur’s Gate-y world map of the town rendered in gorgeous element⁠—your occasion’s represented as a chess piece sliding round a parchment map in actual time, with this audible rasp as you scrape your means over alleys rendered in ink.

This is the twist although: moving by way of the map and resting to heal up after encounters takes time, and inside just a few in-game days of beginning act one, your tavern base will come underneath assault by demons. Not solely is that this a supremely lengthy, difficult, and ingenious encounter with virtually tower defense-style gameplay transposed to Pathfinder guidelines, however plenty of these optionally available targets I discussed earlier get essentially altered or fail solely when you save them for after the siege.

I wound up taking part in up up to now from the start 3 times my first playthrough. The primary, I took my time and luxuriated, liberally resting to refresh my health and spells⁠—the CRPG’s equal of fast saving each 5 seconds in case you are noticed in an immersive sim. I used to be barely in a position to make any progress on my quests, and wound up coming into the midterm megafight woefully underleveled. After thirty minutes of turn-based battling, I used to be down half my occasion however near the top, or so I figured. That is when an enormous previous miniboss of a hell-minotaur confirmed up and cleaved by way of the remainder of my guys.

Second spherical: I made it all through to the opposite aspect, however a number of the quests I missed have been kinda load-bearing for the companion and construct decisions I needed to make. This significantly cheesed me off on the time, however now I consider it fondly⁠—it is a uncommon game that has the heart to say “fuck you, cope with it” while you miss one thing or mess up, and I like a hardcore, unforgiving game. Anyway, I began my Groundhog Day loop over another time and completely beasted by way of Kenabres underneath siege, nailed each quest and stage up I used to be aiming for, and confirmed that hell-minotaur what for.

A locust demon holding a scythe

(Picture credit score: Owlcat Video games)

The remainder of Wrath of the Righteous is nice as properly, however the tense, low-level, high-stakes gameplay of the primary act particularly speaks to me. It is laborious to do low-level d20 fight right, however Owlcat nailed it like few others⁠—after 2003 or so most RPGs need to rush you previous the early ranges so you will get all of your juicy powers and cease whiffing assault rolls, and solely previous favorites like the unique Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale, and the Temple of Elemental Evil, or obscure gems like the superb Swordflight marketing campaign for Neverwinter Nights come to thoughts as actually luxuriating in and celebrating low-level RPG fight. 

The tavern siege set piece is that this nice second of catharsis for all of the timed questing you have been simply speeding to get in, and I feel it is an all-timer CRPG fight encounter⁠—splitting up your occasion to cowl the weaknesses on this perimeter then speeding to adapt because the scenario adjustments, cursing out the gaggle of demon cultists that spawned right where you are most defenseless. I additionally love how Owlcat essentially limits your resting with this primary act’s time crunch, turning it into a protracted useful resource administration problem.

It is clear Owlcat realizes it hit on one thing particular with this primary act⁠—WotR’s second DLC, By means of the Ashes, was a low stage journey with much more useful resource constraints set in Kenabres in parallel to the occasions of act one. Now I am simply hoping the studio can spark that very same tense, exhilarating feeling in its upcoming Warhammer 40K CRPG, Rogue Dealer.