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As my party delved into the ruins of the Gray Garrison, I felt at ease. The fortress is strong enough to withstand a demon lord throwing a huge magical rock at it, but it does suffer from a demonic infestation.
Room after room, my companions and I fought cultists and their evil masters. The floors dripped with blood. Our stash overflowed with loot. And yes, while we suffered from fatigue and ran out of potions, scrolls, and spells, I embraced a wave of contentment.
I was home.
Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous is a Western-style RPG from Owlcat Games that’s out today for PC. It’s an adaptation of the adventure path of the same name for the Pathfinder tabletop RPG (itself a spin on an older edition of Dungeons & Dragons). It’s all about fighting off a demonic invasion and the decisions you make along the way: Are you a force for righteous, or do you pit one evil against another? Will you adhere to law, or will you embrace chaos? Do you walk the path of angels, or do you consort with the undead?
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It also provides that comfort that I (and others) get from playing a turn-based RPG with lots of options for building characters, casting spells, using weapons and items, and making decisions that help shape the story.
In my near-30 hours with its beta code and 20 hours with a review copy, I’ve found that Wrath of the Righteous refines Owlcat’s work on its first Pathfinder game, Kingmaker. It has a turn-based mode at the start, plenty of options for adjusting difficulty and pace, and adds mythic progression. None of the bugs present in Kingmaker’s launch are in Wrath of the Righteous (though it still has some issues here and there). And the narrative feels tighter, too, as I start the second act.
This success is uneven. The narrative can be a weakness, and some will no doubt find the challenge of the early levels to be frustrating. Many will feel that combat can be a slog, and the addition of army combat can mystify.
My favorite aspects of Western RPGs are the choices, beginning with classes and carrying over to your abilities, your weapons and spells, and the party composition and story decisions you make along the way.
Wrath of the Righteous has class — 25 main classes and 162 archetypes (aka subclasses). You want a spellcaster? You got about two dozen choices. A warrior? Another few dozen. A rogue? A monk? A bard? Heck, these are there, too, and many of the classes and archetypes blend swords and spells (or bows and bards, if you prefer).
This doesn’t even take the 13 prestige classes nor the mythic paths into account.
My first run is as a polearm-wielding cavalier half-orc who loves to charge, glaive-point first, into the first foe she sees. She doesn’t cast spells, but since I always pick clerics or wizards for RPGs, I relished this choice. And because I can choose to fill my party with up to five others who can sling spells, fling arrows, toss magical grenades, or inspire through song, I feel pretty good about my hero focusing on melee attacks.
The mythic progression doesn’t kick in until, at least for me, the end of the first act, when a monumental battle results in you (and your friends) not only facing overwhelming odds but also gaining otherworldly powers. I picked the path of angels (one of nine), and I can now channel the power of good to heal my allies. I also get a boost to my charge attacks (maybe it should be the path of “holy cow”).
All of this resulted in me spending even more time than I usually do considering how I wanted to advance — not just as a cavalier, but how my choices would complement other characters (and how the choices I made for them would affect all of us).
Cool story, bro
Owlcat faces a challenge adapting an existing tabletop story to a video game (during this process, the studio also fired a consulting writer following accusations of sexual abuse). It’s not writing its own story, but it does have to modify one to fit a video game. It helps that Wrath of the Righteous has an epic storyline, one with conflict, romance, and moral choices.
It opens in sensational fashion, when a festival falls under attack from a rage of demons. You’ve got panicked townsfolk and brave defenders fighting off the Abyssal marauders and a climatic faceoff between a dragon and a demon lord.
The introductory dungeon takes you underground after the demon lord tears the town asunder. These caves, which don’t take that long to explore, are by far the weakest part of Wrath of the Righteous. You fight fiend-touched vermin (like giant flies), meeting and helping some good townsfolk along the way (and encountering your first party members). But this small slice is the only dungeon I didn’t care for. And once you get past this part and find a surprising underground civilization, the story and dungeons improve. You start taking on cultists and demons, getting a taste of what much of the first act will be like once you return to the surface.
You then start taking on missions in the demon-infested town, finding allies and resources and joining in the last stand against the monsters (by far the most difficult encounter of the first act. I had two party wipes in this long, drawn-out battle).
It’s far more intriguing stuff than Kingmaker’s story of carving a kingdom out of the hinterlands.
Along the way, you learn about your companions. One of my favorites is Nenio, a scholarly spellcaster so absorbed in her studies that she views the demon invasion as a chance to quiz cultists on proper cult behaviors. She’s arrogant, but her curiosity about everything around her is heartwarming. I’m also partial to Lann, a mongrelman (a mutant human) that’s a descendant of some the first crusaders, living underground. He’s unflappable even in the face of betrayal, and his cheer buoys your spirits as you face demon after demon. And even if she isn’t my favorite companion, Sheelah’s willingness to skirt the edge between law and chaos adds character to her path as a paladin.
Wrath of the Righteous has some good storylines for its nonplayable characters as well. I’m digging the romance between two key members of the town’s defense. You learn about the history of the demon’s invasions of the mortal realm. You experience the tragic story of a dwarf bewitched by a powerful demon into betraying his fellows … and the consequences he faces later on. But was it all for love, or did the demon’s power overwhelm him?
A meaningless march?
Beginning in the second act, you not only have your party to manage but an army as well. You have a camp, and you lead your followers in missions against the demon armies. When you win, you get points to hire more troops and generals (which give buffs, bonus attacks, and so on to your forces).
I’ve fought a few battles and assigned a general, and so far, I hate this part. Combat takes place on a grid, and it’s bland. Movement on the regional map is weird, too. You have a button that switches between party and army.
I just got to this part the day I started writing my review-in-progress. I may discover far more features that make this feel interesting and worth my time. But if it just feels like “more of this,” then I’d wish Owlcat didn’t cram this mode into Wrath of Righteous. It’s a story-driven RPG, not a strategy game.
Where angels fear to tread
I’m now preparing to storm Drezen, a fortress-city full of demons. Along the way, I have plenty of quests to take care off to both defeat the Abyssal incursion and dive into the stories of my companions.
This is what I want from an RPG, and Owlcat does an stellar job delivering this. The few bugs I encountered were either pathfinding errors (sometimes, one of my characters would just spin around as they tried to get to where they’re going) and one instance of freezing when I was casting a buff spell on my cavalier.
A warning: Make sure you’ve leveled-up and supplied your party as best as possible before taking on the massive fight at Defender’s Heart. It took me three attempts to survive this grueling battle of attrition, and the successful defense took an hour and about 10,000 gold’s worth of potions, firebombs, and scrolls.
I’m excited to see how Wrath of the Righteous ends, especially if that poor dwarf finds redemption or falls deeper into the clutches of evil.
Update, 2:28 p.m. Monday, September 20: After another 20 hours, digging deeper into both the plot and mythic paths, I’ve updated this review to include a score.
Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous is now available for PC. The publisher provided GamesBeat a Steam code for the purposes of this review.
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