This Underrated CRPG Is the Best Roleplaying Experience I’ve Ever Had in a Game
Gee, Madeline! How come your mom lets you have TWO elf husbands?
Two Christmases ago, I was given the extremely generous gift of my very first gaming PC. To be clear, these kinds of gifts aren’t the norm for me; I’m just difficult to shop for, and my loved ones overheard me complaining to a friend about the prices of such things. I wasn’t hoping for something super high-end for playing games like Elden Ring, just a very rudimentary gaming console that I could comfortably enjoy playing proper PC games on.
My new hardware introduced me to the world of CRPGs—without a need for Google Stadia (rest in peace?). While many of these titles did technically have console ports, I guess I just never saw the appeal of playing such games on a console: the distance from screen to couch made it difficult for my mole-eyes to read all those mountains of text, and the Switch seemed to struggle with the console ports of bigger RPGs.
As a result, I played an obscene amount of CRPGs last year, with Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous being the last one. And honestly? Although I’d hoped to have it finished by the new year, I think this game is going to maintain a hold on me for at least another month or so. This game is dense, and it plays like an excessively long novel … and I just absolutely love it. Usually I feel gross playing games for long periods of time, but over the holidays, it became very normal for me to hunker down and completely sink into this game for a good third of the day.
And I’m here to tell you all about it today because I really think you guys would like it, too.
Choices, choices …
The game is almost disgustingly open-ended, right from the very start. The character creation does not mess around. There’s no Morrowind-style, “Oh come right on up and answer some fun little questions about yourself, what’s your sign, babygirl?” quiz to determine your character. You are immediately met with a plethora of prompts and options that are intimidating even to Pathfinder veterans. As a newcomer who’s never even played a tabletop game with friends (someone please play with me, I’ve been asking for years), it admittedly took me a couple tries to get a character I really liked.
Eventually I managed to settle on a half-elf magus (a magic/melee class that specs in Dexterity and Intelligence) with a subclass as an Arcane Rider. In other words, I was a pretty pretty princess with my own magic pony. Oh yeah. Fittingly, I chose the freedom-loving butterly goddess Desna as my deity, having no idea just how well that would tie into the plot down the line.
Now, some games stop being very customizable after the character creation screen. Your primary character, or PC, ceases to have much autonomy as they meld to the whims of the plot. But in Wrath of the Righteous, your PC has agency every step of the way, and that agency carries major consequences nearly from the jump. For instance, not even an hour into the game, you meet Lann and Wenduag, two characters from a cave-dwelling race known as “mongrels” that descended from the first Crusaders (we’ll get to them in a bit) and were corrupted by demons, resulting in some strange mutations. Lann is half elf and half lizard, and Wenduag is a blue cat-spider-girl. They’re both pretty interesting characters and I would have loved to keep them in my party full time, but the game only allows you to pick one, and your choice carries more of an impact down the line than you might think. It doesn’t end at, Well I guess I’m gonna pick Lann because he’s not evil and his pectorals are very nice and big; your choice has the potential to affect the entire mongrel storyline.
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The way you play through the first act of the game will go on to dictate your tenure as a “commander.” Specific choices and dialogue options you make, as well as which quests you decide to complete, can influence what sort of “Mythic Path” you’ll take. And Mythic Paths are basically a divine class you can add to your preexisting class, but they have more of an impact on the story. To avoid spoilers, I won’t say too much about what exactly these paths are, but the point is that they slap supremely and elevate you to a quasi-demi-god. And there’s a lot to choose from, even there! You can be basic and follow a standard Angel or Demon path, yet even those paths aren’t as generic as they are in other games. You can be a Trickster who bends the laws of reality. You can even be the sort of Mythic who messes with time and can change events after they’ve already happened. I ended up going with Azata, the chaotic-good, freedom-fighting, touch-of-whimsy Path, because it melded incredibly beautifully with my PC, who was offered the path after helping her fellow Desna followers.
You also get a baby dragon as a follower if you go with Azata. She loves cookies.
And look, you only get more choices as you go along, but I don’t want to venture too far into spoiler territory. Just believe me when I say that if you think you get the picture, ha, my friend—you don’t even know where the frames end.
Plot, characters, and the power of good writing
The basic gist of the plot took me a while to understand because, again, it’s a dense game. Essentially, you live in a country called Mendev, which suffers from the Worldwound: a manufactured portal that allows demons to come in from the Abyss. Ever since the Worldwound opened, there have been a number of wars called Crusades, wherein demons and mortals clash over dominance of the mortal world. Our character wakes up with amnesia (typical) in the militaristic city-state of Kenabres right as the city is overtaken by the locust demon lord Deskari. Fantasy gobbledygook, etc., etc.
All of this could have gone straight to the shitter if it wasn’t for the fact that the story is executed in a really, really compelling way. It doesn’t get too lost in the sauce of its own lore, instead letting you catch up at your own pace. You can skip through entire blocks of context and still get a clear enough picture of what’s happening just by how you’re forced to interact with the world. And what I love is that you really and truly don’t have to lean into the “hero” mindset in this game: You can reject it and throw a fit over fate and how you’ve been roped into everything—you can do it all and then some. The game recognizes that the player is intelligent enough to keep up and gives you so many chances to prove it, instead of holding your hand through it all.
It does so with its characters, too, for the most part. I haven’t been this fond of an RPG party in a very, very long time—maybe since Dragon Age: Origins. Each character has countless interactions with one another, and they’re distinct without falling into stereotypes. For instance, Daeran Arendae, a neutral-evil Count, is one of the best-written companions I’ve ever seen in a video game. He’s a complete and utter bitch who enjoys making light of whatever’s going on, yet he’s not cartoonishly cruel. He’s very self-aware and knows that people don’t like him, yet he admits that after all the horrible things he’s been through, it just doesn’t matter to him. He’s a nihilistic thrill-seeker who sometimes gets your party into even more trouble because he can’t keep his mouth shut.
And yet, Daeran somehow ends up being one of the most doting party members in the entire roster. He looks out for you and the others in his own way, and he genuinely wants to be a part of it all; he just doesn’t want to have to sacrifice who he is while doing it. Joining the Crusade ends up giving him a sense of purpose that he never had in his estate, and if you respond positively to his flirting, he’ll end up romancing you. Yeah, you heard that right: no more gift-giving or worrying over the right dialogue options. This madman will bring you roses, give you a bath, lavish you with presents. It’s still in line with his character, and it only gets better over time!
Like, I know I was drooling over Lann’s mongrel bod earlier, but ultimately, what’s a hottie without good writing? Take note, fellas.
Finally, the combat
Some of you might be saying, “Yes Madeline, we get it, you like hot elves, we’ve been there, done that, what about the combat?”
I’m a combat weenie even on the best day, but some veterans of this kind of game were posting that they had to scale the difficulty back—from Normal. And it’s not because the game is poorly designed! It’s just … well, with a game that has so many choices and a steady yet brutal pace, you’re going to encounter a lot of hiccups that will have you questioning why on Desna’s green earth these random-ass demon enemies are so OP. I’m not ashamed to admit I’d play large portions of the game on “Story Mode” just because I couldn’t be arsed to think too hard about buffs and debuffs and yada yada yada.
Ultimately though, this makes your victories feel even more notable because, unlike other RPGs, doing well in Wrath of the Righteous means you’re playing the game “right.” Your build is solid, your companions’ builds are solid, and you’ve got a feel for the tactics that give you a sense of mastery, if only for one or two battles. I’ll try to keep this as non-spoilery as possible, but late in the game, I had an option to get rid of my godly powers. Within the context of the character I was roleplaying as, I did. To compensate for my lack of power, I got a shitload of new mortal powers that made me a god in my own right on the battlefield. I’m legitimately proud of my build, guys. I combined my preexisting Arcane Rider class with the added classes of Eldritch Knight and Bloodrager/rider. Yes, she’s a little spongey because we’re only just starting to nurse her constitution, but she’s now the biggest damage-dealer of the entire party. And while sometimes I miss having the gods of whimsy and delight on my side, ultimately, I’m genuinely proud of this half-elf mortal hussy!
Will I like Pathfinder: Wrath of the Righteous?
It’s difficult to recommend games like this because their main detractor is just how time-consuming they are. I was lucky enough to pick it up during the holidays, but I don’t know how much I’d be able to commit to this game otherwise.
Ultimately, if you’re a patient person who’s willing to put in some time for a game like this, then yes, I recommend it 100% and then some. I’ve loved every minute of this game and I truly think it raises the bar for other RPGs of its kind. And the best part is, Owlcat—the devs behind the game—are still adding content to it! I can’t wait to see the wedding DLC for me and Daeran because that’s happening, right? Right??
(featured image: Owlcat Games)
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