Back in 2018, Owlcat Games released Pathfinder: Kingmaker, a CRPG based on a popular (but not quite as popular as Dungeons & Dragons) tabletop RPG. It had some neat ideas, including building and managing your own kingdom, but ultimately paled in comparison to the likes of Divinity and Pillars of Eternity.
Fast forward to today and the developer is hoping to make up for the first game's shortcomings—and has managed to raise over $2 million through crowdfunding to help them do it. Wrath of the Righteous expands on Kingmaker in every way, including the addition of Mythic Paths. These let you become, among other fantastic creatures, a Lich, Angel, Gold Dragon, or Demon, which will affect your character, how the story plays out, and how the world reacts to them.
But that all comes much later. First, you have to decide who you want to be. This is one of the deepest character creation systems I've seen in an RPG, with an overwhelming number of ways to shape your protagonist. If you're the kind of person who spends an hour creating your hero in games like Baldur's Gate, pour yourself a hot drink for this one. To kick things off, I choose the Cavalier class, who specialises in mounted combat—a new feature in Wrath of the Righteous.
I also choose the Beast Master subclass: a type of Cavalier who "spends his life in constant pursuit of the most perfect mount, forming bonds with greater, more powerful, and more exotic creatures." Beast Masters get class bonuses to Persuasion, Athletics, and Mobility, but they can't cast any spells. Because who needs spells when you're a master of beasts, right? Other classes available in the game include Alchemists, Barbarians, Clerics, Hunters, and Bloodragers—a type of fearsome frontline fighter with a very metal name.
Then it's time to create my character's background. I decide he's a Wanderer. "Life is a path, not a destination," the in-game description reads "Your backpack is always ready and your feet are itching for the road, wherever it may lead." I always like playing as drifters and loners in RPGs. Leaning into that, I also make him a Nomad—a kind of background subclass—which gives me specialist knowledge of nature lore and my animal buddy a +3 hit point bonus. It also makes me proficient with scimitars, which is cool. Who doesn't love a scimitar.
Next up, stats. I select Charisma as my racial bonus, because I love sweet talkin' my way out of trouble in CRPGs. I give my Cavalier a lot of Strength, Constitution, Dexterity, and Charisma, but skimp on the Wisdom and Intelligence. Being a Nomad, I figure he probably hasn't spent much time hanging out in the library with dusty old wizards. For Feats, I add Alertness, which gives me a +2 bonus to Perception, and Endurance, which earns me a +2 bonus to Athletics—and lets me sleep in light or medium armour without becoming fatigued.
To finish things off I choose Atheism as my religion (or lack thereof), True Neutral as my alignment, and best of all, a velociraptor as my animal companion. Yes, there are dinosaurs in Wrath of the Righteous—some of which you can use as mounts and ride into battle. Why gallop around on a boring old horse when you can charge gloriously into the fray on the back of a prehistoric beast? Other mounts and animal companions include dogs, elk, mastodons, wolves, and smilodons—a beast you probably know better as a sabre-toothed tiger.
With my character complete, I begin my adventure in Kenabres, "a city poised on the border between two worlds." The setting in Wrath of the Righteous is split between the 'normal' world—a fairly typical Tolkien-esque high fantasy setting—and the Worldwound, a freaky, demon-haunted wasteland teeming with all manner of unholy monsters and dark magic. A fair is taking place in Kenabres, but the festivities are interrupted by a battle between a giant insect-like demon and a dragon. Amid the chaos, the ground is torn apart and I fall into the crack.
Down in a spider-infested cavern lit by glowing blue mushrooms (hey, it's a fantasy RPG after all), I team up with a few other survivors of the attack on the fair and get a taste of one of WotR's many dungeons. The game features both turn-based and Infinity Engine-style real-time with pause combat—and you can switch between them on the fly, which is nice. I was raised on Baldur's Gate and Icewind Dale, so I stick with the latter. The fighting is pretty standard for a CRPG, but admittedly, the true depth of these games' combat systems doesn't fully reveal itself until you have a full party, a stuffed spellbook, and tougher enemies to battle.
As I explore the dungeon I find a magical sword imbued with heavenly light, which gives me the opportunity to start one of those Mythic Paths—specifically the Angel one. I accept. Later, deep in the caverns I find a subterranean village inhabited by demon-slaying crusaders who avoid the surface, preferring to dwell in the dark. Some of the adventurers in my party refer to them derisively as 'mongrels', while others seem to have more respect for them. I reveal my newfound heavenly powers to the chief and he weeps with joy. Some children have gone missing from the village, and he's hopeful that I'll be able to rescue them.
The children are being held in a place called the Shield Maze—which, lucky for me, is also a route back to the surface. By revealing my angelic powers to the chief, he's managed to recruit other clans in the depths to join their assault on the maze. I've become a beacon of hope for these people, it seems. It also turns out that the caverns were just an appetiser for the maze, which is a much bigger and more elaborate dungeon. I've been down here so long, I almost forgot I started in Kenabres. I'm not sure if a labyrinth of dark, dingy caves is the most impactful way to kick off an RPG like this, but I guess it worked for Oblivion.
Things get more interesting when I enter the Shield Maze, a candlelit medieval castle decorated with creepy stone gargoyles. Well, relatively. So far, the art in Wrath of the Righteous hasn't blown me away. Everything I've seen so far in this early beta, and in trailers released by the developer, has looked very fantasy-by-numbers. This is such a well-trodden genre, you really have to work to stand out, and I'm not feeling that here. Things might get more visually distinctive when I enter the Worldwound and see the demon-flavoured half of the setting, but so far I'm finding it all rather dull. Some people may enjoy the cosy familiarity of it all, but I've played so many fantasy CRPGs that I'm kinda burned out on this aesthetic.
In the maze I encounter signs of strange rituals being performed, imp-like demons, and underground warriors whose minds have been corrupted, turning them violent towards their former friends. I make my way through the dungeon, slaying beasts, looting chests, disarming traps, and finding keys to unlock doors and travel deeper inside. Reaching the deepest point, I find myself face to face with a demon: the source of all the strife in the maze and those kids disappearing. I'm given two options: unleash my heavenly power, doubling down on the Angel Mythic Path; or embrace the darkness and travel down the Demon path instead. I go full Angel, unleashing a blast of holy energy that kills the demon.
After about four hours in the gloom, I leave the Shield Maze behind and find myself back in Kenabres at last—but things aren't much better in the city, where a full-on demonic invasion is taking place. Overall, this introduction sequence does a fair job of establishing WotR's world and story, and giving you a flavour of the role-playing to come. But I'm a little underwhelmed. The game is deeply steeped in the worn-out old tropes of the genre, and nothing has grabbed me as particularly interesting or compelling yet as a result. I'm hoping things get more interesting later, because the CRPG is a genre I sincerely want to thrive on PC.
It's the Mythic Paths that I'm most intrigued by here. Even with just a small taste of the Angel path, I can see it becoming something that could give this game an edge over others in the genre. There are eight of them in total, and I'll be interested to see how pursuing these paths impacts the story and your character's personality. Wrath of the Righteous is set for release in September.