Fans of Western RPGs and JRPGs often have differing tastes, but we can generally agree on one thing: A robust town-building feature can elevate any good RPG into a great one.
One reason Suikoden II is so fondly remembered is because you can turn an abandoned castle into a town and gradually fill it with life. Ni No Kuni II is kind of bland, but its town-building feature is one of the best things about the game.
Pathfinder: Kingmaker by Owlcat Games emphasizes exploring and battling monsters as much as any RPG, but players are also expected to put down roots by building a kingdom of their very own. How you build the kingdom, how you run it, and how your citizens react to your civic rule has an impact on the player bonuses you receive. Your engineering can even affect how your city looks, and the inhabitants it attracts.
I spent some time with Pathfinder: Kingmaker at PAX West last weekend. It's an isometric RPG based on the Pathfinder franchise, which itself is a spin-off of the third edition of Dungeons & Dragons. Anyone who's therefore played Baldur's Gate should find themselves at home with Pathfinder's combat and character-building.
There are certainly worse inspirations for Owlcat to latch onto—and when you get down to it, most RPGs that spring from the isometric loins of Baldur's Gate typically contain so much depth and diverse gameplay, each one winds up bringing something new to the sub-genre. Pathfinder: Kingmaker is huge and pocked with massive dungeons teeming with loot.
I was intrigued by a confrontation between a handful of Mites (a small goblin-like race) and some reptilian kobolds. The critters were arguing about a theft, or an insult, or possibly both issues. Your choices here are myriad: You can egg the monsters on until they attack one another, you can ally yourself with one side, or you can remain completely neutral. If you're feeling bloodthirsty, you can just slaughter the lot for having the audacity to make so much noise so early in the morning. If you spare them, however, you might find yourself in a position to help them work out the issue that ignited the fight somewhere down the road. These interludes help remind you you're not the only living thing in Pathfinder: Kingmaker, and your grand quest doesn't necessarily mean a thing in the day-to-day struggles of the other races and monsters you meet. It's a big world, but you all need to share it. How generously you share it, however, is up to you.
But it's the aforementioned town-building feature that might really help separate Pathfinder: Kingmaker from its inspirations. I was shown a small town while some of the benefits of building towns were explained to me. Towns add bonuses to your warriors, plus they also contain neat structural and story elements. If a shop is placed close to a tavern, tavern patrons who land in a good mood after three drinks might be compelled to spend more money on whatever you're selling. If you run your town well, you'll be revered by your people and might spot knights and other lawful-good types wandering around your roads. If you decide to rule your town as a shrieky little tyrant, though, your citizens will come to hate you. In time, your rotten behavior might even attract some monster tenants who will do your bidding.
Pathfinder: Kingmaker appears to be a good isometric RPG with a cool town-building feature that reminds you monsters need a place to live, too. Look for it on September 25 on PC, Mac, and Linux.