Paizo Publishing released the 2nd edition of their popular tabletop roleplaying game Pathfinder on August 1st. I’ve spent over two weeks reading the Pathfinder 2nd Edition Core Rulebook cover to cover in preparation for this review.
I won’t bury the lede: Pathfinder 2nd Edition is a triumph. It is sleekly designed and impeccably displayed. It’s flexible and it’s fun.
That’s it. That’s the review.
I realize that makes me sound like a shill, but I’m genuinely thrilled with the game. So let’s first look at some captioned images from the book, then I’ll share some more thoughts about the game.
As I was wrapping up my read of the Pathfinder 2E Core Rulebook, I showed it to a group of five 10th grade boys. These boys love D&D 5e, yet had never heard of Pathfinder.
The boys were gobsmacked by the book and we flipped through it for over an hour, giddily talking about the contents. Two of the boys rolled up characters on the fly. Another begged me to let him take the book home with him. (Sorry, kid. NDA.) So, why were they so thrilled with Pathfinder 2E?
First, Pathfinder 2E is recognizable. Pathfinder 2E has the core of what D&D 5e and Pathfinder 1st Edition players are comfortable with: a great skill system, d20 rolls, identifiable character classes, and so much more.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it and Pathfinder 2E captures the same feel as well as many of the enduring mechanics that has made roleplaying games enjoyable for decades.
Second, Pathfinder 2E is simple. In the same way that it feels right, it plays right as well. There isn’t an ounce of added complexity and anything that does have a little granularity to it is there for a darned good reason.
Character creation is simply a breeze. I mentioned that two of the high school boys created characters on the fly and I wasn’t exaggerating. Paizo calls the steps of character creation the “ABCs” (Ancestry, Background, Class) and the book lays them out superbly. In short, because everything is so recognizable and it’s presented so cleanly, it makes for a simple process.
Thirdly, Pathfinder 2E is highly customizable. Maybe you read the above and scoff that the simplicity makes it sound like a mere child’s game, worthy only of pimply 10th grade boys. Well, let’s dig a bit deeper.
We’ve established that character creation is simple but there is a vast array of feats that are available to each class. And they get more each level! That sounds like it could get complicated quick, no?
Well, as you build a character and as you level, you can choose but it’s only about 6 feats at a time. As more of these individual choices are made it grants the ability to make highly customized characters but in a way where the choices aren’t overloading or threatening.
It’s a delight actually. Pathfinder 2E treats us nerds to a roleplaying game with a tremendous amount of depth and options but without one iota of unnecessary complication.
This is true of skills as well. While the skill system is instantly recognizable and understandable, it also allows for fun flexibility. A character can be Untrained, Trained, Expert, Master, or Legendary and those designations come with a 0, +2, etc. modifier.
This brings me to my next point: Pathfinder 2E is flavorful. While the above designations of Trained and Expert are really easy to wrap your mind around, they also set up a nice gradation for play.
Some RPG mechanics like Advantage/Disadvantage are wonderful, but they are like an ON/OFF switch. The Pathfinder 2E skill system is like a dimmer switch on your basement lights. Sure, on or off is fine but isn’t it nice to effortlessly slide the level of brightness up or down?
Those gradations allow for distinctive moments in game play that come as easy as saying, “I am a Master in Stealth and roll a...” The system allows for modifiers that are super easy to determine, make logical sense, and also add fun to the game play. That’s a win.
And, yes, Pathfinder 2E is streamable. The million dollar question with a roleplaying game nowadays is, “Can you stream it?” The answer with Pathinfder 2E is YES.
The 3-action economy plays fast. It also feels and plays much more cinematically over a system that’s a combination of standard, full round, bonus, move, and who knows what else actions. Each player gets three actions per turn. What will you do?
Story is also strong with Pathfinder 2E, which adds to the streamability. This edition is leaning into their setting of Golarion, going as far as adding a section in the Core Rulebook. Golarion has always been one of the more wide open settings of any RPG and Paizo adventures have always been world class. Paizo is simply leaning into that.
The fast play, the streamlined system, and the nearly unlimited character options create a platform that will be wonderful to tell stories upon.
Roleplaying games have a life cycle and at the tail end of that life cycle, they can’t generate enough revenue to finance continued support. Although this might be difficult for fans of Pathfinder 1st Edition fans to hear, it’s hardly a controversial statement.
But the good news is that many lessons are learned during those product cycles and the developers at Paizo implemented every lesson they learned and rolled their skill checks with a Legendary proficiency bonus.
I strongly believe that Paizo has a hit on their hands with Pathfinder 2E. Will it unseat D&D 5e as the top tabletop roleplaying game? Please. D&D has too much brand recognition and it’s a darned fine game to boot.
But imagine it this way: for every 100 D&D 5e players, do you think there is at least one gaming group of 4-5 players that will give Pathfinder 2E a try because of the recognizable d20 system while also allowing a greater variety of options and play styles?
I absolutely do. I know of one group of 10th grade boys and I suspect there will be many more. Those folks night not even be aware of Pathfinder 1E, but the words they’ll use will be, “Hey, let’s give Pathfinder a try! It’s sorta like D&D, but is actually a lot more fun!”