There's something that needs to be explained right away about that “4” rating: I fully expect and sincerely hope this review will be outdated and completely wrong in a month.
Much like with the lackluster Siege Of Dragonspear, it's actually sort of painful to write this review.
I love Paizo (I was championing those once-underdogs of gaming in local hobby stores before anyone knew who they were). I regularly enjoy pen and paper Pathfinder, and I still play the Pathfinder Adventures card game regularly with my gaming group. On top of it all, I adore Obsidian Entertainment.
Put 'em all together though, and you've got a hot mess that wasn't ready to come out of the oven yet. This mobile edition of the card game was delayed repeatedly, and now I can clearly see why. Honestly I wish it had been significantly delayed again.
For those willing to give it a try anyway, you can grab Obsidian's rendition of the Pathfinder Adventure card game right here.
For those already familiar with the rules of the Pathfinder Adventures card game, picking up the mobile version is incredibly easy, as the ruleset has essentially been lifted wholesale and plopped into an electronic format. It will will be confusing if you haven't played before, though, even with the tutorial.
Pathfinder fans won't be disappointed by the characters or dialog. I DMed our group's weekly roleplaying sessions for several years, including back in '07 when we ran through the original version of Rise Of The Runelords, so there's a whole lotta nostalgia here in seeing classic characters like Orik Vancaskerkin or the Sandpoint Devil appearing on my tablet screen.
Beloved characters both benign and monstrous return
Pathfinder Adventures is also completely free to download, which is a plus, but only two characters, the tutorial, and a first adventure are included. You'll have to take part in those dreaded in-app purchases to buy new cards and scenarios, although you can save up gold and eventually get them at no cost if you are persistent.
Obsidian has a fantastic track record with large-scale RPGs -- Pillars Of Eternity was easily among the best games of 2015 -- but clearly mobile design is not the developer's forte, at least not yet.
Get ready for a slew of technical issues from the moment you first tap that goblin icon to the first (of many) times the app crashes.
The insane load times speak of a system that needs to be overhauled and doesn't feel optimized for mobile gaming. Two lines of dialog? Load screen. Battle a monster? Load screen. Move location? Load screen.
Get ready to see a whole lot of this.
Then there's the near-constant graphical glitches and crashing. The background of each location would constantly disappear for me, and everything slows to an absolute crawl when trying to drag a card or roll the dice. Get ready for crashes during battles, crashes during tutorials, crashes during dialog.
Unlike any other Android game I play, Pathfinder Adventures for some reason doesn't fully take over the screen. If you don't tap or swipe, your screen will go dim as though you were idling and then enter power saver mode, which I've never seen before with a game app. Since the game crashes at the drop of a hat, the end result is that you absolutely can't put this down, even for a moment, as it will absolutely crash when you swipe to bring the screen back up.
The crashes are bad enough, but the game is also incredibly unresponsive, and that's a death blow for a title that requires a touch screen. After the tutorial you finally get to put together your own party, and it took me 2-3 minutes to correctly drag the elf rogue Merisiel from the top bar to the character slot at the bottom (you have to drag just exactly to the side slightly, then straight down).
Good luck selecting your characters...
Even though there's clearly a second character slot open, it absolutely wouldn't let me drag the cleric Kyra down there. I tried, for a good 15 frustrating minutes of cursing and swiping every which way. This sort of makes the game impossible, since it's quite unlikely you'll beat a scenario with only one character. You need a diverse party with different skill sets – Merisiel for Acrobatics rolls, Kyra for Divine checks, and so on – to close all the different lotions on your hunt for the boss.
One design choice that's sort of baffling is how they kept essentially all the rules intact, rather than simplifying anything for mobile purposes. There are so, so, so many elements on the screen at one time, making the layout very congested.
If you haven't played the tabletop card game, you will absolutely be baffled by all the numbers and symbols everywhere. The screen is overly cluttered on my 11 inch tablet, so I absolutely shudder to think of anyone trying to play this on their phone.
Clutter, clutter, and more clutter...
The nature of the game is also lost a bit in the translation from tabletop pastime with friends to mobile game, as there isn't an online multiplayer option. If passing a single controller between players isn't multiplayer on a console, then its sure as heck not multiplayer on a tablet either, and the whole point of Pathfinder Adventures is to have a team taking out locations in tandem.
As far as I'm concerned, the “play 'n pass” option is just a fancy way of saying “single player only.” Online multiplayer is coming down the line, but I'm not holding my breath based on the technical issues in the base game.
Unfortunately it seems like Pathfinder is just plain old cursed when it comes to electronic releases. A full single player PC or console game is unlikely due to the nature of the Open Game License, as the Pathfinder ruleset (derived from D&D 3.5) can't actually be used in a video game.
Despite TWO successful crowd funding campaigns, the MMO route was a nonstarter as Pathfinder Online crashed and burned before it even got off the ground (although word is a new developer will take over soon). Now here we are with Pathfinder Adventures, and the franchise is not off to a rousing start on the mobile front either.
While its essentially unplayable at the moment, my sincere hope is that Pathfinder Adventures will be an awesome experience on PC when the Steam release comes (and hopefully on Android/iPad when the kinks get worked out... someday).