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Pathfinder: Gallowspire Survivors Early Access Review - Not Enough Pathfinder In Your Pathfinder

  • Addictive roguelite gameplay loop
  • Encourages exploration, experimentation, and creativity
  • Practical and intuitive with just enough guidance
  • Strong start and solid foundation for an early access game
  • Lack of polish in UI
  • Lore inaccuracy and general lack of "Pathfinder" personality
  • QoL issues and unnecessary gameplay slowdown at times
  • Lack of replay value after first successful run

A PC code was provided to SVG for this review. "Pathfinder: Gallowspire Survivors" will be released on Early Access for PC on September 14, 2023.

As unlikely a combination as it might sound, the methodical formula of a TTRPG franchise and the breakneck pace of roguelites come together in "Pathfinder: Gallowspire Survivors," the latest entry in the "Pathfinder" series. The good news is that "Gallowspire Survivors" is — contrary to what some skeptics were expecting — a solid roguelite with a compelling gameplay loop and well-made mechanics. BKOM Studios did a great job translating some signature skills and abilities from the "Pathfinder" ruleset into real-time, roguelite features. With the four ability slots and four passive slots, there's a good balance of RNG as well as deliberate strategy to make each run unique beyond the procedurally generated floorplans.


The bad news? The game is, unfortunately, trying to play to two very distinct audiences, and the strain shows. With lore mistakes, omissions, and flat dialogue, the underdeveloped franchise elements of "Gallowspire Survivors" would turn off most "Pathfinder" fans dipping a toe into unfamiliar territory for more franchise content. On the flipside is the same problem on a different axis: There's nothing uniquely "Pathfinder"-esque about this game that makes it memorable as a roguelite in and of itself, serving as an extremely poor introduction for roguelike/lite fans exploring a new franchise. Simply put, there's not enough "Pathfinder" in "Gallowspire Survivors" to successfully appeal to either of its target audiences.


At its core, a fun game to play

"Gallowspire Survivors" follows the basic roguelite formula: Each run provides randomly rolled skills and upgrades to cultivate during your run, as well as experience and points to invest in permanent upgrades between attempts. The selection of RNG skills is diverse enough that you can build vastly different strategies on the same character, while the permanent skills add solid bonuses that make each run feel meaningful.


Best of all, "Gallowspire Survivors" encourages experimentation and exploration. While there's a distinct lack of tutorials, all the necessary information is clearly labeled and easy to find. Learning the unique features and mechanics of the game is done entirely by jumping in headfirst to explore. Not to mention, every permanent skill and attribute point is refundable, meaning that you can respec any character as much as you like. Players are also given sufficient reason to try playing with the different characters, as they retain their permanent skills when taken along as a companion. Overall, the game strikes a very good balance of being complex enough to incite player creativity while staying simple enough to facilitate smooth and intuitive gameplay.


The downside is that the game drops off dramatically after your first successful run. Defeating Tar-Baphon for the first time rewards you with a new difficulty tier with greater experience and gold rewards — as well as some new RNG skills to choose from — but very little changes otherwise. The boss fights don't have new mechanics, just lots more HP and damage to dish out — there's barely any change to the dialogue, and overall, it leaves you with very little reason to continue investing time and effort.

Generic roguelite with a Pathfinder label

While arguing about lore accuracy in TTRPGs is certifiably one of the most tedious habits to have, the lack of consistency in "Gallowspire Survivors" is rather disheartening for "Pathfinder" fans. To recap quickly, the game incorrectly states that there are three seals holding Tar-Baphon in place when there are three lesser seals and one Great Seal; it claims to be set in 4710 AR as well as after the seal in Kaer Maga was found and destroyed, which is impossible because that only happened 4718 AR; and somehow, the great Sphinx who guards the final seal inside Gallowspire itself is nowhere to be found.


Once again, lore pedantry is unproductive. Besides, roguelites aren't exactly known for sprawling storylines, and no one is expecting "Hades"-levels of storytelling here. None of this would even be relevant criticism if the game weren't championing a major franchise in an entirely new genre. But the simple fact is that the game's reluctance to say anything meaningful about the lore — while even actively getting it wrong — feels like a wasted opportunity to both appeal to existing fans as well as introduce potential newcomers to the series. 

Not to mention, there is so much relevant lore and content to pull from. The final fight to keep Tar-Baphon sealed is the lead up to arguably the most significant event to happen in recent in-universe history, but "Gallowspire Survivors" does nothing to adequately address or expand on that. In fact, you could substitute the names of every character and place and have changed very little about the game itself.


UI and QoL issues

Another unfortunate part about "Gallowspire Survivors" is that it is so tantalizingly close to feeling like a fully finished game, but simply lacks polish in vital areas. The most glaring example is the low quality images and icons used in the UI, particularly the quest page and controller button prompts. Next is the sheer amount of typos and errors in the loading screen text, followed by how badly the UI struggles during simultaneous level-up and chest rolls. There's also a palpable sluggishness to controller input during selection screens and level up menus, sometimes resulting in incorrect selections.


While this might all seem like minor issues, the clumsy UI introduces unnecessary interruptions to what should be a fast gameplay flow. At the very least, there should be the option to skip trivial animations like the dice rolls: Being forced to sit there as the entire d20 animation plays — only to get yet another natural one out of it — can and will get agonizing after the first ten times.

The silver lining is that the game isn't a fully finished game. Launching into early access with an extremely solid foundation despite the issues, "Gallowspire Survivors" only has room to grow with the help of player feedback and support.

Definitely wishlist material

With tons of missed opportunities, technical issues, and lack of content, "Pathfinder: Gallowspire Survivors" is extremely rough around the edges. It takes a major risk introducing the franchise to a format that's almost diametrically opposed to TTRPGs in terms of gameplay style, and comes out with an extremely mixed bag. Simultaneously, it succeeds at translating signature elements from "Pathfinder" to the roguelite format while failing to adequately establish itself as a "Pathfinder" game — and subsequently, as a game uniquely worthy of attention or investment from either existing franchise fans or newcomers from the roguelite audience.


However, it has the core, key components of what could be a great game. Its compelling — and even addictive — gameplay loop serves as a rock-solid foundation for further growth during its time in early access. While it currently needs a lot of work before it can really stand alongside "Kingmaker" and "Wrath of the Righteous" as the next "Pathfinder" video game, "Gallowspire Survivors" is starting strong with lots of room for improvement. It's definitely a project to keep an eye on, and it'll be exciting to see what Paizo and BKOM Studios have in store for us as they continue working on the game.