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Part II of my review:
Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to a one-column standard, and the book contains artworks that extend to variants of different critters; different animated objects, for example. As noted, no cheesecake, no beefcake in the artworks. The artworks range from industry-defining amazing to good: I was e.g. disappointed by the Glabrezu artwork; I loved the Fleshwarp Grothlut – it’s amazing nightmare fodder; also one of the best drider artworks I’ve seen! As noted, while, for the most part, the space is well-used, there are a few pages where the margins could have used a tad more information – the side-bar of the Grim Reaper’s first page, for example, is 3/4s empty. These are the exception, but yeah. The pdf-version comes with detailed, nested bookmarks, making navigation comfortable. As per the writing of this review, I don’t yet own the print version, so I can’t yet comment on its merits or lack thereof.
Game designers Logan Bonner, Jason Bulmahn, Stephen Radney-MacFarland, Mark Seifter, with additional design by Alexander Augunas, John Compton, Paris Crenshaw, Adam Daigle, Eleanor Ferron, Leo Glass, Thurston Hillman, James Jacobs, Jason Keeley, Lyz Liddell, Ron Lundeen, Robert G. McCreary, Tim Nightengale, Alex Riggs, David N. Ross, Michael Sayre, Chris S. Sims, Jeffrey Swank, Jason Tondro, Tonya Woldridge, Linda Zayas-Palmer – if you’ve been following designs for a while, you’ll know a lot of these names, and you’ll also realize why this book imho succeeds in the massive uphill battle that it had to fight.
For one, it doesn’t feel like I just bought the 3.0 Monster Manual, or the PF Bestiary, for a fourth time. The changes in lore, nomenclature, and the creatures included, make this book feel different; sure, it covers the basics; it has to cover the basics. It’s the first bestiary. But it also puts a different spin on what will be the core canon of PF2. Kudos for that. Seriously. We have a book here where dullahans, wendigo and shoggoths (which, alas, are btw. appropriately hard to kill, but not as maddening as I’d like them to be) are all considered to be creatures of essentially the core array. In some ways, this makes the game feel different, and differentiates itself successfully from being D&D minus the WotC-IP; it instead uses Paizo’s themes and lore to some surprising effect. I like that.
More importantly, I can see many of the more complex abilities championing a focus on roleplaying and actively rewarding engaging with narratives, instead of being only numbers-games. That’s a very good thing as far as I’m concerned. Even better would be that, in comparison to Starfinder, the creatures tend to have a few more abilities; heck, even the elementals don’t all have the same attacks and actions. Monsters feel deadly and varied as a result, and it is my ardent hope that the monster creation rules have enough wiggle-room to create creatures that are versatile without being predictable. Contrary to what I expected, I did not consider reading this book in its entirety, as opposed to using it as required, to be a chore. This is an interesting and well-crafted tome of monsters, and sets the bar quite high for the new system; there is still some breathing room here, but if anything, this book left me hopeful we’ll get more two-page boss-spreads, more unique critters, and a whole ton of cool adversaries in the future. I hope that the tendency for lore being more important continues, and that the direction this points towards, is indeed the one the game takes – for that will make it different enough from PF1, 5e, SFRPG, DCC and other games I love to grant it its own unique identity.
So yeah, even if you were horribly bored by plenty of d20-first-bestiaries, you may want to take a look at this one; the book perhaps makes a more salient and obvious case for several key strengths of PF2 than the core rulebook, simply by courtesy of showing what can be built on the streamlined action system. As a whole, I am left with primarily niggles and nitpicks, and regarding those, certainly much less than I expected to actually have. My final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.