Title: The Pathless
Developer: Giant Squid
Release Date: November 12th 2020
Reviewed On: PS4
Publisher: Annapurna Interactive, Iam8bit Inc.
We’re in the somewhat awkward gaming stage where titles are commonly released on both the newest consoles and those that are now considered last gen. I always find this interesting as some of the newest console features are used as selling points on these titles while they might be absent in their older console counterparts. With that said, it also gives a title like The Pathless by developer Giant Squid a chance to reveal how well it stands without the bells and whistles. Fortunately, The Pathless on PS4 admirably forges its own way.
In The Pathless, a strange curse has invaded both the spirit world and the land of the living. This curse has shrouded various realms in darkness and has even infected divine guardians who protect them. You assume the role of the last hunter who is on a mission to vanquish the curse and defeat the mysterious figure known as the Godslayer who has orchestrated it all.
The Pathless’ form of traversal immediately intrigued me. Placed around each realm are various diamond-shaped targets. When you hit these targets with your arrow, they add to your stamina bar, which is used to speedily dart you across the field, dramatically reducing your travel time. If you happen to hit one of these targets in the air, it will act as a sort of double jump, vaulting you forward.
It’s an interesting mechanic and extremely fun to execute. Traveling this way prevents things from getting tedious and keeps you pretty occupied as you sprint through each realm. Luckily these diamonds are plentiful, and while some are set up in strategic ways, hinting at a certain direction, others are numerous enough to encourage you to explore each realm to its fullest.
No matter which way you end up going, you’re never too far away from these targets. While it can take a bit to get the timing right, there are rarely any penalties for missing them across your journey. At worst, it will just cause you to slow down a bit.
The Pathless is broken into four major realms. In each realm, you must collect various tokens, which you then take to towers that unlock battles with infected guardians. While this formula remains pretty consistent, obtaining tokens requires a bit of puzzle-solving.
Early on in your quest, you are accompanied by a spirit eagle. This eagle can help you glide and pick up weights to get through obstacles. This companion is cute, and the AI works pretty seamlessly. Rarely did I find my eagle locking on to puzzle pieces I didn’t intend. Almost instinctually, it cleverly feels like my moves were anticipated, which really helped the forward momentum of The Pathless. It’s a great way to implement these sections and sidesteps any cumbersome moments because of this little companion.
Aside from running around realms, these puzzle sections make up the bulk of the gameplay. Some provide real head-scratchers, but with enough time and problem solving, I imagine most gamers will be able to figure them out. Many incorporate your arrows and basic geometry to accomplish, and even though they might not be super tough, they do feel pretty rewarding to figure out.
If you are ever having trouble, some spirits can give you hints to nearby puzzles. And if you are ever struggling too much, you can move on to another puzzle as you aren’t required to solve all of them to move to the next realm. Of course, you do need to get a certain number of tokens, but at least if you feel stuck, you have options.
Boss battles are extremely cinematic, beginning with chasing each guardian and taking them down before altering their next phase. These battles look amazing, but I did have some trouble judging my depth and avoiding certain obstacles because of the camera placement. For better or worse, it doesn’t seem like you can actually die during these moments. You may be knocked back, but I never experienced a traditional death screen.
I’m thankful for this as I think it could have been pretty frustrating during these moments, but maybe a bit of tweaking could have been done to make them both cinematically dynamic and a bit tighter to control. Even with that said, the battles were pretty enjoyable and somehow tense, even without the threat of dying.
The fantastic looking battles are just a small piece of the truly great art design of The Pathless. While there may be a rough edge here and there, it didn’t take away from the overall art style’s beautiful environments and characters. Colors and lighting are particularly memorable. After you defeat the infected guardian of each realm, the true vibrance of that section is shown. It set the mood perfectly and really motivates you to bring light back to the region. This design lends to more subtle storytelling and creates the perfect moods presented in the narrative.
The only moments that really feel like they miss the mark are the stealth sections you’re forced into about every half hour. Here you must remain motionless when a light is on you and move when it’s not. If the light catches you, you will have some of your collectibles removed. The goal is to make it to your stranded eagle companion. This only lasts perhaps three minutes, but they feel like a stark contrast from other quick paced gameplay and are pretty unnecessary. On the plus side, after finding your eagle buddy, you get to pet away the curse clinging on, featuring some adorable animations.
The Pathless is a gorgeous adventure with an entertaining traversal mechanic and a subtle but effective narrative. Running, jumping, and gliding around with your eagle friend while solving enigmatic puzzles is a real joy. While some lackluster stealth sections and difficulty maneuvering during some boss sections are present, it doesn’t take away from the overall experience. Whatever direction you decide to travel, The Pathless leads you to some special gaming moments.
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