Review | The Pathless
Originally released in November 2020, Action-Adventure game ‘The Pathless’ from developer Giant Squid and publisher Annapurna Interactive is now arriving on Xbox. Set in the third person with an art style reminiscent of ‘Aragami’ and an unusual movement mechanic, this certainly looks like an interesting proposition. Let’s delve deeper and see what kind of experience the game delivers in the XboxEra review of The Pathless.
Same Old Story?
Playing as the ‘Last Hunter’ in a mystical land corrupted by an ancient evil known as the ‘Godslayer’ you must reclaim the light, something, something, cleanse the land, etc. So far so cliché. Admittedly from the very beginning, the story comes across as a classic mixture of standard genre tropes. Basically, it all boils down to four corrupted plateaus each protected by an animal deity who was once a god but has now been cursed by the ultra-villainous Godslayer.
Your mission (should you choose to accept it) Is to locate items known as Light Stones which are strewn around the areas and use them to cleanse infected tall towers. These stones are enchanted and can only be collected once you have solved a puzzle to release them. When enough puzzles have been solved and light stones have been gathered the towers can be cleansed and the local deity can be taken on in a three-stage boss battle. In order to avoid spoilers I will leave it there.
The thing that sets this game apart is its unusual movement mechanic. The hunter’s main tool is a Bow, but this is no standard bow. Not only used for boss combat and solving puzzles (fire-arrow trick shots anyone?) this one is also the key to building up momentum when moving around. Shooting a floating diamond known as a ‘Talisman’ either fills a meter that gives the ability to sprint, or delivers a forward jump or upwards jump boost. Walking naturally is frustrating as it feels like walking through treacle so shooting every Talisman you get near is a priority from the get-go.
Fly Like An Eagle
Personally speaking, this soon got old during my playthrough. Once I had gained a companion in the form of an enchanted Eagle and the ability to both glide and with her assistance jump higher to traverse the vertical environment, I got very bored of constantly shooting Talisman. The only reason to continue to do so was to get the sprint and speed boost, especially at the start of boss battles. If I had not been playing through for this review and the eagle had not been introduced I don’t think I would have had the will to keep playing.
There is no real skill required by this mechanic anyway, as you only need to face in the general direction of a talisman and hold right trigger for a set amount of time to lock on your shot. I can understand that this system was designed to make the game different but I would have honestly preferred a bog standard sprint button.
Hunting for and collecting ‘light crystals’ (again through solving puzzles) increases the eagle’s ability to flap her wings and get you higher in the air. It is not necessary to collect all of these (or the light stones for that matter) but big bonuses are awarded if any completionists out there choose to do so.
The game has no map to aid navigation and from the beginning gives nothing away. Players are left to work out how things work for themselves. There are general nods and slight hints delivered by cut scene but this resulted in several moments of confusion as I could not see what I had to do next. Maybe explaining the movement mechanic itself would have been slightly helpful. I can imagine that this may be off-putting for some players.
The rather dark environment is much easier to navigate once you have taken possession of an artifact known as the ‘Spirit Mask’. This colours the environment light blue which makes navigation much easier and highlights infected towers and areas of interest in red. Cleansed Towers are shown as green but it is still easy to get confused in the early stages about which locations you need to visit in a particular area, as red towers on later plateaus show up in spirit vision at the same time as the local ones. Mountainous ranges in the later stages can make spotting useful locations even more difficult so the best piece of advice I can give is to get as high as possible and have a good look around. Green towers are particularly useful for this.
You have unlimited health and no way of dying which means that very long falls can be enjoyed at your leisure and seeing how far you can glide in one go is a fun thing to try. The eagle however does take damage, especially after being drawn into a zone known as a ‘Storm’ which seems to be a big ball of negative energy around a deity. Once sucked into this area you are required to use stealth and evasion to avoid the gaze of the animal. Success in this means getting reunited with the eagle and transported back to the normal world where you are required to stroke her to heal her. This is probably one of my favourite parts of the whole game as it is strangely calming. Failing to stay undetected gets you expelled from the storm but minus some of your light crystals.
The puzzle design is good and ranges from easy to challenging. Pressing switches, firing arrows through a row of objects and manipulating multiple pressure plates are just some examples of what they are made up of. The eagle plays an important part in the solving of some puzzles as she can be used to carry weights to pressure plates and move mirrors on rails to enable that perfect flaming-arrow trick shot. I spent nine hours on the game and did not get close to solving all of the puzzles as I had enough items to progress to the finale. Puzzle fans will definitely get their money’s worth here.
Who’s The Boss?
Deity boss battles are in a typical three-stage format starting with a chase section. They can sometimes be a bit grindy and frustrating like a lot of boss battles but at least they vary in their second and third stages. On a positive note, failure does not send you back to the very start of the battle and the third boss was easier to defeat than the second.
One third-stage battle was ridiculously hard due to the colour scheme used. If everything is red, black and yellow on the screen including the playable character it is not easy to follow her movement while avoiding fireballs and tail swings, never mind jumping and firing at targets as they appear for a split second. This is an example of bad game design that resulted in much-repeated gameplay and swearing before I managed to finally defeat it and move on with my eyes stinging.
Rounding things off, The Pathless has a nice visual design and cleverly designed puzzles to solve. The movement mechanic is different but may not be to everyone’s taste and could even be off-putting for some. My main issue is that once gameplay has been established in the first and second sections it is pretty much repeated for the remainder of the game. I am sure that there are people out there (completionists especially) who will love this game as it is, but I cannot help but feel that a bit more inventiveness and a less cliché story would have made it much better.
Xbox Series X
- Has a visually pleasing aesthetic.
- Being able to stroke an Eagle is strangely calming.
- Seeing how far you can glide across a plateau is fun.
- Puzzle design ranges from easy to challenging.
- No health bar or way of dying makes gameplay less stressful, particularly during boss battles.
- The story itself is a jumble of the same old tropes.
- The arrow-based movement mechanic gets tired really fast.
- Has no initial instructions or map which might put some people off during the earliest stages of the game.
- Once gameplay is established it gets very repetitive.
- Boss battles can be a grind, especially the ones where it is very difficult to see what is going on.