The Pathless review for PS5, PS4, and PC. Giant Squid scored critical acclaim with its first game Abzu. The simplistic narrative and gameplay of that title, and the success that stemmed from it, influenced the studio’s latest title, The Pathless. This time around, players must go a bit more hands-on, as The Pathless takes more influence from Breath of the Wild than it does from Abzu’s spiritual predecessor Journey.
Unfortunately, The Pathless overly relies on “artsy” conventions in its design and finds itself caught between two worlds. It’s too action-packed to be reflective and therapeutic like Journey and Abzu, but its narrative and world design isn’t coherent and established enough to step toe-to-toe with games like Breath of the Wild.
Another dead guy telling stories
I’m growing increasingly tired of indie games with threadbare plots that depend on (poor) implicit storytelling punctuated by optional text to weave their narrative. Unfortunately, The Pathless is another game with a silent protagonist journeying to a ruined, mostly deserted land. When the player character, The Hunter, arrives, players are only given the vague task of lifting the curse on an island. There are corpses dotted about that provide some clues as to what cataclysm the Godslayer brought on the land. Still, players are left to figure things out for themselves for the most part.
It’s not that I want to be handheld through the story. That’s not it at all. It’s just that the voiceless protagonist wandering through a deserted land where an ancient civilization met its end is a trope that other games have done better. I never really found myself attached to The Hunter because she has no personality. Also, there’s not enough personification of The Tall Ones, the gods you’re attempting to save throughout the game, for them to be captivating as characters.
Moving for the sake of movement
The Hunter’s primary (and only) weapon is her bow. It’s used for everything: puzzle-solving, combat, and even movement. The controls are tight, and overall, dashing around the island would be rather satisfying. However, The Hunter has a stamina bar, which drains quickly. To refill the bar, players must hit floating talismans dotted around the island with arrows.
Unfortunately, breaking talismans becomes a constant routine throughout the game. You can either choose to walk or continuously fire arrows into floating orbs for the eight hours or so the it takes to finish your journey. Upgrades become available later that increase the size of the stamina bar, which makes movement a little less arduous. Still, nothing turns me off of a game more than pointless, mechanical repetition.
In part, it feels like The Pathless has you constantly shooting talismans because there are so few other ways to interact with the world. It’s not an unattractive game, but it feels like if you took the sweeping vistas of Breath of the Wild and removed 90% of the points of interest. There are puzzles scattered about to gain crystals for upgrades, and the Lightstones needed to clear the Obelisks in each area. However, they rarely channel the brilliance of BOTW‘s Shrines.
The Pathless is at its best when it allows itself to throw some action on the screen. Boss battles are exciting multi-stage battles where the player has to stay on their toes to hit weak points and avoid enemy attacks. There’s even some variation between them, including one that’s heavy on cover and timing. It’s during these times that the game lets its hair down and stops trying to be “artistic,” and concentrates on providing a gripping encounter with a god. Unfortunately, these are too few and far between to fuel the desire to keep pushing ahead.
The Pathless Review | The Final Verdict
Some people will absolutely love The Pathless‘ lack of direction or interactivity and won’t mind the mindless firing of arrows into little floaties so they can move fast. That’s great, but I just don’t get the allure. The Pathless isn’t bad, but it never does anything to carve its own niche amongst its peers. It feels like a game that wants very much to be like other games instead of being something wholly original and unique. It might be technically competent, but I’d much rather play a “bad” game that tries something new than one that just rehashes what we’ve seen time and time again.
I’m fully prepared to see the entirety of gaming journalism as a whole take the opposite opinion of The Pathless as the years go by. There’s a giant list of titles that my peers absolutely love, then I play them, and I swear we’ve experienced two different games. That being said, I can see how someone could absolutely love The Pathless, even if it didn’t do anything for me.