The Pathless is at its best when it’s living up to its name — as the mysterious Hunter, I found myself most enraptured by this open world when I let my curiosity guide me. Built to satisfy that curiosity, the landscape is filled with engaging environmental puzzles, hidden bits of lore that deepen its main story, and gorgeous landscapes. Coupled with a simple but engrossing movement mechanic that makes exploration an absolute treat and an orchestral score that elevates the mythic quality of this new world, The Pathless is a journey absolutely worth taking.
At the heart of The Pathless, and what makes the adventure work so well, is its movement mechanics, which are rather revelatory in their simplicity. This island is filled with floating gems, which you need to shoot with your only weapon, a bow, to gain speed and maintain your flow. Because of this, the sensation of running, of gaining and maintaining speed, is a sheer delight, and that turns the world into something of a playground for how you get around on foot and in the air. The Hunter is always accompanied by an eagle companion, who can not only carry you across distances by gliding, but also use a limited number of flaps to increase its flight height. It’s just as well that there’s no fast travel, because skipping the running and gliding would be missing the point.
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The shooting doesn’t require a lot of skill because developer Giant Squid has completely removed the worry of precision aiming. Instead, the forgiving third-person camera lets you swing it around to auto-target gems. You just need to hold the right trigger down to fill up a meter, or if your timing is good, let it fill up precisely halfway to get even more speed.
Go Your Own Way
By removing the challenge of aiming and instead putting it on button timing and quick thinking as you decide the route you want to carve out, The Pathless goes all in on the idea that getting from point A to B should be fun, fluid, and with as little hindrance as possible. It freed my mind up to think less about the specific points I was shooting at and more about how to move through the gorgeous landscapes ahead of me to create constant, forward momentum.
I never fully mastered the half-fill shot, even despite the PS5’s adaptive triggers offering some haptic indication to let me know when to release. But a missed shot here or there rarely tripped me up; as I said, The Pathless is all about blazing your own trail around its world, and each failed hit was an excuse to improv my way into a new direction. And while you can wander aimlessly, there’s plenty to guide your way and reward your curiosity. Two main collectibles in particular are plentifully hidden throughout the world: Crystals, which are needed to increase your eagle’s ability to reach new heights, and Lightstones, which are often collected after some intricate but satisfying puzzle and used to cleanse a cursed watchtower in each region.
Cribbing an Assassin’s Creed Eagle Vision-like mode, you can hit a button to look into the spirit world, which highlights “corrupted” locations – aka collectible hubs – in red and completed areas in blue or with a hovering icon, giving you some idea of where to go. And that’s particularly helpful because, unlike its obvious inspirations like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Ubisoft open world games, The Pathless includes no in-game map. You can climb to high towers to then survey the land around you, but you can’t mark a cliffside or building for you to track later. It can be a bit disorienting at first in any new region, especially as I went from the easy-to-scour forests to more mountainous terrain with blizzard conditions making visibility more difficult, but over time I appreciated how it forced me to learn and remember the world around me.
[poilib element=”quoteBox” parameters=”excerpt=The%20lack%20of%20a%20map%20can%20be%20disorientating%20at%20first%2C%20but%20helped%20me%20appreciate%20and%20learn%20the%20world’s%20layout.”]It made each place I ventured intriguing, from crumbling monasteries to dinosaur-sized skeletons to abandoned settlements, because I never knew what collectibles, puzzles, or stories it might hold. Each location I went to included at least a few notable puzzles, often employing standards like using my surprisingly strong eagle to move parts of the area around to line up a perfect shot, or to run past a series of lanterns in the correct order. The Pathless never really tells you what to be looking for, but its visual cues are easy to understand and then apply to increasingly complex puzzles, making even the smallest excursion valuable in some way and often finding fun new layers for repeated puzzle concepts as the adventure goes on.
That freedom of exploration is at the heart of what the Pathless does well, but you’re not just aimlessly wandering around its beautiful world. The Hunter’s path takes some familiar fantasy storytelling trappings involving a god-slaying figure, adds some intriguing elements in the margins, and marries them with beautiful character design, like the striking three-eyed visor of the Godslayer or the many-limbed behemoths that are the cursed versions of the world’s guardians, the Tall Ones. It’s well-trodden territory, to be sure, but I still found myself consistently engaged and wanting to learn more. Little bits of lore dropped as written records of the island’s dying citizens’ last thoughts flesh out the Godslayer’s surprising backstory and grip on the world, and often give some context for why a building I found was in ruins or why so muchmust death lay before me. It’s all delivered in pretty standard video game-y conventions, but at least it’s a story I wanted to seek out as I stumbled upon a monastery littered with skeletons or a dilapidated building that turned out to be an important library.
The Pathless’ world is a very naturalistic one – lush forests lay near massive cliff faces and the winding paths up them, and as you reach new heights the weather turns the land into a frigid tundra. Its striking beauty becomes more apparent after you defeat each boss – freeing a region of a curse also lifts the overcast around it, letting the sun shine and brighten up the gorgeous greens of the land and deep blues of the sea surrounding the island.
Showdowns with the corrupted gods are quite cool in execution. They’re part chase scene as you hunt your foe through the landscape and part Zelda-esque battle with several phases. While the first battle is relatively simple, Giant Squid finds some inventive twists on its formula, such as its Hydra-like boss and arenas that require a bit of mid-battle platforming to ensure survival. And each battle is backed by some of my favorite pieces of composer Austin Wintory’s overall fantastic orchestral score. The chase music in particular evokes epic movie scores like The Lord of the Rings and Pirates of the Caribbean, swelling to bombastic heights while deep-throated chanting can build to a few awe-inspiring moments as you first glimpse a new part of the island or prepare for an imminent fight.
[poilib element=”quoteBox” parameters=”excerpt=The%20bosses%20are%20part%20epic%20chase%20scene%2C%20and%20part%20Zelda-esque%20showdowns.”]The bosses provide another obstacle before you even fight them. As you explore each of The Pathless’ four main regions, a giant red orb of a storm shifts around the land; if you’re caught in it, you and your eagle are separated and you must find your way back to them in a rather basic stealth scenario in which you must avoid the boss’ gaze. This can frustratingly interrupt you in the middle of a puzzle, but the stakes are high enough to keep them from being meaningless: getting caught costs you some of your stash of crystals. And you’re always spit out right where you were, so it’s not as if that puzzle progress gets lost.
But once a boss is defeated there’s no pressure whatsoever on how long you spend searching every nook and cranny for crystals and lightstones. I finished The Pathless’ story with a modest 40% or so of collectibles in about seven hours, and returning to try to collect everything has not only been a joy but some of my favorite parts of The Pathless. I imagine I’ll be spending many more hours just serenely running around this beautiful world.
Source: IGN Video Games All