You’ll never have used a bow and arrow quite like this before.
The latest game from Giant Squid, the team that brought us Abzu, is The Pathless. It has some of the same beautiful charm, but its very much its own beast in practically every way. And while there’s a fair bit to love – or at least like – here, there’s also an awful lot that’s rather frustrating.
In The Pathless, you take on the role of a crimson clad woman, accompanied by a friendly (and very useful) eagle. The world has, somehow, been shrouded in a mysterious evil, and it’s up to you and your bird companion to cleanse it. That means exploring, solving some puzzles, unlocking some shrines and, ultimately, taking part in some rather epic boss fights.
The majority of your time with The Pathless will be spent solving puzzles, though you need to find them first. You see, there’s no set path here – as the game’s title may suggest – so you can complete challenges presented to you in any order you see fit. Split into different areas, you’ll need to ‘cleanse’ three towers in each. In order to do that, you’ll need to collect tokens dotted around the area, each locked away by a puzzle.
It’s not always clear where to go. Pressing triangle on your controller reveals your ‘sight’, which highlights points of interest – and occasionally reveals hidden secrets. Areas will glow red if there’s something useful there, but it’s not always what you need to progress. Undoubtedly, you’ll end up spending some time aimlessly wandering around The Pathless‘ rather barren world before you find your goal, but exploring does have its rewards. There are numerous challenges to complete in the game’s open world, rewarding you with golden prisms. You’ll also get some for locating various shrines and monuments that are scattered around. And some narrative flavour is added by interacting with ghostly orbs located next to dead NPCs.
Thankfully, getting around is made quite entertaining thanks to The Pathless‘ unusual traversal system. Your protagonist can fire her arrow at targets, which charge up a boost meter. Keep the boost meter charged and she’ll glide over the landscape at breakneck pace, though fail to keep up with hitting targets and you’ll find yourself grinding to an unceremonious halt, breaking your flow. With your eagle by your side, you can also take to the air, jumping and gliding with ease. As you progress, your eagle will gain additional ‘flap’ power, allowing you to climb higher into the air.
When you do find the puzzles you need to solve in The Pathless, they’re usually fairly rewarding to solve. You’ll need to make use of the tools at your disposal – that is, your eagle and your bow and arrow – so solutions are often similar in nature. You’ll need to fire an arrow at a target, for example; or maybe pass an arrow through a flaming torch in order to ignite something else. Your eagle can be commanded to lift weights, moving them from one place to another to activate pressure pads, which may open and close doors.
Once you’ve completed enough puzzles and gathered enough tokens to cleanse each tower in an area, you’ll then be able to take on its boss; a hulking, cursed beast. Well, once you’ve chased it down, that is. These boss battles are epic, challenging you to move as fast as you can while avoiding obstacles. You’ll need to shoot targets to keep pace, and you’ll also need to shoot various points on the beast. Once you’ve shot all of the targets on the beast, the chase ends, and the fight begins.
In the fight itself, once again you’ll need to shoot targets on the boss. This time, you’ll also be prompted to unleash your eagle to cause some damage too. All the while, you’ll need to dodge incoming attacks by jumping or moving out of the way of obstacles. These combat encounters are perhaps the highlight of The Pathless; they’re extravagant and over the top in all the right ways, keeping you on the edge of your seat. It’s quite the disparity from the starkness of exploring the world in between puzzle solving.
Spending time in The Pathless‘ world is made rather easy thanks to how beautiful it is. Though stark, its world is striking; and on PlayStation 5, it’s incredibly smooth to play, even when darting and jumping through fields at full pace. The excellent soundtrack from Austin Wintory suits it well, too, adding a bombastic backdrop to all of your actions.
Ultimately, The Pathless is somewhat an uneven experience. Its epic boss battles are thrilling, and the majority of its puzzles are enjoyable to solve. It’s just a shame that there’s so much aimless running around between all the fun. Even dashing around at full speed grows tiresome after a while. Providing some sense of direction may go against what The Pathless strives to be, but it would help make your time with the game feel less wasted, and more fulfilling.
Oh, but you can pet your eagle. Which is infinitely heart-warming.