The Pathless Review
It’s almost the end of 2020 and we’ve had the chance to see and play all sorts of beautiful indie games. A couple months ago, I said that Spiritfarer was most definitely the game of the year for me but now a new contestant has entered the ring. This contestant is The Pathless by Giant Squid, a game that leaves an everlasting memory for us to remember, probably long after it will be forgotten, which I don’t think it will.
You can find this review in video format as well.
The title is made by none other than the developers responsible for yet another amazing indie, Abzû. With that in mind, I was expecting to see a quite well made title but the game delivered way more than I could have ever wished for. I will start by saying that I read and heard a lot of people talk about this game as if it’s something that is heavily inspired by games like Journey, but I would go as far as to say that The Pathless creates its own narrative and style of game in a way that it separates it from any other video game experience you may have had before.
The reason why I am personally avoiding to reference other games is because no matter how much I tried to compare it to other things while enjoying it, I continuously failed to find any that even came close to what the game made me feel. Journey was all about exploring a world in ruin, Horizon Zero Dawn was all about the mystery behind the forbidden tales you are told and any other game that has any similarity to The Pathless is just about something else.
But what is The Pathless all about then?
The Pathless focuses on giving the player power and freedom but at the same time makes you feel vulnerable. You take on the role of a huntress who has arrived at the island of spirits, where humans can come close to the spirit world. The spirits have all been corrupted by an evil entity, called the Godslayer and your task is to free them all from this corruption. In her journeys, the huntress goes through all sorts of obstacles but one thing remains in place at all times; the freedom to explore.
Just like the title of the game, it is basically a narrative without a forced path. At any time, you can just go around exploring the island, in an attempt to learn all of its secrets, claim its treasures or just relax. No matter what you are doing in The Pathless, you are always in a state where you know that what you do next is up to you and nobody is rushing you. The corrupted spirits will of course try to hunt you down and escaping them is totally up to you and your perception of your surroundings. Being aware of where the corruption bubble is can be very important if you want to not be consumed by it.
Let’s talk about the gameplay though. The huntress is equipped with a few abilities that are given and discovered as the game progresses. The main experience though is all based on movement and it’s why the game feels so good. The huntress moves seamlessly through each area the more we learn how to better traverse landscapes by shooting talismans around us that give us a speed boost. Our eagle companion can allow us to soar through the air and it also lifts us higher when needed. All simple mechanics that have been combined in such a way that the game never feels tiring or too slow. You are never at a stop and when you are it actually feels weird.
Something that I really want to mention here is the fact that the developers have done their best to keep the flow of the movement going throughout all the parts of the game. For example, even though we get more flap charges to fly higher with the eagle, we also get a faster cooldown for it (should we invest the time to unlock it) therefore not forcing us to stop in one place for too long just because we are waiting for a cooldown. Everything in the game just makes us go faster but in a way that it feels natural. You don’t even have to aim as the game does it for you, all you have to do is time your shots and see the game move.
The boss fights are yet another part of the gameplay that needs to be talked about on its own. They all start with you chasing the spirit beast and culminate in an all out epic fight between you and the corrupted spirit. What I loved the most about this is that they all felt different and unique in their own way, therefore making it extremely fun and interesting every time I faced a new spirit.
Another detail that a lot may see as a small thing but I actually found to be huge as a gameplay design feature was that the player never dies. You may fail to dodge an attack or you may accidentally run into some flames, that however, does not mean you lose and you have to start all over. What happens instead is that you are just set back a bit and you have to try again. You may be tossed back a bit and out of the boss arena, but there is no “You died.” screen and there is no “Loading” screen either. You don’t have to prepare mentally for the entire fight again, hoping you don’t make a mistake this time and you don’t have to stress about getting everything right in one go. The game just flows perfectly fine without feeling too easy or too hard at any given time which made me think about the whole discussion regarding difficulty in games and the introduction of multiple difficulties for many of them. The Pathless sets its difficulty through little design tricks like the one I just mentioned, in such a way that it allows it to become a game for just about anyone who wishes to play it.
Talking about the visuals is really not needed when a picture is worth a thousand words and honestly, Giant Squid has outdone themselves in terms of animation, lighting, colors and most importantly cutscenes. Each area is illuminated and colored in its own way and as the weather changes, so does the feeling that we get for each place we are in. Roaming through the island feels amazing, be it that you are dashing on the ground or soaring through the skies overlooking everything from above. There are countless times during my playthrough where I just wanted to take screenshots just because everything on my screen looked stunning. One example would be when it rained for the first time and I just stopped to look at how detailed the raindrops were on every surface around me as well as on the huntress. There are so many beautiful and unique cutscenes for everything that happens in the story, which sometimes makes it feel as if we are watching a movie.
My favorite thing when it comes to visuals is actually the huntress’s movement. The way she glides while you are prepping to shoot an arrow or the way she swirls through the air when you hit a talisman for a speed boost are both just a few of the many amazing animations that make the game look and also feel amazing to play.
Of course, The Pathless as an experience is only completed by its almost movie-like aural background. Austin Wintory himself is responsible for the soundtrack of the game, the person who you may already know from his work on Abzû, The Banner Saga, Journey and Monaco: What’s yours is Mine among many other titles he has worked on. The tale of the huntress in this game would not be as epic as it is if it wasn’t for the sounds behind it. The audio effects are all very well done and feel very well placed but what is most noticeable is the tribal music that plays in the background. With inspirations from many musical cultures, Wintory has managed to craft what seems to be one of his best works yet. There is even a nyckelharpa being played and that says enough about how diverse and interesting the aural background of it all can get.
The game is published by Annapurna Interactive which only makes it more appealing as a title, considering the fact that the publisher already has a very unique line of indies under its wing.
If you are a looking for a video game experience full of feelings that you get to explore in your own pace, a game that delivers a relaxing vibe as well as the intensity of a world asunder and in flames and if you are looking to battle ancient corrupted spirits with your bow and your trusted eagle companion, then The Pathless is definitely for you. This game is one of the most beautiful interactive experiences you will ever get your hands on.
You can find The Pathless on Epic Games Store and it is also available on PS4 and PS5.
You can watch the game’s trailer here.
You can follow Giant Squad on Discord for more updates.
~Constantine “Kelfecil” Christakis
We would like to thank the developers/publishers for providing us with a copy of this game for coverage purposes. As a non-commercial press team, it is our honor and our delight to be able to provide our opinion on it.