Revealed during one of Sony’s State of Play events, The Pathless was immediately intriguing. The game intently showed where its influences come from which was exciting, as it took elements from some of the best games in the medium but was also at the risk of not living up to those names. The result however is an experience that, while honouring the games that inspired it, is also strong enough to have an identity of its own. The Pathless is great experience that marries seamless, relaxing traversal, with tense combat and a musical score that sicks with you long after the credits roll. This is the review of The Pathless.
First things first, this game is not for everyone. The player that spends hours on Fortnite or Call of Duty everyday may not like The Pathless. And the game does not intend to appeal to that demographic either. Instead this is a game for those who choose videogames to escape into worlds. And while you may have explored many worlds in various games, what sets The Pathless apart is its unique movement mechanic, which you will be finding yourself in for the majority of the game.
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Thankfully, the very act of shooting scattered markers to gain momentum and keep the fluid movement going with the assists of your Eagle, becomes second nature. This is vastly due to the game not demanding for precision to shoot these markers. It instead lets you take in the visuals around you and worry less about where your arrow will land. All of this makes traversing the world a relaxing and uplifting experience.
Sometimes, just aimlessly traversing the vast open terrains of this open world is just what you would want to do. And this is reminiscent of where the game get its DNA from. The Pathless is developed by the team behind the critically acclaimed Abzu, which in turn took its inspiration from Journey, which had its award-winning music composed by the same man who has composed the musical score for The Pathless. And music is a big part of this game and we will get to that in a moment. But do you see how all of this comes full circle?
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Much like the games that precede and inspire The Pathless, the game’s world is just gorgeous and begs to be explored. You play as an archer tasked to restore a cursed land. The world comprises of vast open landscapes with temples or structures in certain sections of the map. These locations act as a platform to move the narrative forward. Your tasks ultimately boil down to solving environmental puzzles, collecting emblems and setting them on dedicated platforms. You are also equipped with a visor that helps you find hidden passages and highlight unexplored areas of the world by switching perspective to what I can only think of as a variation of Batman’s detective mode. Apart from the game’s main narrative there is fair amount of lore scattered throughout the map, if you take the time to explore. Alongside the towering structures are the ever-present and ever-moving storms that can show up at anytime and anywhere in the world. These storms are the embodiment of four cursed beasts that act as Bosses. It is best to avoid these storms until you work your way through the towers and have weakened these creatures. While it is always possible to avoid them, you may end up finding yourself in one of these zones.
And when this happens with the beast still not in its vulnerable state, the game switches to an intense cat and mouse affair where you try to hide in plain sight while also trying to recover your fallen Eagle. But this novelty wears off once you’ve found yourself in these storms about three or four times. That said, when you have done your work and the actual boss battle ensues, the onscreen visuals do put on quite the spectacle. These boss battles are also where the game offers some much-needed variety in gameplay, shifting perspectives through the various phases of the battles. The game succeeds in having a handful of ideas and executing them masterfully. And the relatively short runtime of around 6 hours prevents these ideas from getting repetitive.
The game’s soundtrack perfectly complements the various moods of the game. There have been many games with excellent soundtracks in recent times, my favourites being God of War (2018) Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, Red Dead Redemption 2 and more recently Ori and the will of the wisps, to name a few. But while the use of soundtracks in each of these games was effective, what sticks with you is your actions in the game during gameplay, thanks to the densely layered gameplay mechanics.
The Pathless in many ways reminds me of Shadow of the Colossus. Much like SOTC, the minimalistic aesthetic of the game leaves room for the brain to accommodate the soundtrack as a key part of the experience. The Pathless is about beauty and the music is in perfect harmony with its beauty during the serene moments of exploration and the tense encounters with the beasts alike.
Overall, The Pathless is not for everyone. But it is an essential purchase if you have experienced and enjoyed games like Journey or Abzu. Much like Journey and Abzu the time with this game is brief but memorable. If you are not locked into a certain genre of games and want to explore videogames in order to experience them as an art form, The Pathless is a no brainer.