Shaun Munro reviews The Pathless on PS5…
Giant Squid Studios’ follow-up to their gorgeous debut Abzû proves to be a decidedly more ambitious and expansive effort, and while The Pathless isn’t without a few formulaic frustrations, it largely offers up an enticingly ethereal action-adventure romp.
The game takes place in a mysterious, mystical land which has become tainted by a malevolent entity known as the Godslayer. With the villain having corrupted four gigantic, animalistic spirits of the land, it is up to the Hunter and her trusty eagle companion to scour the world and relieve the spirits of their corruption.
On paper, The Pathless certainly sounds like it doesn’t deviate too much from the minimalist indie adventure game schematic, being one of several recent “AA” games to deliver its own take on Shadow of the Colossus. Yet despite this familiarity and the game’s lack of a particularly compelling narrative, it’s still a worthwhile experience thanks to its deftly-crafted traversal systems and the affecting two-hander between hero and sidekick.
Traversal, which is easily the most refined aspect of the game, sees players speeding around the world and firing arrows at talismans strewn across the map in order to fill a speed gauge which is quickly drained by dashing. As such, it’s imperative to keep firing arrows while on the move, and later on the game also introduces extra talismans which allow you to move faster and bound up into the air.
Equally important is the presence of your eagle, who can drag you into the sky and fly you across vast differences. The switch-footing between grounded and airborne movement is really what makes The Pathless so fun to play, and though you might need a few moments to get to grips with these mechanics, it’s an absolute blast once you’re in its acrobatic thrall.
Beyond the basic setup, this isn’t a game that holds players’ hands excessively, and in the early-going I genuinely had little idea what I was actually supposed to be doing; there’s nothing in the way of a conventional HUD or mini-map here, nor are there mission markers to guide you.
Despite the game refusing to spell everything out, you do have “spirit vision,” which will nudge you towards points of interest. Your primary objective throughout the game is to, with the help of your eagle, solve environmental puzzles – marked by the pervasive red mist of corruption lingering around them – in order to receive tokens which can then be used to light up a series of obelisks.
There are many more puzzles littered throughout the map than you actually need to advance through the six-hour story – such as firing arrows through a series of strategically placed holes, or arranging emblems of the four spirits in the correct order – yet once you’ve cleansed enough obelisks, you’ll face off against one of the Godslayer’s four spirits in a fiery boss battle.
These sequences typically begin as frantic chase scenarios before pivoting into a more cinematic – and ever-gorgeous – arena-style showdown, and they’re easily the game’s highlight.
The land also contains the Godslayer’s crimson sphere of influence – a gigantic red ball of evil, basically – and if you get close enough while on maneuvers, it’ll expand and swallow you, leading to a stealth showdown – shades of Death Stranding – where you need to retrieve your eagle while avoiding the next boss. Even if you’re caught, though, the penalty is miniscule; you get hit and lose a few yellow shards which are used for levelling up the eagle’s flight abilities.
There is a sure rinse and repeat aspect to The Pathless’ core gameplay, as becomes especially apparent during the game’s second-half where players will likely have the various mini-game puzzles down to a tee. There’s a disappointing lack of sufficient puzzle reinvention throughout, even as the game introduces a few neat traversal variations later on.
It does also have to be said that the finicky eagle A.I. does slightly undermine the focal bond, especially when tackling puzzles which require the eagle to fetch objects from the environment. Getting the eagle exactly where you need him sometimes feels far more like busy-work than it should, and in those moments the game invokes more of a The Last Guardian vibe than Shadow of the Colossus.
Like most games hitting the PS5 during its launch period, the game does feature support for the console’s terrific DualSense controller, and though at first its restrained utility here might underwhelm, it’s ultimately a pragmatic choice given how disruptive forceful adaptive trigger feedback would be in a game where you’re required to fire arrows all the time. Still, Giant Squid missed a trick by not allowing players to pet their eagle – which you need to do after every stealth encounter – with the trackpad.
The PS5 version of the game also allows players to chose between a 60fps “performance” mode and a 30fps 4K “resolution” mode, and I generally found myself switching between the two. 60fps is certainly well-suited to the game’s fast movement, though some of the late-game boss fights looked eye-wateringly beautiful in 4K. Despite a few visual goofs – occasional pop-in and environmental clipping – The Pathless functions well in either mode as an unexpected showcase for what the console is capable of.
But the standout of the sensory package is easily Austin Wintory’s sumptuous musical score; he offers up an incredible, swelling orchestral arrangement primed to make your heart soar, while also nailing the epic bombast that takes the boss battles to the next level.
This is an imperfect but compelling indie that sensibly wraps up before it outstays its welcome, elevated by its thrilling boss encounters and an especially exciting final hour. If made from familiar parts, The Pathless nevertheless delivers the goods as a fast-paced action-adventure romp and a mostly unspoken depiction of the bond between human and animal.
+ Strong traversal mechanics.
+ Gorgeous visuals.
+ Austin Wintory’s excellent score.
+ Memorable boss fights.
– Some clunky controls and A.I.
– A bit repetitive.
– Generic, piecemeal narrative.
Reviewed on PS5 (also available on PS4 and PC).
A review code was provided by the publisher.