Review – The Pathless
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Annapurna Interactive is a publisher that consistently puts out totally unique games. While they don’t always have the impact they’re going for with titles like Telling Lies or Donut County, there’s no denying that they back truly original ideas. However, Some of their games are masterful works of art, like Ashen, Gorogoa, and Outer Wilds. Needless to say, when I saw their upcoming action/adventure game, The Pathless, from the creators of ABZÛ, I was immediately intrigued. Would this be another offbeat title too ambitious for its own good, or would we have something truly remarkable to venture into?
The Pathless doesn’t give you much at the start in terms of a story. You play as a masked female protagonist, referred to only as “The Hunter”, who arrives at the shores of some cursed land. She discovers that one of the gods of the land, a mighty eagle, has been struck down by an evil entity known as the Godslayer. It is the Godslayer’s plan to take over the land by inflicting his curse upon each of the old gods that reign there. After teaming up with a young eagle, the Hunter takes it upon herself to try to thwart the Godslayer’s plans and free the realm from his tyranny.
I can understand some people becoming frustrated by the hands-off approach that The Pathless takes. Much of what I was able to tell you about the story was only learned after playing it for a while. There are no NPCs to talk to and no lengthy exposition dumps. Nearly all of the lore surrounding the land comes from finding epitaphs and final thoughts from the souls of the dead that litter the land.
While the game does ramp up about halfway through and provides a satisfying ending, there’s a lot that can be missed if you don’t care to look. You can beat the game in five hours if you stick to the main objectives. Although, that means that you’ll miss out on a lot of the rich details that the world has to offer, such as the world’s lore and crystals you can use to strengthen your eagle’s abilities. You can easily spend twenty to thirty hours in the game if you want to scour the land for every secret it holds.
The Pathless takes a note from Breath of the Wild‘s book and allows for immediate fully open exploration. After the short intro section, you’re free to choose wherever you’d like to go. Navigating the land is a joy too, thanks to the intuitive movement system. The Hunter can run and jump, but she can can also shoot her bow and arrows at the myriad talismans that cover the land and sky. Holding the button to charge her bow and releasing it when the target has been fully lighted will charge her dash meter and provide her with a burst of energy. Once you get a feel for the timing of shooting the talismans, traversing the land feels like a graceful dance.
Some players might feel daunted by the fact that there is no map to guide you on your journey. Personally, I loved the absence of one. It made exploring the unknown land and familiarizing myself with its layout much more rewarding. Plus, it’s not like the environment is terribly huge to begin with. Each area has its own corruption that needs to be expelled. You do this by lighting several obelisks in each region that will weaken the cursed spirits and allow you to fight them. Defeating them lifts the curse and cleanses that area of the land.
It’s worth noting as well that there is no combat to be found in The Pathless aside from the boss battles. In this regard, it reminds me of Shadow of the Colossus, which is definitely not a bad thing. You might think that the absence of enemy encounters would make the game less engaging, but that simply isn’t the case here. Finding the world’s secrets is a joy all its own.
That’s not to say that there isn’t any sort of conflict or tension apart from the bosses. Before a region has been cleansed, the cursed spirit will occasionally send out a giant wave corruption out toward the Hunter. If you don’t manage to run away fast enough, you’ll enter into a stealth section. You’ll be separated from your eagle and the world will go red. The cursed spirit will then try to track you down. You’ll have to take care to slowly make your way back to your companion without being seen by the spirit. These sections aren’t too difficult, but there were a few times I felt cheated when the spirit would dive right at me, even though I had remained still while its gaze was in my direction. Luckily, failing these encounters will only result in a few lost crystals.
I can’t stress enough how rewarding it is to simply explore the world. While the graphics aren’t hyper-realistic, the art style is still dynamic and striking, even in its simplicity. At times, the Hunter can use her “Spirit Vision”, which allows her to see things only present in the spirit world and be able to pass through certain barriers. This is particularly helpful when trying to figure out where to go next, as the world takes on an overall blue hue, with corruption points standing out in bright red and secrets shining through in vibrant yellow. This is the main way you’ll keep your bearings, since there is no map present.
The journey is also accompanied by one of the best musical scores I’ve heard in a video game. Composer Austin Wintory manages to invoke the full gambit of emotions present in The Pathless, which is especially pivotal considering there is no voice acting. From the enchanting whimsy of each region, to the dramatic upswelling of the boss themes, each soundtrack moves seamlessly from one another in a remarkably organic fashion.
I cannot sing the praises of The Pathless enough. While it might not have the depth that some of the bigger games have, it has a just enough of a story to make it interesting. Although, there is a lot to be discovered about the world if you’re willing to spend the time exploring. I can honestly say that I’ve never played a game quite like it. Once you get the hang of the movement system, venturing across the land is a delight. Even the boss fights feel like one fluid dance. It’s an ambitious game, but one that doesn’t overstay its welcome. Without a doubt, this is one path worth traveling.
While nothing terribly mind-blowing in terms of graphics, its somewhat simplistic art style is both striking and dramatic when it needs to be.
An action/adventure game with no combat aside from the bosses. The unique movement system creates a feeling of fluidity that I’ve never experienced before. Once you get the timing down, it’s like one long graceful dance.
There is no voice acting, but Austin Wintory’s score is breathtaking.
I’ve never played a game quite like The Pathless. Its open art style and open exploration is reminiscent of Breath of the Wild, while its boss-only combat takes inspiration from Shadow of the Colossus. You can beat the game in five hours or easily sink twenty to thirty into thoroughly exploring all the world has to offer.
Final Verdict: 8.0
The Pathless is available now on PS4, PS5, iOS, and PC.
Reviewed on PC with an i7-9700k, RTX 2070, and 16gb RAM.
A copy of The Pathless was provided by the publisher.