While most games these days are chock-full of extras that pad but don’t necessarily add to the game, sometimes all you need is a core formula that just works. Stripped of all that distractions, Giant Squid’s The Pathless truly allows the creative vision behind an idea to form fully. This action-adventure indie elevates movement to an art, and in turn, produces a remarkable gameplay experience like no other.
Dropping players into an open world, The Pathless, as the name suggests, can seem a foreign perspective at first. There is no minimap to guide you around, making it impossible to fast travel. Death is non-existent, and there are no other enemies except for the bosses. Aside from your bow and arrow, and a loyal eagle companion, there is just you and this seemingly endless world to explore.
The premise of The Pathless is immediately familiar to anyone who has enjoyed this particular genre – of a fantastical world that has been beset by an evil curse, and it is up to you to save the world. However, it is how the game goes about this that lets it shine on its own.
Movement is vital to the overall experience in The Pathless, and it is a literal breeze of enjoyment. Dashing around the world, you can easily cover distances in a flash. To do that, you need to be constantly replenishing a rapidly depleting sprint meter by shooting at floating talismans.
The game makes it easier for players with a generous auto-snapping that triggers pwhenever you are close enough to the target. Simply hold, and release the bow at the right moment and you can continue on your merry way. Just the movement from place to place is a fun element of The Pathless that does not get old.
There are also certain areas where you need to get some height and glide. Your eagle pal is particularly handy for that, adding another layer to the game with verticality. As you progress through the game, your companion can also gain additional flaps by collecting Crystals. They help extend your air time considerably for more options.
While you are free to explore the world and take in the sights, there are plenty of other reasons to venture forward. Utilising a special ability that grants something akin to spirit vision, this is where The Pathless truly embraces the freedom of exploration.
Activate the power and the whole world turns to a vision of blue. Areas of interests will then appear, pulsating with a bright red colour of adventure and intrigue. You will have zero clue of what awaits you there. It could be an important quest item, a secret collectable, or something else entirely. But needless to say, it will always be something worthwhile for your adventure.
Rather than show players their hands immediately, the design of this feature gives the power to the player. You get to decide when to use this ability, how you use it, and where it leads you to. It is freedom in its purest form, and you can always expect to be rewarded for it.
Parts of the world also offers a change of pace with puzzles. Your bow, as well as your eagle, will come into play. You could be tasked to chain shots at multiple targets, or require the help of your feathered friend to move stuff into position.
Do not expect the puzzles to test the limits of your logical skills, but they are not simplistic either. Just like the rest of The Pathless, the challenge of these puzzle designs rest perfectly balanced at the optimal spot. More importantly, it represents another way the game tells its story through environmental storytelling amidst the ruins and time gone past.
Of course, the land remains in need of saving. When you are ready to face them, it is time to head to the various bosses that stalk the lands. Instead of pure combat sequences, Giant Squid has tried its best to freshen up the boss fight formula.
There can be several phases to taking down these corrupted beings. You could be chasing them down across the world, before going toe-to-toe with your archery skills. Certain bosses also bring their own surprises into the mix, such as platforming challenges that can up the ante in an instance.
Backed by the amazing musical work of Austin Wintory, every battle is an amazing auditory and visual experience. You cannot help but feel the intensity of your struggles against these beings. Even just exploring the island makes for a breathtaking sojourn into the world of The Pathless.
You can always put off these boss fights in lieu of more exploration, but that does not mean that evil does not have its eyes on you. As you make your way around the game’s four region, you could find yourself caught up in a giant storm.
Getting trapped in this storm separates you and your trusty eagle. In order to escape, you will need to find your way back to it stealthily while avoiding the gaze of the boss in the area. While this is an interesting mechanic, it can spell frustration if you are suddenly taken away in the middle of solving a puzzle. It pays to be careful, as getting caught can lose you some Crystals and blunt the effectiveness of your eagle friend.
Even as you find yourself defeating the bosses, there is no rush to the next objective. The freedom that The Pathless champions remains intact no matter where you are in the game, and that is something quite rare to be found in today’s context. It becomes a matter of want, rather than need, as you go in search of your next adventure.
Needless to say, the focus on its movement system above all else gives the game a unique edge. Add in the sprinkle of environmental puzzles and a world dying to be explored, and we have something quite special on our hands. While the combat is a necessity, Giant Squid has made every encounter different in its own ways, and that makes for a mesmerising blend of elements that helps The Pathless blaze its own path amongst its contemporaries.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
The benefits of focus shine through with The Pathless, a smooth and enjoyable experience that never overstays its welcome.
Gameplay - 9/10
Story - 8/10
Presentation - 9/10
Value - 8/10