The Pathless Review – The Calm Before the Storm (PS5)

Giant Squid, the creators of ABZŪ, have returned with The Pathless–an open-world adventure brimming with puzzles to solve and secrets to discover. The world itself is lush with greenery, colorful skies, and a beauty that won’t soon be forgotten. However, a malevolent entity known as the Godslayer threatens the land’s future, spreading a curse that darkens and means to decay everything in its path. It’s up to the player character, a young woman known as the Hunter, to stop the Godslayer’s ascendance.

The Pathless Review – Mechanics

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The enticing premise and gorgeous landscapes are not all The Pathless has on offer. More than anything, it’s easy to be taken in by the simple yet fun movement and gameplay mechanics. Traditional sprinting is absent in The Pathless; as a result, speedier traversal options present themselves via the game’s most important mechanic–the bow and arrow.

In navigating the open-world, the Hunter regularly encounters Talismans shaped like red diamonds. Striking the Talismans with arrows builds up a meter, which allows players to zip across the land with ease. A continuous sequence of hits keeps the momentum up, making for a thrill ride that simply feels great to control. Unsurprisingly, the DualSense controller on PlayStation 5 adds a tactile quality to the experience that cannot be understated. Pulling back a bow string in-game has never felt so good as it does with the adaptive triggers.

Though equally simple, the flying mechanics fail to capture the same semblance of fun. The Hunter’s Eagle companion lifts her up for an understandably limited amount of time, before easing her back down. However, greater heights are achievable thanks to upgrade options that enter the picture fairly early in the game. More often than not, and perhaps by design, flying only seems useful during puzzle-solving sequences, climbing, and covering greater swaths of land to get from point A to B.

The Pathless Review – Exploration and Puzzles

the pathless review

As Giant Squid explained ahead of release, The Pathless lacks conventional tenets of the average open-world. For example, waypoints are nonexistent; there’s no map, either. Instead of detracting from the sandbox gameplay, these omissions ensure exploration is all the more engaging. Here, the developers let go of the reigns, allowing players to discover and learn on their own terms at their own pace.

Still, objectives remain essential to progression, since much of the experience centers around solving puzzles to obtain keys that help push the story forward. The decision on which to solve is left up to player discretion, though. And the puzzles themselves are complex enough to feel genuinely challenging, while hardly, if ever, seeming unmanageable.

Puzzles especially shine thanks to their variety. Most necessitate the use of fire to open a door, retrieve another tool, and so on. Weights and mirrors further color these segments, sometimes coming in the form of movable objects the Eagle must rearrange to line up the perfect sequence of events. Better still, these moments offer a sense of tranquility. Barring the Hunter’s flying companion, the player is left alone with their thoughts, puzzle-solving as beautifully orchestrated music swells in the background. Stunning visuals also add to the game’s allure in this regard, providing a peaceful retreat into another world–even if said world is actively being torn asunder by dark forces.

The Pathless – Creature Encounters

the pathless review

Unfortunately, those dark forces, and the combat encounters in which they take part, are where The Pathless falters the most. The game features four major boss fights, each involving a massive mythical creature who must be defeated and reformed into their peaceful former self.

Every now and then, sometimes too often, the Hunter crosses paths with the beast that’s next up to bat while venturing across the open-world, resulting in a gameplay sequence where surrounding areas become engulfed in a giant red dome. As the boss creature scours the area, the Hunter must stealthily move towards her distressed Eagle ally. The path to success isn’t as simple as it at first seems, though. If light from the beast’s eyes falls on the character, the encounter is lost and valuable collectibles for upgrading the flying ability are drastically decreased.

It’s a frustrating affair. Sometimes the Hunter is spotted when neither the creature nor the light from its eyes appears to be in sight. In other instances, it seems as though such encounters function on an arbitrary timer, which suggests patience is punished instead of rewarded. All things considered, these mini-boss confrontations feel like an inventive addition to the core gameplay that lacks refinement in terms of execution.

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The same goes for the full-on boss fights, all of which are spread across multiple tiers of battle. Each begins in a familiar red dome, with the Hunter chasing down the massive creature through ravaged fields. Dodging fiery attacks on the ground and in the air presents quite the challenge, given every boss’ eerily accurate honing skills.

Chase sequences can either last a few minutes or go on for a lengthy period of time, depending on how quickly the player catches up with their prey to land attacks on its designated weak points. (A couple of glitches slowed things down even further in two of these battles.) Success in this realm, then leads to tiered arena fights that also drag on far too long. The fights are different enough from one another, yet none warrant consideration as particularly memorable.

It’s the absence of stand-out creature encounters that weighs heavy on The Pathless as a whole. And there’s a redundancy to said moments that never rears its head when freely exploring and solving puzzles. Undoubtedly, the exploration and puzzle-solving represent The Pathless at its best. Giant Squid’s latest manages to perfectly capture the calm before the storm, along with the post-battle respite that few games master in equal measure. In that case, it would seem the disappointing creature confrontations do serve a greater purpose to some degree.

The Pathless review code provided by publisher. Reviewed on PS5. For more information, please read our Review Policy.

8.0Silver Trohpy
  • Bow and arrow feels great with DualSense
  • Gorgeous visual; beautiful score
  • Lack of traditional open-world elements
  • Exploration and puzzles make for tranquil gameplay
  • Unclear rules for certain creature encounters
  • Long and often disappointing boss battles
  • Repetitive combat sequences