The Pathless is an engrossing adventure that takes you through a huge open-world environment to fight hulking beasts that threaten a mysterious, cursed world you are tasked to protect. Created by the amazing studio that brought us Abzû and worked on the award-winning Journey, this new title manages to feel both unique and familiar.
You play as The Hunter, a character who uses her eagle companion to help her solve puzzles, explore further by lifting her into the air and puts the hurt on bosses to help finish them off in a magnificent display. Together, they speed through the huge open expanse, fighting against these tremendously powerful and jaw-droppingly large bosses, but there are periods of slow down spent solving intricate puzzles by having the bird lift and push objects such as mirrors that redirect light or trigger weight-based switches. It’s a fine balance between exploration and action that makes it great for ‘pick up and play’ sessions.
Faster and fasterOne of the most inspired game mechanics I’ve seen in years is the way that you use the timed release of your arrows to hit the floating talismans scattered around to propel your character forward faster. The speed, once achieved, makes a huge world seem scalable and manageable, and with the breathtaking views and impressive expanses of foliage and wildlife, there’s plenty to look at as you’re racing through it. It never gets old, and it is a relaxing experience to run freely in such a calming environment, with no enemies or obstacles to impact you.
If you’re looking for a pick-me-up, your eagle can thrust its wings with great vigour and lift you skywards. You can then continue to shoot the talismans with your bow and give you additional air-dash boosts to keep yourself in the air. Otherwise, you float down to the ground in a glide, and once you’ve landed, you can use your eagle to lift you up again. Solving puzzles will provide you with additional flaps to lift you even higher, so if you are looking for other things to do in-between wrecking bosses, you have the option to explore the nooks and crannies and find upgrades.
Explore moreWith no map to speak of, you must don your spirit mask and dive into the spirit world to locate your next objective, which, in this blue-tinted representation of the land you’re exploring, will shine bright with a red aura representing the point of interest. It is here that you’ll find Lightstones, the required currency to progress in the game. Each aura is found much easier by travelling up to the top of Obelisks - towers that must be cleansed of corruption with the power of the Lightstones, which then summons the beast of that region.
As you’re solving puzzles and locating these stones, there will be an ever-growing threat that pushes out to eventually encompass the area you’re in. Represented by a huge red cloud, if you are caught in it, you’ll have to face off against the guardian of that area temporarily, where it will stalk around and look for you. Your eagle is also cast-off in the encounter, and your goal here is to avoid the guardian’s gaze and get to your eagle and heal it by petting it. If you happen to be caught in their powerful gaze, it will cause you to lose the yellow crystals that you were collecting to increase your eagle’s flight power. It’s a tense encounter, but one that can be avoided by hiding inside one of the structures scattered about and waiting for it to blow over.
Bosses, once summoned, require you to take them down by dashing through a converted landscape tinged red and covered in fire and slamming arrows into their clearly marked weak points on their bodies. After you slow them down with enough damage, you are transported to an arena where their full power is on display. Combat here is a bit slower-paced, with the majority of the fights requiring dodging incoming attacks and locating their weak points to exploit.
It’s an interesting change of pace, but it makes it more intense and dramatic, and this is where the game really shines - showcasing the art and design of their intelligently-crafted behemoths and providing you with a playground to put them to rest. Once you finally down the boss, the area surrounding where the battle took place unravels and spills out light in all directions, giving you a visual indication of the freeing of the curse from that area. Each time is a gorgeous sight to behold and provides a dramatic conclusion before you move on to the next area, with the arc in beauty approaching an almost poetic outpouring of design and grace.
Expansive BeautyRegardless of whether you are soaring through the sky from destination to destination or running at full pace away from the imposing threat of the boss's influence on the land, you won’t be able to help yourself but pause and just take in the beauty of it all. The inspiring and intrinsic awe of seeing sprawling woodlands littered with streams, rocks, and ancient ruins that dot the skyline with their outlines is a sight to behold. Jutting rock formations and bold colours define the snowy wonderland towards the end of the adventure, and with the world so fun to explore, it becomes its own reward to move through it.
Expanding the formula of simply moving through stunning landscapes and collecting trinkets, there is lore and a deeper story to peer into, if you want to. The game gives you a couple of cutscenes here and there, but much like exploratory games such as Metroid Prime, they are left for you to discover. This provides the game with an inherent and organic mystery that unravels as you continue through your quest, but knowing its out there to pursue can provide a feeling of fullness to an otherwise silent adventure.
That’s not meant to say the game doesn’t deliver musical delight, as it absolutely does, and the soaring themes and intensity of battle can be felt through the music, amplifying the experience to new heights. It tends to fade in and out when appropriate, but each time it comes in, it touches the gameplay in such a way that you can’t help but emotionally tie the experience to the fulfilling exploration in a strong accord with this accompanying soundtrack like a friend that comes to visit only at the perfect time.
Final ThoughtsThere’s so much to love in The Pathless, it’s hard to even begin what is the best part of the experience. Between the emotionally-driven musical score to the beauty in every facet of the design and execution of gameplay, there’s such a brilliance in how it’s delivered to the player that you can’t help but feel like you are in control of a lucid dream, moving through it gracefully and eradicating evil with the power of your bow and the light within. When a game offers you such a visual sheen that you can’t help but stop and just stare at it, you know you’re looking at a work of art, through and through.
The length of the game is great for a mobile platform, and you can finish it in an afternoon or two if you want to dedicate some time to it. This may seem short, but I feel that just like Journey and Abzû before it, the experience is meant to be enjoyed in one or two play sessions, providing full movie-like crafting that provides a firm resonance that sticks with you long after the credits roll. The Pathless is an adventure so finely crafted, the likes of which we don’t see often in the medium of video games, and it’s a perfect world to get lost in and explore at your leisure.