While playing The Pathless, I was constantly reminded of some of the best, most arresting games I’ve ever played- Journey, Shadow of the Colossus, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Like those games, The Pathless has a serene, desolate quality to its beauty. Like those games, it builds up a mystical world through a mostly wordless narrative, with just the right amount of lore drops and storytelling. Like those games, it puts its focus almost entirely on organic exploration and puzzles, not on combat. And like those games, The Pathless is an experience I’m unlikely to forget about anytime soon.
You play as the Hunter, a master archer who’s taken it upon herself to rid the land of a decaying corrupted inflicted upon it by an evil, ominous entity known as the Godslayer. The Eagle Mother, the land’s guardian spirit, was defeated in battle by the Godslayer, and her children, guardians of different areas of the game’s world, have become corrupted and are in thrall of the entity. Accompanied by a reborn avatar of the Eagle Mother, the Hunter has to travel across the land to free the spirits of the guardians, and ultimately defeat the Godslayer to rid the world of his corruption.
"The Pathless is an experience I’m unlikely to forget about anytime soon."
The narrative setup is a simple one, and the story itself isn’t particularly unique, but The Pathless tells it quite effectively. There isn’t much of a focus on active storytelling, with only a handful of cutscenes interspersed throughout the story, and most of the lore and backstory is handed to you via accounts and text boxes that you find scattered throughout the world. What you do find is captivating enough though, and creates an aura of mystery that elevates the narrative and the game’s world to solid heights.
The focus, however, is very much on gameplay, most of which revolves around an accessible yet incredible traversal system. By holding down the left trigger, the Hunter begins sprinting, which drains a stamina meter, and shooting emblems scattered throughout the world refills the stamina meter, and with the right timing, can provide a speed boost or launch you higher in the air if they’re shot while you’re airborne. Meanwhile, your eagle companion can also help you hover, and depending on how much you’ve upgraded your abilities, flap its wings a number of times to take you to greater heights.
Shooting the emblems is a mostly automatic process, and the game automatically locks you on to them, saving you the act of manual aiming, and instead letting you focus on speed and placement. The traversal system is one that’s easy to get into, but holds just enough of a skill cap. Combining your abilities with your eagle’s to chain together multiple dashes, glides, and jumps can take some getting used to, but pulling off these combos and watching the Hunter flit through the world at incredible speeds feels incredible. Thanks to this fast, fluid, and speedy traversal system, the simple act of moving about in the world of The Pathless is an absolute treat.
"Thanks to its fast, fluid, and speedy traversal system, the simple act of moving about in the world of The Pathless is an absolute treat."
Besides traversal, exploration and environmental puzzle solving are what will define your time with The Pathless. There’s hardly any combat in this game, with your bow mostly used for moving around and solving puzzles. Your path forward in every new area of the world is activating a number of obelisks, for which you require Lightstones, and these Lightstones are found by exploring the world and solving environmental puzzles.
Exploration is organic and pulls you right into the game’s world. There’s no map, no markers, no compass, and you’re instead made to rely on visual navigation as you look for points of interest in the world from vantage points or using your Spirit Vision ability (which is what The Pathless calls Eagle Vision, or Detective Vision, or Witcher Vision, or whatever you want to call it), which highlights points of interest in a red hue from a distance.
This diegetic style of exploration is what gives The Pathless its name. Much of your time is spent wandering about the world looking for visual cues to follow, and while you’re never quite sure what exactly you’ll find when you get to your intended destination, the reward is always worth it, without exception- whether its a puzzle to solve, a spectacular sight to see, orbs to collect as you work toward your eagle’s next upgrade, or more.
"Much of your time is spent wandering about the world looking for visual cues to follow, and while you’re never quite sure what exactly you’ll find when you get to your intended destination, the reward is always worth it, without exception."
Exploration in The Pathless always strikes the perfect balance between aimless and being directed- I mostly never knew what exactly I was looking for, but coming up my next discovery always felt rewarding. It helps that the game’s world is an absolutely beautiful one. Like Shadow of the Colossus or Journey, The Pathless’ world is sparsely populated, and consistently and desolately beautiful. Ancient structures stand out and beckon you forward from distances as you survey the land from heights, and beautiful landscapes and vistas are plentiful.
Puzzles in the game are also very well designed. Like its story or its exploration or much else in the game, puzzles have no tutorials or handholding, and rely simply on visual and diegetic cues. As you explore the world, you’ll come across various mini-dungeons, where you’ll be tasked with taking on satisfying brain-teasers, tasking you with everything from lining up rings to shoot and thread arrows through to using your eagle to drop blocks onto buttons to open new paths forward. Not once did I come across a puzzle in The Pathless that I did not enjoy figuring out and taking on.
Where The Pathless does stumble is in your encounters with the corrupted forms of each area’s guardian spirit. These corrupted beasts move about their designated parts of the game’s world dynamically, and if you get caught in their sphere of influence, you trigger a sequence where you have to avoid being noticed by them and stealthily make your way back to your eagle. In theory, they sound great, but really, all they do is get in the way of the real fun, which comes from exploration and puzzles. These sections also almost always play out the exact same way, and end up repetitive pretty quickly.
"Like Shadow of the Colossus or Journey, The Pathless’ world is sparsely populated, and consistently and desolately beautiful."
Once you’ve activated all the obelisks in an area, you take on that area’s corrupted beast in multi-stage set-piece boss encounters- which, too, are a mixed bag. The chase sequences that kick them off are thrilling sections, accompanied by wonderfully swelling music and the thrill of of The Pathless’ excellent traversal system put to great use, while the head-on combat in the subsequent stages can also be a fun ride, since it feels less like combat and more like fast-paced puzzle-solving. That said, the penalties for getting hit or failing to land a shot in The Pathless are negligible – you can’t really die – so these sections end up feeling a bit blunted.
It’s a good thing that these sections are few and far between. Like any good game, The Pathless knows where its biggest strengths lie, and it constantly leverages those strengths to craft a hypnotic, rhythmic, beautiful, and captivating adventure. Running through its main story takes less than ten hours, depending on how you play, but I wager I’ll be spending a lot more time exploring its world and taking on the activities that I blew past on my way to the credits. The Pathless is a beautiful game, and one that nobody should miss out on.
This game was reviewed on a PlayStation 4.
Thrilling and fluid traversal system; Diegetic and engaging exploration; Solid puzzle design; A beautiful world to explore; Strong narrative setup and accomplished storytelling; Well-designed multi-stage boss encounters.
Lack of penalties in boss fights cripples the challenge; Annoying and repetitive stealth sections.