|Platforms||PC, Mac, iOS, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5 (reviewed)|
|Release Date||November 12, 2020|
Not all who wander are lost, and not all who have a path have a purpose. It’s only human to question one’s purpose in life, and this saying stands as one of many poems, quotes, and sayings that muse about this particularly intriguing topic. Much like this quote, The Pathless sets out to show that even when there is no road, there is always meaning to be found. And even when one’s convictions seem to provide a path, one must be careful to avoid following it to destruction.
Spiritual Content: The main goal of the game is to cleanse the spirits of the Tall Ones, who are children of an entity called the “Eagle Mother”. The residents of the island respect, revere, and worship these beings. Many lore points found throughout the game indicate human sacrifices were made to appease the Tall Ones.
Violence: There are boss fights with the main Tall Ones who have been corrupted by the main antagonist, the Godslayer. You fire arrows at weak points on their bodies, and while these wounds are bloodless their cries make their pain quite apparent.
There’s something truly liberating about running really fast and hitting every target in the way without breaking your stride, just the way Matthew Wilder would want. It is this kind of satisfaction that The Pathless pulls off and remarkably, in the time it took me to beat it, this mechanic never got old. The simplicity of it all makes everything as smooth as possible, like video game butter.
The Pathless tells the story of The Hunter, a warrior sent to cleanse the island where the Tall Ones reside. Their island has been corrupted by the Godslayer, a human who once resided there. The Godslayer was formerly known as the Pathfinder, a zealot who sought to show humanity the One True Path for salvation. This path manifested in a corruption that spread to his followers, turning them into mindless, murderous shells of their former selves. Brother turned against brother, and friend turned against friend. Soon enough, each of the spirits of the island, Cernos, Sauro, Nimue, and Kumo, ran rampant. Those who maintained their sanity were forced to fight back, leaving everything in ruin with no survivors.
The Pathless deals with some pretty heavy themes without even flinching. Every piece of lore scattered throughout the island details the fall of people while discussing whether one should go about life freely without real purpose or to go down a path of supposed salvation that forces others to follow you or suffer grave consequences. One of the most disturbing pairs of entries I found was of two brothers; one filled with nothing but prolonged laughter and the other who slowly changed into a deranged murderer. “The brother who left to get water is not the man who came back. I do not recognize the man I grew up with anymore.” one of the entries chillingly notes. The scattered entries and rich attention to lore makes the world feel more alive and lived in than other open-world games, despite being inhabited by only animals and the Hunter.
But those are all the deeper things the game has to offer, and perhaps it is not fair to speak of such things without mentioning the beautiful grass grown from the topsoil. The basic gameplay involves running and shooting talismans that give you speed boosts and replenish your spirit energy, which allows you to continue running. It is all very quick but it never feels so fast that you can’t take in the scenery. All of the landmarks are spread out enough that when something new catches the eye, it is easy to slow down and stop. Timing is important as walking is painfully slow, and this can become really obvious in areas where there are no talismans to shoot to gain energy. This slower pace can be frustrating, but it is somewhat alleviated when the player advances far enough to collect lightstones and receive an ability called the Gift of the Elk. Speaking of. . .
Every area in the game has 12-15 lightstones, but thankfully only 3-6 are needed to pass to the next one. The entrance to each of the new areas is guarded by a Tall One that needs to have the corruption cleansed from it. This is accomplished by placing the lightstones needed in three towers, which bring forth the spirit so it can be purified. Each of these boss battles come in a variety of flavors, but they always start with a pursuit section where the Hunter must hit various weak points on them to activate the next phase. All of these fights are amazing and make great use of the game’s combat mechanics, which really contrasts the quiet peace that surrounds it. There are only five boss battles in the game and they all build off of each other and escalate as the game goes on.
The bosses are not the only creative way the bow and eagle companion are implemented. Every lightstone is protected by some kind of puzzle. These are some mix between arrow trick shots (think Odysseus and the axe heads), lighting braziers, lighting lamps, and ringing bells in sequence. Not only do you get a lightstone upon completion, but certain puzzles can net you other rewards too. For example, special crystals are hidden throughout the world in the forms of chests, lanterns, and butterflies. These crystals will fill a bar that allows your eagle companion to flap more times, and thus soar higher into the air. Occasionally, these crystals will just be sitting around in hidden rooms. These rooms are accessed with the Spirit Mask, which opens blue walls. The mask also highlights where you have been which cleverly makes up for the lack of a world map or fast travel.
As incredible as everything is, there are a few issues I do have. The first is that the Spirit Mask cannot be equipped when running. Being able to have both at the same time would have made discovering lightstones easier than having to get to the highest possible point and putting on the mask to see where the corruption is. Another gripe I had was that the auto-target could be awfully finicky at points. Manually aiming when standing still would be great especially for bell challenges and trick shots. One puzzle, in particular, required shooting an arrow through four target hoops, but two had to be lifted up by the eagle and you had to hit all of them as they descended. Even having the ability to tell the eagle to stay in one spot would have made things a little less bothersome. That being said, I still did a fist pump in the air when I finally nailed it. One final minor annoyance was the forced camera angles in some of the boss sections which led to some frustrating deaths. At least there is no permanent death in this game, just resetting a phase.
Even with those smaller issues, everything else made a stronger impression on me overall. The battles are fierce and frantic and the traversal is breathtaking. If there was one game that deserves checking out in this holiday season, I would highly recommend The Pathless. It soars above the rest.
The Bottom Line