From Giant Squid, the indie studio behind the water exploration game Abzu, The Pathless is often forgotten about as a PS5 launch title. Amidst juggernaut titles like Demons Souls and Spider-Man: Miles Morales, it’s easy to see why the vast majority of players have relatively ignored this game. But with a Breath of the Wild meets Abzu art-style, a captivating open world, and unique movement mechanics, is The Pathless a diamond in the indie rough? Or is it a mediocre launch game destined for irrelevance?
Story – Less is More
The premise is one you would typically expect. You play as the Hunter, a lonely traveller seeking to rid an island of the demonic Godslayer. With the help of a powerful eagle companion, and her trusty bow and arrow, the Hunter explores the vast landscapes of the island, searching for a way to rid god-like animal spirits of the demon’s curse.
The story does its job and makes it very clear what the Hunter’s motivations are. While the game opts to remain coy about what exactly is happening on the island, it offers copious amounts of lore through souls and translated tablets that you can discover around the map. These are entirely optional but flesh out the game world in an interesting way. However, I found that the lore was far better written than the dialogue, which was incredibly basic and almost like a kid’s movie. This disappointed me, but thankfully the story’s ending is satisfying and makes the journey feel worthwhile. Voice work from Troy Baker and Laura Bailey are also a welcome addition.
The connection between the eagle and the Hunter is also strong. Through high-quality animation and clever story beats, their relationship grows throughout the game in a way that doesn’t feel contrived. Overall, you’re not going to find excellent storytelling here, but The Pathless constructs an interesting enough game world to keep things moving.
Gameplay – Fluid Relaxation
The Pathless is an open-world third-person exploration game, where puzzles and movement lie at the core of the gameplay experience. The main mechanic of the game is the Hunter’s bow and arrow, and for such a simple tool, it really is quite genius.
Scattered everywhere around the island are talismans, which you must shoot with your bow to increase your dash meter and gain momentum to flow around the map. To fire your bow, you hold the R2 trigger until the bow loads up enough to hit the talisman. If you want to get a quicker shot on the talisman and move even faster, you can time the trigger release to get a ‘skill shot.’
This mechanic, besides some talismans giving increased boosts towards the end of the game, never changes throughout your playthrough. Yet, this is a brilliant move, as I really felt myself getting better and better at hitting skill shots and effortlessly chaining together glides and jumps to get around. Unlike the bow, your eagle can actually be upgraded by discovering secrets around the map that eventually increase the number of flaps the eagle can perform. These greatly increase your ability to fly and move vertically through the mountains.
Playing with the DualSense on PS5 also adds to the game a great deal, making it easily the ideal platform to play on. The trigger provides a bit of resistance to indicate when to release for a skill shot, and the haptic feedback feels great when facing the monstrous cursed spirits. You can feel their attacks and foot stomps in the controller, and it’s extremely well implemented.
There is no combat to be found here, and there is no mini-map, either. Instead, the game relies on your own curiosity, exploration skills and ‘Spirit Vision’, which highlights points of interest. Your main goal is to find golden amulets around the map in order to light obelisks that unlock one of the four bosses. These amulets are obtainable through environmental puzzles, which involve some brainwork on your part and some clever use of the bow. Your eagle is also key, helping you lift weights to push down platforms that change the environment in some way.
You are never given any tips on how to complete these puzzles, and while they may stump you at first, they are designed in a way that the solution becomes obvious once you truly take it all in. The puzzles are extremely similar to the Korok seeds from Breath of the Wild, and as such, they are satisfying and clever. However, the gameplay loop never changes, so the puzzles can become stale towards the end. Luckily, the game’s movement and fluidity always keep you engaged. However, if you don’t find the world or lore interesting, you may struggle to find enjoyment from the repetitive exploration.
The bosses are also a highlight. There are four spirit bosses to defeat before the ending, and they are thrilling every time. The corrupted spirits are built up to be truly larger than life beings, which adds to the sense of occasion. They are also all unique in how they are taken down (besides the start of each boss being the same), but unfortunately, the same red-black colour scheme is used for each boss.
I wish Giant Squid would have used some different environments and settings for the bosses to keep things fresh, but otherwise, the bosses are some of the most fun you’ll have in The Pathless. It also doesn’t overstay its welcome, clocking in at about 5-6 hours.
Graphics & Audio: Abzu Meets the Wilderness
While many Breath of the Wild comparisons can be made in terms of the art style, The Pathless is truly a spiritual successor to Giant Squid’s Abzu. The minimalist textures, bright colours and wildlife all make the game an absolute joy to look at. Running at a buttery smooth 60FPS also helps the game’s movement really pop off the screen, and I never had any stuttering on the PlayStation 5 version.
This game is really is eye-popping, and while simpler looking than AAA contemporaries, it’s a great showcase for next-gen technology in its own right. The game also keeps the environments fresh, with some differing snow and water-based locations impressing me at every turn. I especially loved the way the wild animals in the game would run away from the Hunter and large stoic ruins and bones, adding the game’s sense of scale. The grass especially looks excellent, reacting to the Hunter’s dashing, jumping and shooting in gorgeous fashion. Wind, rain and storm effects also all look phenomenal.
By translating Abzu’s art style from the seas to the open wilderness, Giant Squid truly has cemented itself as one of the true visual savants amongst the indie community. I hope it can continue to evolve its art style into future games, as I can see it being utilised in other environments (such as the skies or outer space) just as well as it does here.
The audio is more low-key than the visuals, but it works to great effect in its own right. The orchestral and, in the words of the composers, ‘global jam band’ style means that several European, African and Asian influences all work their way into the score. It compounds the Hunter’s lonely journey while at the same time highlighting huge moments like boss fights well.
The Pathless was reviewed on PlayStation 5 with a review code provided by HYPE.