The first shot in The Pathless shows an expansive sea, a visual allusion to the earlier work of developer Giant Squid on the ocean adventure game Abzû. This title was peaceful and serene, while The Pathless acts as a counterpoint, inviting you into a dark world consumed by fire and brimstone. Giant Squid handles the tone shift well and creates a better game that gives a real sense of discovery while being just as awesome as its underwater predecessor.
This adventure in a dangerous land is seen through the eyes of a character known only as “The Hunter,” a gifted archer who becomes the unlikely ally of a mystical eagle who can lift her high into the air. The hunter is focused on one task: to rid the world of a curse created by a being known as the godslayer. Hunters have tried this feat for generations, but none have succeeded. You can find the skeletal remains of these past hunters in the vast areas of the open world, showing how close they have come – a great visual-narrative technique that will lead you to more dangerous places. The lore of the world is exposed through reading books, but Giant Squid also frames dramatic moments in beautifully animated cutscenes that scream the recent stylization of The Legend of Zelda. The Godslayer has enough time to show why he is a formidable threat.
The hunter’s only weapon is a bow, and despite what you might think, it is rarely used for combat. Your main focus is on getting around. With a sophisticated lock-and-shoot system, every arrow that hits an environmentally-based talisman gives the hunter a boost in speed. You don’t have to worry about these shots lined up. The lock-on system does this even if the talisman is not displayed on the screen. All you have to do is time the settings, resulting in rhythmic gameplay. When the arrows hit the mark, the hunter leaps over the terrain with quick jumps. This type of move is weird, but it’s handled remarkably well when performed and is a great thing in the end. It later evolves for flight purposes and allows the hunter to climb up the side of the mountains. Tightening the adaptive triggers on the DualSense is cool and helps with timing just by the feel of the controller giving off.
True to the name The Pathless, you won’t find a breadcrumb trail to follow, a map to look at, or even a defined order for any of the destinations. Giant Squid created a liberating, open world design with clean visual lines that almost always have a point of interest no matter which direction you are facing. When the terrain becomes more vertically demanding, the hunter relies on a magical technique, almost like the sonar of a submarine, which illuminates something remarkable in a shade of red for a second. The exploration is exciting and I never felt like I was lost or needed help. I’ve only walked to areas that looked important, and my assumptions were almost always correct.
Most of the notable places are ancient ruins or dilapidated buildings that have an item called a light stone inside that the hunter must bring back to towers to clear the area of the curse. The light stones are always enclosed behind an energy field. To free them, the hunter must use the bow to solve environmental puzzles, sometimes shoot arrows through flames at specific angles to ignite pyrene, and sometimes do a trick to thread three rings at once. These puzzles are well thought out; a few amazed me a bit but their tiny size isn’t overwhelming and there are just so many approaches you can try. In general, the puzzles are fun to solve and there is a nice change of pace as the game largely relies on environmental navigation for its hat. My biggest complaint about The Pathless is the repetitive structure of every world. Find the light stones. Light the towers. To repeat. To repeat. To repeat.
The huntress is often in the air, gliding her eagle over wide spaces so that the player can enjoy the beauty of the world. However, at regular intervals an angry animal whips across the site, enveloping it in flames. In this case, the player just has to sneak past it. These stealth sequences are overused but luckily they are simple. When all the towers in an area are lit, that enemy turns into a formidable boss that shows how intense and challenging The Pathless can be.
These major fights begin with a chase, where the hunter leaps over the fire, glides past fireballs, and keeps up with talismans, and hopefully gets close enough to land a shot at one of the animal’s weak spots. The Hunter then confronts him in an arena battle where she has to time her jumps and roll-dodge explosions. Each of the few bosses in the world is different and beautifully designed. I loved accepting them all.
The Pathless is a wonderfully different game that makes you feel like you own the entire experience rather than being guided by a pre-made game book. It’s one of those adventures that will stay with you long after you play.