If someone held a bow and arrow to my head and forced me to describe Giant Squid’s new game The Pathless in one word, that word would be: Lovely. Sure, “lovely” is a bit of a corny word. The sort of word that a housekeeper on a British television drama might use to describe a cup of tea. But that is the word that kept circling around in my mind while playing The Pathless.
The moment when The Pathless’s fantastic traversal system clicked with me—lovely. The use of color and shadow to make The Pathless’s world feel mysterious and alive—lovely. The fantastic and delightful environmental puzzles, strewn about the forest waiting for the player to discover them—lovely. Boss fights, level design, the fact that most activities are optional, so you can just wander away if you are stumped—lovely. And that soundtrack, that amazing soundtrack—double lovely.
I received The Pathless well before my PlayStation 5 arrived, and my intention was to just dip briefly into the game on PS4, then play through most of it on PS5. That is not how things worked out. Once I started The Pathless on PS4, I found that I could not pull myself away from it. After one four-hour session, I thought, “Okay, that’s it, I’ve got to stop.” But the next day when I sat down in front of the TV, I found my hands moving of their own accord and booting up The Pathless again. The game is just so good, I could not stop. And before I knew it, I had played the whole thing.
I’ve had the opportunity to check out The Pathless on PS5 now as well (and again found that I had a hard time calling it quits), and I’m pleased to report that players on both systems are going to receive a stellar experience. The DualSense Controller adds some extra depth to the traversal system with its superb use of haptic feedback, and the graphics look cleaner and more detailed in 4K on the new console. Some very nice fog effects add depth to the world. But PlayStation 4 players should not feel shorted by the PS4 version. The Pathless is a great experience on both systems. I’m one of the three people that played The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild on Wii U, so I’m perfectly happy playing a game on an older system. In the case of The Pathless, having played both versions extensively, I’ll just say that a good game is a good game, regardless of how you experience it.
The Breath of the Wild is at the forefront of my mind for good reason. The Pathless is by no means a clone of that classic Zelda title, but there is some common DNA deep down inside—in the very best ways. While The Pathless plays nothing like Zelda, there are some design ideas that are shared between the two.
The Pathless has no minimap (or map of any kind, really), relying instead on very smart visual cues to propel the player forward. I was never without a destination, as I would simply fly to the nearest tall structure and look around for someplace that looked interesting. Likewise, The Pathless has some fun and interesting environmental puzzles, with very minor rewards for solving them. Yes, you get a few little widgets, but for the most part the pleasure of figuring out the solution is the reward, which is surprisingly nice feeling.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. I should probably cover some basics first. The Pathless is a semi-open-world exploration game, set in a mysterious forest. I say “semi-open” because the game is divided into several level-like partitions, but each is an enormous open area. Players can wander about freely, and indeed I never realized that there was a larger area at play until it was time for me to move forward to the next space. The game by no means feels restrictive or linear, but players do need to finish an area to progress to the next.
The player takes on the role of The Hunter—a nameless silent protagonist in a world of living myth. The Hunter is charged with freeing four giant mystical creatures from a mysterious evil force that is binding and corrupting them, causing a dark despair to blanket the land. Granting these giants freedom is accomplished by exploring the landscape and solving puzzles, freeing magic totems from dark barriers imprisoning them. Once she has enough collected, The Hunter must take these tokens to the top of towers dotting the landscape, putting them back in place. Completing this task kicks off a boss fight against the creature, freeing it from the evil forces keeping it in thrall and returning it to its natural, glowing state of grace.
The Pathless explains almost none of this, instead guiding the player to intuit how all the pieces fit together through good game design. Most of the actions taken in The Pathless are discovered through experimentation, with the game only occasionally popping in to say things like “Okay, time to move on to the next level if you want.” By toying around with the environment, players will quickly figure out how The Pathless’s systems intertwine. None of it is terribly complicated but figuring out how to progress is still a pleasure. This is a game that rewards patient tinkering.
Players have two modes of locomotion, which work seamlessly in conjunction with each other to facilitate The Pathless’s pleasurable exploration. The Hunter runs through the forest at a breakneck speed, maintaining her momentum by firing off shots with her bow at the numerous totems liberally scattered about the world. Shooting these markers refills The Hunter’s boost meter, which propels her even faster forward. Once the player has the feel for this dynamic, it settles into a nice rhythmic flow, shooting and bursting forward. A nice auto-aim feature takes a lot of the pressure off of the player, allowing them to simply groove along, taking in the sights.
The Hunter also gets an assist from her bird buddy, who is possibly the mightiest bird in the history of all bird-dom. Her bird (I am undecided on whether it is a hawk or an eagle) can lift The Hunter into the air, gliding along over the trees. As the game progresses, the bird earns a number of boosts, allowing it to lift The Hunter to ever higher plateaus. This allows the player to “climb” structures and then glide through the world to their destination, which feels great. The free feeling of picking a destination and jumping off a tower to soar towards it is perfectly splendid.
I spent most of my time with The Pathless wandering around the woods playing with stuff, not really worrying about progressing the story—which fell into place regardless of my lack of attention. The world of The Pathless is littered with fun things to discover, and environmental puzzles dot the landscape. Every time I came across something a little unusual, I would stop and fiddle with it until I figured out what it did. Puzzles often have the player shooting arrows through a series of hoops, or lighting a series of pyres with trick shots. At times, you will need your super-bird to carry weights around to trigger floor plates. These puzzles are fun and intuitive. Though they sometimes stumped me for a few minutes, climbing a nearby wall, changing my perspective, and looking around usually helped me find the solution.
Occasionally, the player is overtaken by sequences in which The Hunter is Hunter-napped into a stealth game of hide and seek with the fiery behemoths. Even these sections of the game aren’t overly challenging, and though they are a tad overused, I often found them an interesting way to break up the rest of the game. Successfully resolving these sections just pops the player right back to where they were before, and the penalty for losing these segments isn’t overly punishing.
In spite of some fairly intense multi-stage boss battles, with The Hunter dodging fireballs and jumping over waves of flames, I found most of The Pathless to be strangely relaxing. Wandering the forest, enjoying the soundtrack and playing with no time constraints was soothing, and I quickly lost hours exploring old ruins and fiddling with levers and mirrors.
Indeed, most of The Pathless seems to be engineered to delight the player without stressing them out too much. This is a game that simply feels good to play, without cluttering up the experience with unneeded systems and complications. The joy of discovery is the primary motivator in The Pathless, leaving the player feeling at the end of the game as thought they had experienced something…just…lovely.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
Howdy. My name is Eric Hauter, and I am a dad with a ton of kids. During my non-existent spare time, I like to play a wide variety of games, including JRPGs, strategy and action games (with the occasional trip into the black hole of MMOs). I am intrigued by the prospect of cloud gaming, and am often found poking around the cloud various platforms looking for fun and interesting stories. I was an early adopter of PSVR (I had one delivered on release day), and I’ve enjoyed trying out the variety of games that have released since day one. I've since added an Oculus Quest 2 to my headset collection. I’m intrigued by the possibilities presented by VR multi-player, and I try almost every multi-player game that gets released.
My first system was a Commodore 64, and I’ve owned countless systems since then. I was a manager at a toy store for the release of PS1, PS2, N64 and Dreamcast, so my nostalgia that era of gaming runs pretty deep. Currently, I play on Xbox Series X, PS5, PS4, PSVR, Quest 2, Switch, Luna, GeForce Now, (RIP Stadia) and a super sweet gaming PC built by John Yan. While I lean towards Sony products, I don’t have any brand loyalty, and am perfectly willing to play game on other systems.
When I’m not playing games or wrangling my gaggle of children, I enjoy watching horror movies and doing all the other geeky activities one might expect. I also co-host Spielberg Chronologically, where we review every Spielberg film in order, which you can find wherever you get your podcasts.
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