Platforms: PS5, PS4, PC
Stop us if you’ve heard this one before – in a fantastic world, a great evil has upset the natural balance, and only you can restore order by defeating the nefarious Godslayer before darkness claims the land.
A somewhat clichéd set up for The Pathless, then, but in practice this beautiful adventure from developers Giant Squid defies convention at almost every turn. It’s an open world game with no map, no directions, no quest markers. There are no enemies, bar a handful of narratively important bosses. It’s filled with puzzles, but without the now overly-familiar hand-holding that guides players through step by step. You’re a nameless protagonist, a hunter, but there’s plenty of personality to be found in how she interacts with the world.
The real joy of The Pathless comes from its approach to navigation and movement. The hunter can move at a decent clip herself, but really speeds along when you engage sprint by pulling down L2 (on PS5, version tested) – doing so depletes a gauge, which can constantly be topped up by firing arrows at levitating talismans that scatter the island. The rhythm of movement, replenishment, and progress makes just exploring the world a delight – a sort of supernatural parkour, as the hunter streaks through forests and over ruins of the strange, fallen world she inhabits.
Joining the hunter is her eagle partner – and yes, you can pet the eagle. As you travel together, the eagle aids your navigation, initially allowing you to glide across distances, but eventually gaining the ability to flap you higher, allowing you to reach new places. After a while, between sprinting, gliding, and flapping, you’ll be practically flying around the world at speed, a glorious feeling of freedom.
Some of the best movement mechanics you’ll find in any game of recent years.
The hunter’s sole ‘superpower’ is Spirit Vision, the ability to peer into a shadow realm. Even this factors into The Pathless’ devotion to motion, revealing hidden pathways and highlighting, in ominous red, points of interest in the world. With the aforementioned lack of a map, these serve as your only guide to progression, glowing beacons calling you to investigate.
Sometimes, those beacons bring you to pivotal puzzles, which must be solved to pave the way towards bosses. Other times, they merely offer a small reward to bolster your connection to your eagle; crystals that earn you additional airborne flaps. Your avian partner can be central to solving those puzzles too, carrying weights to activate pressure plates, or hoisting you on gusts of wind to reach key platforms. Whatever awaits you, the Spirit Vision lures are a lovely way of beckoning the player further into the mysterious island the hunter is exploring.
What of those bosses though? As the only active threats in a beautiful but sad and hollowed world, they draw comparison to Shadow Of The Colossus, although here the titanic beasts are less ambiguous in their role. Corrupted by the Godslayer, your battles are to free them, restoring their standing in the world. They make for mighty set pieces too, combining the speed and fluidity of the hunter’s movement skills with rapid archery and tactical attacks to bring them down.
However, before your main confrontation with each of them, you’re likely to be swept into what are effectively hide-and-seek sections. Seemingly out of nowhere, a swirling vortex of ash and fire can wash over you, separating you from your eagle and challenging you to reunite while avoiding the terrifying gaze of the prowling boss monster. The apparent randomness of these encounters frustrates, especially if you’re near to or midway through solving a puzzle in the environment when the encounters start, and the sudden shift to slow, stealthy gameplay really undermine what is otherwise a brilliant experience.
Irritating as that is, it’s not enough to detract from The Pathless being one of PS5’s best launch titles – an enchanting world filled with engaging puzzles, navigated with some of the best movement mechanics you’ll find in any game of recent years. A brilliant achievement.