Gaming

The Pathless review – open-world puzzler foiled by its own ambition


If you’ve played 2016’s underwater adventure Abzû, Giant Squid’s first game, you might expect its sophomore to be a tranquil experience, less concerned with objectives and points than with memorable visuals. But while The Pathless is steeped in the same mythical atmosphere, it’s more focused on puzzles and actions. The land has been cursed with a great darkness, its gods poisoned; a hero is needed, and so you, a female hunter clad in red, accept the task to cleanse and restore landmarks and deities that fell prey to a shadowy foe. Plains, craggy plateaus and crumbling ruins stretch into the distance, an open world to be explored at your leisure as Austin Wintory’s uplifting soundtrack sweeps in at key moments.

The Pathless shares a bit of DNA with Zelda: Breath of the Wild, but it’s much simpler – puzzles involving lighting torches using your bow or operating doors with the help of pressure plates are never difficult to figure out. But shooting the bow inside a ruin at close quarters can be fumbly, and the repetition quickly turns tedious. One example: early on, you learn that lining up your shot so that an arrow passes through a flame lets you light dormant torches with it. You then use flaming arrows to light torches in half the subsequent puzzles in the game, and very few of them will innovate on the basic idea in any way at all. For a game that’s only six to eight hours long, there’s a dispiriting lack of ideas.

There are no maps or fast travel – instead, your hunter’s bow helps you find your way. The world is littered with diamond-shaped symbols and squeezing the right trigger automatically targets them. Loose an arrow at the right moment and with a whistling sound like fireworks, it strikes true, rewarding you with a burst of energy you can use to sprint.

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Chain hits together while you run and you build up exhilarating speeds, blurring your immediate surroundings. Hit a target while jumping and you’ll spring higher. Movement feels fluid, and it’s great fun to watch the landscape rushing by and combine running and jumping to reach new heights. For the most part, hitting targets to keep your momentum up is intuitive, but sometimes the hunter will focus on a far-away symbol or run into an obstacle before the next one appears, bringing you to an abrupt halt.

The hunter isn’t alone on her quest – an eagle helps you solve puzzles by carrying items or hoisting you up to platforms otherwise out of reach. Gliding down high towers and mountains is even more visually arresting than dashing over the plains, giving you time to take in the landscape and choose your next destination. The eagle is an engaging companion, screeching with joy as it glides through the air while you dash, hopping along next to you in a dungeon, even allowing you to pet it after particularly harrowing experiences. Every now and then, the bird must be rescued from an encroaching storm, but this is more disruptive than diverting.

There just isn’t very much to do in The Pathless: you run across empty fields for a while, before solving a small variety of puzzles. Boss battles, with their blend of dashing, fighting and light brainwork, drive home that the Giant Squid formula works best in small doses. The score is reduced to sparse percussion in the open field, and the world itself doesn’t offer much in terms of visual variety or secrets to uncover. The problem isn’t the rudimentary gameplay itself, but how The Pathless tries to stretch its few puzzles across several hours. I was bored after the first hour, and no new ideas or clever twists arrived to rescue me from torpor.

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The Pathless is out 12 November; £29.99



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