Do you not see that this world is broken?
The Pathless first released in November of 2020 as a console exclusive on PlayStation, and honestly until now I just figured it was going to stay that way. Back then I remember sitting down to give this cool looking archery game a shot and accidentally blowing through the entire six-hour game in one go, and the idea that I could one day do that portably was a nice dream to have. But I must dream no longer, as Giant Squid's eagle-petting, god-saving journey has made its way to Switch at last. While having a portable version is nice, it is likely no surprise to you that the usual concessions have had to be made in order to make it possible. How much does this affect the overall experience? Let’s dive into it.
In The Pathless you take control of the Hunter, whose world is being consumed by an all encroaching darkness. It is said that the source of the curse is an island where the barriers between the world of the gods and the world of mortals is thin, but anybody who has ventured there to find the cause has never returned. Once she arrives, the Hunter finds the deity Mother Eagle having been sapped of her strength by a malicious being known as the Godslayer. Not only has the Godslayer incapacitated Mother Eagle, but he has also corrupted and transformed her four children into vicious beasts that follow his every command. With the help of a new eagle companion, the Hunter must climb the plateaus of the island and free Mother Eagle’s children from the Godslayer’s curse, before ascending to the floating isle above where the Godslayer himself awaits her.
The main focus of The Pathless is on movement, and it really shows. While moving around the island you’ll see an abundance of floating targets throughout the landscape; shooting these targets with the Hunter’s bow and arrow will fill her energy gauge, which she needs to be able to sprint. Hitting a target while sprinting will cause a short boost of speed, and hitting one while airborne will give her a bit of extra airtime. Also while airborne the Hunter can glide with the help of her eagle, and the eagle can also flap its wings to gain a large amount of vertical height, with the amount of flaps you can do per glide upgraded as you progress through the game. All of this comes together in a very fluid and satisfying way, especially once you really get the hang of it. Moving around as the Hunter just feels cool in a way that not many other games have felt.
On each plateau there are three towers that must be activated in order to initiate a boss fight, and these towers are activated by collecting emblems from across the area. Emblems are earned by solving puzzles, whether it be a puzzle involving creative use of your arrows or instructing your eagle friend on what button to put a very heavy thing on. Some of the later puzzles feel a bit obtuse at times, even requiring very tight timing in a few of them, but every one of them is successful at leading you to an “ah-ha!” moment that feels good once you’ve solved it. During this stage, the plateau’s beast will also be wandering around, and this is a place where the design feels like it falls apart a bit. If you are caught by the beast, represented by a giant swirling maelstrom, you will be separated from your eagle and forced to participate in a stealth sequence where the beast wanders around looking for you and you must reunite with your bird. Moving while in the beast’s vision cone causes an instant failure, and while the consequences for failure are minimal, that just serves to make it more annoying. Getting sucked into these sequences when exploring makes it very easy to lose track of where you had been going, but even worse is when you’re forced into the encounter while trying to solve a puzzle, something that can absolutely destroy momentum. These encounters can be avoided but it is almost guaranteed you will have to put up with one at least once per plateau.
After all three towers are activated, you then can fight the boss, starting with a pursuit sequence that takes full advantage of The Pathless’s movement system in a manner that feels even cooler than usual. Once you’ve angered the beast sufficiently in the chase, the fight will move to the beast’s temple, at which point a more traditional boss fight will begin. None of these bosses are what I’d call incredibly difficult, and the consequence for failing is again rather minor, but they all manage to feel satisfying and fun nonetheless. Composed by Austin Wintory, the music throughout the game is fantastic, and that is especially true during boss fights when the music and tone are both at their absolute best.
Unfortunately, the move to the Switch did come with some caveats, as to be expected. In terms of graphical downgrades when compared to the PS4 version of the game, there is less foliage on the ground, and the foliage that is present pops into existence just a few feet in front of you. The lighting is also noticeably flatter, which unfortunately takes away a good chunk of the beauty of the game’s landscape. Lastly, there were a few frame hiccups here and there, most notably when entering a new plateau for the first time. These problems are relatively minor, though, and I still found the game to be incredibly fun to play regardless, but if they’re a deal breaker for you it’d be a better idea to look to other platforms for your Pathless experience. Overall, The Pathless is a game those looking for some action and exploration should definitely give a try.