Having hit it out of the (water) park with its debut ABZÛ in 2016, Giant Squid landed The Pathless on PS5 just as the console launched in November 2020. The game provided the kind of audiovisual spectacle that would satisfy early adopters hankering after something to show off their next-gen kit, so you’d be forgiven for thinking a Switch port was entirely improbable. However, here we are, and Giant Squid, together with publisher Annapurna Interactive, has brought us yet another enormous open world squished lovingly onto a handheld screen.
The plot of The Pathless is not the most fantastically original, but provides just enough of a pretext to run really fast around a field doing cool stuff. In short, an evil force has overwhelmed a mystical land and your job, as the standard-issue saviour of everyone and everything, is to un-overwhelm it by firing arrows at huge cursed creatures. There’s a bit more to it, of course, but for all the snippets of text found on stone tablets or fallen NPCs in Breath-of-the-Wild-like remnants of battle, the story does feel rather contrived. The upshot of it all is that the creatures you must kill/save are each roaming their respective part of the world in the eye of a giant red fireball of a storm. To battle them, you must first collect magical tokens by solving puzzles around the region. These tokens can be used to unlock three towers, which will then enable you to start a hunt. Clearing the boss then grants access to the next region.
The distinctive mechanic of The Pathless is its fast-paced movement across vast open spaces. The novelty is that your movement speed is boosted and your sprint gauge replenished by shooting arrows at targets hovering in the air around the lands you’re exploring. The aiming is automatic, so shooting becomes a rhythmical hold-and-release of ‘ZR’ to stretch and twang your bow. HD Rumble shudders as the arrows fly and pulses as they hit, reaffirming the cadence. An eagle companion introduces the gift of flight, which is also boosted and extended by firing arrows. The result is a thrilling rush, skipping through grass, weaving through trees and soaring off cliffs as epic environments fly across the screen. Stacking a sprint move on top of your run, a boosted sprint on top of that, and flight on top of that makes this feel fast in a way that couldn’t have been achieved with just a “Run” button.
If sprint-flying at cheetah speed past massive scenery is the core of the game, perhaps a Switch port was a risky move. However, performance on Switch is good overall. There are moments of slow-down or pop-in, but they are uncommon – especially considering the scale of the environments. The art style uses relatively simple models and textures, which suit the portable system, and if you have an OLED screen then you can feel good about it while you look at the vivid colours.
While getting from point A to point B in The Pathless is a joy, the actual goings on at points A and B are sadly not as exciting. They are simple puzzles about arranging rings to fire arrows through, moving blocks onto pressure switches, and so on. And these puzzles are of varied quality. Some work to expand on established ideas and challenge your thinking; others are just a case of pressing a switch to reach another switch.
Giant Squid took on a big challenge to build a player character that can move fluidly at the macro level to power across the landscape then seamlessly transition to the finer movements of block shuffling and tomb raiding. It just about works, but there’s no doubt the sluggish jump feel and slippery walking in close quarters are surpassed by the rush of swooping around forests and plains. This doesn’t help the puzzling sections, where sometimes we solved a puzzle in our heads but felt our hearts sink as we realised we then had to actually perform a slow and fidgety set of actions to get our prize.
Once enough of these puzzles are completed, and the three towers unlocked, the realm’s local curse-beast is primed for hunting. This is kicked off by a thrilling plunge into the swirling ravages of fire that are coursing round the map. The scale of these storm-balls is intimidating, and approaching them really gave us goosebumps every time we did it. Once inside, combat is based on firing arrows almost constantly, first to chase the beast at high speed, then to pick off targets on its body. Again, aiming is trivial, and failure is treated leniently with just a knock-down before trying again.
Tension, then, is created mainly through the sheer spectacle of these furious creatures. This is aided by a tremendous musical score, moving from the strings and throat singing of the open plains to fiery brass in the throes of combat. While the boss encounters are bombastic, they’re fundamentally quite simple, and also very long. Fortunately, they mainly require action of the large-scale, free-flowing kind that suits the game best. While retries aren’t a delight, they could have been worse if they were based on the fidgety challenges the game struggles with.
The Pathless does one thing extremely well, which is to create a sense of racing – almost dancing – through its huge open world. The player’s journey is mainly one of getting to know that sensation and learning to harness it to traverse epic environments. However, the protagonist’s journey has little to do with that feeling, which is perhaps why the story doesn’t land. The game sounds exceptional and looks great in this impressive port. However, the puzzles rarely stimulate the imagination and are fussy to play, while boss encounters are overlong and repetitive. Although it has its significant successes, The Pathless unfortunately doesn’t manage to become more than the sum of its parts.
Played this on PS5 when it launched and I loved it back then I love it now.
I have never seen this game before. I am going to check it now.
Is it 60 FPS on Switch?
I’d give it an 8. Boss battles and their lack of difficulty were my only complaint.
I’d rate it an 8/10. Can’t imagine the Switch version being equivalent to PS5. The haptic feedback seems essential to the experience for me. I really enjoyed it. My only complaint was that the gameplay loop gets a bit samey after a while for me, but it’s an outstanding gameplay loop until that moment.
think i'm gonna wait for my chance to play it on a stronger machine, the visuals seem like a big part of it
I hadn't heard of this game, but those cons are big cons.
This game has been on mobile for a long while now for free. It’s exclusivity on ps5 was very short lived,
£33? Don’t be bloody silly. For a fiver I’d get it on switch. 33 pounds is scandalous
@BaldBelper78 I don't think it's on mobile.
@Lethal_Equo It was an ios game, because I had to look it up
@Poodlestargenerica that explains why I couldn't find it.
It looks very attractive and I don't mind easier bosses because I'm generally not a huge boss fight fan, but this is the type of game I would like to feel the controls before I buy. If there is ever a demo or trial, I will grab that up.
@geshem no it’s not 60fps. I’ve seen videos clocking it at 30 most of the time. It feels like a good 30.
@Lethal_Equo it’s been on iOS for ages. Not even close to being a PS5 exclusive.
@Lethal_Equo it was on mobile iOS over 2 years ago
"and if you have an OLED screen then you can feel good about it while you look at the vivid colours."
@geshem it's 30 fps on switch
@RobbWes Thanks. A lot of the allure of this game was its looks and fluidity for me. So with the 30 FPS and the visuals I saw in the Switch trailer I'll wait to play it on Xbox or PS.
@theModestMouse the lack of self-awareness with your aversion to an OLED being mentioned is delightful.
...like, I saw that the reviewer mentioned an OLED and immediately knew that this exact comment was down here. Isn't that funny?
I don't normally fall in the "wait for a sale" camp, but yeah this seems more like $20 than $40 to me.
Actually sounds like my kinda thang. Cheers for the review. Surprised it was ported actually. Nice.
This is kind of what I expected out of this game. The sum of all it's parts don't add up to a game that I would want to add to my collection. Some people do enjoy these types of games though.
Will probably get the physical version someday.
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