‘The Pathless’: Less than the sum of its parts

Christopher Byrd

THE WASHINGTON POST – If, like me, you’ve occasionally tried to wing it in the kitchen, at some point you’ve created a dish that didn’t come out right. Though the ingredients might have been things that you liked individually, together they left something to be desired. I was struck by that analogy while playing The Pathless, an open-world puzzle game which, despite my efforts, never excited my taste buds.

It opens on a banal note. A few lines of text describe a darkness spreading over the world emanating from a distant isle where the realm of spirits and men mingle. Those who travelled to the area have not returned. It falls to you to try to restore light to the darkened world. Go figure.

Players are, without much fanfare, introduced to the Hunter, a veiled young woman who is adept in archery. Travelling by boat, she lands on a beach where she sees a towering structure in the distance. A path up a stepped hill takes her to a wide staircase that brings her face-to-beak with a giant injured eagle. Its plumage shimmers as if lit by flame. For a moment the bright colours reminded me that I was playing the game on a PlayStation 5. That moment quickly passed. Mustering the last reserves of her strength, the eagle gazes at a tower in the distance and summons from it a golden eagle emblem that she gives to the Hunter, which causes a gate to open in a nearby stone wall. Inside, the Hunter finds a skeleton on a funeral slab. She lifts a visor from the remains which matches the colours of her outfit, and she puts it on. Doing so allows her to access spirit vision. Where there was a wall to the far side of the room there is now a staircase that takes her back to
the forest.

It doesn’t take long to figure out that the fastest way to manoeuver is to shoot at talismans that float in the air, adding to the Hunter’s dash metre. Travelling across the isle on foot without dashing is unappealing since large areas of the environment look rather plain, giving scant reason to dawdle. Although there was nothing awkward about this shoot-and-sprint method of travel, I didn’t find it an addictive fun loop either.

The Hunter can see a few obelisks dotting the surrounding hills, highlighted in a red haze, with her spirit vision activated. Visiting one and inserting the eagle emblem into it causes the top of its roof to light up. By using her spirit vision the Hunter to see gold traces of other emblems in the vicinity. Acquiring them is a cinch as they are locked behind rudimentary puzzles.

A scene from ‘The Pathless’. PHOTOS: GIANT SQUID

After using the emblems to light up two other obelisks, the injured eagle returns to its nest in a tower. Following her into the inner Chamber of the building, the Hunter meets her nemesis, the Godslayer, who floats down in the air to taunt her and injure the eagle again. After the Godslayer takes off, the eagle tells the Hunter to free the eagle’s children who have been corrupted by him. She then vanishes and in her place is another eagle who becomes your companion.

With this eagle’s support, the Hunter can briefly glide through the air and reach new heights. Its abilities can be upgraded by discovering golden crystals hidden throughout the forest. As with various golden emblems seeded about – needed to light up obelisks in different areas – acquiring treats involves solving puzzles with the Hunter’s bow and arrow. Puzzles often require you to shoot an arrow through a particular number of targets. The catch is that you have to find a way to line the targets in a certain pattern. Sometimes, you’ll have to use your eagle to slide a target in place or to set a weight down on a lever.

Often, while travelling about the land, the Hunter will find herself caught in a roving red storm that affects everything in its path. In the midst of one, she gets separated from her eagle. To complete these little episodes the Hunter must find her way to the eagle by listening for its cries and avoid being seen by the area’s patrolling predator. If the Hunter makes it to the eagle unseen, the creature is able to dispel the storm from that area. If the Hunter is spotted, then the eagle is stuck and loses its golden crystals. In either case, it’s up to the Hunter to smooth the singed feathers of the eagle with her hand until it’s back to normal in a few seconds. I suppose this mechanic was intended to make me feel a little sentimental.
It didn’t.

There are a number of clever puzzles in The Pathless. Alas, I found little reward in solving them as I wasn’t invested in the game’s world or its characters. Solving archery puzzles spread across a wide barren environment just wasn’t for me.