The Pathless is an exercise in indie elegance

The Pathless is a beautiful new title from the team at Giant Squid. Find out what makes it so special in our review.

The Pathless is an exercise in indie elegance

Dash across the cursed forest and free the ancient spirits to bring light back to this beautiful land.

The Pathless is an exercise in elegance. You play as a hunter, wielding your bow to help propel you through the world and cleanse spirits. There’s no death, killing, or even time limits. Yet there’s still a strong sense of purpose and urgency.

The traversal hooked me immediately, which is why it ended up in my top indie games for 2020. Running takes stamina, but you can shoot at auto-targeting talismans that float in the air. Doing so refills the stamina and gives you a different level of boost depending on the talisman. It has a wonderful feeling of give and take and flows wonderfully across the beautiful environments.

There’s also an excellent sense of mastery to this constant moving loop. While it’s very loose and free, some precision is required for various puzzles. Being good isn’t necessary, but it is rewarded which is always nice.

As you explore this open world you’ll find various puzzles scattered about. Some will give minor rewards, like helping to fill the bar to upgrade your eagle companions flight. Others provide necessary keys to place in towers which help restore the light to those areas.

Once enough keys are collected and towers restored, the hunter must then venture into that area's red swirling storm. Within these intimidating orbs of doom you can find the corrupted spirit of this land to chase down and set free.

These battles manage to find an intensity without requiring a hard fail state. Instead, you may be knocked back and simply have to try again. In the case of multi phased fights, this knock back will also usually save your progress up to this point. It allows The Pathless to slap you on the wrist without completing discouraging your efforts, which suits the mood perfectly.

Because a large part of The Pathless is the mood. Forest areas start off feeling dark and lonely until you free them. The music is rich and broad and lush with low strings and orchestral swells. Every interaction you have with the spiritual beings feels full of heartfelt love and respect which goes both ways. Even petting your eagle has a sense of true care being taken and appreciated.

Unfortunately, there is a point where all this joy and beauty just starts to become par for the course. Each area, while cosmetically unique, doesn't wind up feeling much different from the last, and the puzzles do get repetitive over time. Even the climaxes for each stage blur together a little too much to be truly memorable.

Because of this, The Pathless is a game best played here and there. Pick up and do a few puzzles without becoming too overly saturated by the same tasks again and again. In this way it presents small achievable tasks with a story that you can follow in these bitesize bits, rather than an epic to be smashed all in one go.

I completed my playthrough on the PlayStation 5 but have also tried it on an iPad Pro through Apple Arcade and both play wonderfully with a controller. The joy of the traversal of movement is evident on both, but there are unique benefits to each choice.

The PS5 version is just gorgeous. Being engulfed in this beautiful world on a big screen is a delight, and there are some nice touches to the DualSense controller that give you a deeper sense of control and feeling. However, the pick up and play of the iPad is also an excellent choice for this style of game.

Whichever way you play, I recommend headphones to be saturated in the beautiful waves of sound.

The Pathless is a stunning adventure through a lovely, lonely world. It’s unfortunate that there’s not more variety to the puzzles and encounters for a full playthrough to totally avoid tedium, but for as long as it can hold your attention it will do so with elegance and grace. It’s well worth checking out, even if you don’t necessarily stay for the full 10 hour experience.

The Pathless was reviewed on PS5 and iPad Pro with free codes provided by Five Star Games and Apple.