The Pathless is an environmental puzzle-solving adventure set in a beautiful land of light and dark. Compared to current adventure games based around a complex narrative, this one focuses more on exploring a forgotten open world, a place with a captivating atmosphere and minimalist narrative themes of good and evil.
In the game, players control a skilled female archer known as the Hunter. Her world is dying and she determines to set it right by journeying to, and then across, a mysterious isle on the edge of existence. It’s a place where the realms of man and spirits meet. But these aren’t spirits you would recognize,:These are ancient animal gods that are said to have once kept balance in the world but are now cursed and held captive.
A creature called the Godslayer now dominates this place, cursing and enslaving the spirits in hopes of using their power to ascend to the level of a god himself. And it’s up to you to remove the curse, free the animal entities and bring light and rebirth back to the world.
Players traverse the land in The Pathless by moving quickly across grassy plains and through shadowed forests while shooting arrows at glowing talismans that hang suspended in the air. This fills the hunter’s sprint meter and allows her to speed on toward her puzzle-solving or boss-besting goals. The fun part of this process is that there is no aiming mechanism involved in the arrow shots. Hitting targets isn’t about precision, but timing.
The game’s reliance on the above-mentioned movement system keeps play brisk and graceful—allowing players to speed through the beautiful world with ease. That system also places the challenge more on looking for ways to remove obstacles, traverse chasms and solve other sorts of environmental puzzles. In fact, just running through the beautiful landscapes and crumbling buildings while quickly plucking your bowstring can be a relaxing, fluid joy.
The environments and exploration are immersive, but they’re also staged so that younger players can pull away and return later without losing momentum. The puzzles themselves become more difficult as you go along, but they’re rewarding and never too challenging to feel frustrating.
As I’ve already said, this is a game steeped in a mythical adventure of good and evil. And while there are obvious parallels to Christian faith to be found here (including—and this is a spoiler—the central character accepting the curse on herself in order to bring light and rebirth to the rest of the world), we find polytheistic themes and other Eastern philosophies in the story mix that parents of faith might find problematic. In fact, the game states that there is “no single path to truth.” And the hunter concludes, “Each person must find their own way … the truth is a pathless land.”
There is also combat here. The hunter must shoot her arrows in a series of big-boss fights against huge mythical animal foes, and the demonic-looking Godslayer by game’s end. (Again, the arrow launching and jumping evasive movements are all timing based and there’s no blood or gore in the battles.)
The Pathless, especially with the PlayStation 5 console’s 4K graphics, is indeed a beautiful game to behold. And its puzzles and battles are enjoyable and challenging. Whether you go or stay really all comes down to how comfortable you are with the spiritual side of this mythical journey.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.