Remember when Flower released for the PlayStation 3, and it was mind-blowing just for how relaxing it was? It didn’t rush the player through the levels. In fact, it encouraged the player to take their time and explore everything the beautiful game had to offer. There was even a trophy for resting for ten minutes. Sometimes you need a game like that to force you to slow down, take your time, and enjoy the scenery and soundtrack. In addition to Flower, some of my other favorites of this type are Journey and Valley. The Pathless has joined these three with its beautiful art style, enjoyable gameplay, and incredible soundtrack. (Plus, you’re encouraged to pet an eagle. That makes it a GOTY contender right there.)
The Pathless doesn’t offer much in the way of dialogue or instruction. The player is a nameless archer who has journeyed to a mythical island of the gods in hopes of freeing the world from the darkness currently covering it. When she arrives, she sees the great Eagle Mother lying injured, unable to move. The only way to heal her is to bring light back to the temples, which the player does by restoring the lightstones to each temple. The lightstones are scattered across the plateau, locked behind puzzles and Rube-Goldberg machines. However, by freeing her spirit, the heroine’s work is far from over. The only way to stop the Godslayer is to free her spirit children, which have been demonized by the Godslayer.
And so her adventure begins by traveling to each plateau the spirits reside and freeing them. The mechanics are much the same as when saving the Eagle Mother. Each temple needs lightstones to restore its light, and these are hidden across the plateau. The only way to find where the lightstones are is with a special mask the archer picks up early in the game. The mask gives her “spirit sight,” allowing her to see the spirit of the land. Doing so unlocks hidden doorways, but most importantly, it shows you the locations of the temples and lightstones. There isn’t a map for the player to use, so it’s all old school exploration to find them.
That means walking, and a lot of it. The heroine has the dash ability as well, but dashing takes up stamina. The only way to gain stamina is to shoot floating targets, and this is where the fun really begins. By shooting the targets while dashing, the archer gets a speed boost. If she’s jumping, she’ll receive an air boost as well. If the player is able to successfully chain together targets without running out of stamina, then the archer zips and slides all over the plateau. I often lost track of where I was supposed to be going, simply because I was having too much fun sliding all over creation. Who cares that The Pathless doesn’t have a map with markers when getting around is this much fun?
Sliding and dashing isn’t the only way to travel throughout the island. There’s a bit of light platforming to traverse up the cliffs and hidden-away temples. The archer starts off with a pretty nice jump height and distance to begin with, but once the Eagle Mother joins you in her earthly form, the heroine will be able to jump higher and farther. From the get-go, the Eagle will help the archer glide longer distances, and she can flap her wings as a way to double-jump. That cliff you couldn’t reach last plateau to get that one extra lightstone? Now you can with ease. By gathering light gems from hidden puzzles across the island, the eagle will be able to flap more, thereby allowing the player to reach higher areas with ease. It’s a little Metroidvania-esque that way, but only in the lightest sense (pun totally intended).
There is, however, a way to lose any light gems collected. The demonized spirit patrols its domain, hunting down the archer. It’s always encased in a giant red, swirling wind storm that will stay in one place for a bit before disappearing and reappearing elsewhere. If the storm catches the archer, it wounds the eagle and sends her spinning off away from you. To leave the storm, you have to get her back and comfort her. Enter the exercise in patience. If the demon sees you, which it can only do if you’re moving, it will charge you and knock you out of the storm. It’s impossible to die in The Pathless, but you’ll lose a good chunk of your light gems. Therefore, it’s best to remain patient and on guard for the demon’s movements. As long as you stay out of its path and freeze whenever its light shines on you, you will be able to rescue your eagle friend without too much trouble. Just make sure you pet her when you save her, as it’s the only way to heal her.
The beauty of The Pathless is that it lets players choose their own paths. Each plateau has more lightstones than needed to restore the light and face the boss spirit, and you can easily through the whole game with only the light gems the boss fights reward you. But if you want to explore, free all of the lightstones, and/or find all of the light gems, then go and enjoy. And don’t forget to pet your eagle.