The Pathless (Nintendo Switch) Review

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the pathless nintendo switch review 23013101
The Pathless
Editors Choice

I’ve long maintained that a game cannot sell itself on one idea alone. As good as one element may be, if nothing else coalesces around it, then the whole experience falls apart—no matter how much you may think the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Of course, there are always some exceptions to the rule, but for the most part, if a game is going to have one central gimmick, it better deliver that with aplomb.

This brings me to The Pathless. When I first saw it, I initially thought it spawned in the wake of Solar Ash—looking fairly similar in both style and concept, and Annapurna has published both. However, despite their similarities, The Pathless manages to carve an identity of its own and find its own way to distinguish its unique movement-based gameplay.

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For those who may have missed it back in 2020, The Pathless puts players in the role of The Hunter—a young archer who seeks to rid her world of The Godslayer after he has corrupted the world’s guardian spirits, called Tall Ones; and turned them into rampaging monsters. With the help of her eagle companion, she must stop The Godslayer to restore peace to the land.

I won’t go on too long about The Pathless since CGM’s Eduard Gaftorn already wrote a compelling and in-depth review of the PS5 version back in the long-forgotten past of 2020. And while I actually agree with a lot of his review, our paths diverge in a few places. For starters, he played The Pathless on a next-gen futuristic spaceship, and I played it on the Nintendo Switch.

For as much as I love the Nintendo Switch, I’ve long lamented games being ported to the little system that could without making notable exceptions for its hardware. Unless you’re hiring Panic Button to do the job, games need to make sizable adjustments to work on the hardware. As such, playing The Pathless on the Switch is a bit of a mixed bag.

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For the most part, the game runs fairly well, maintaining a fairly consistent 30fps and capturing the game’s core gameplay mechanic of moving quickly across an open world, aided by its unique archery mechanic, however at the Switch’s standard 720p in handheld it leaves a bit to be desired. The visuals get do get a bit clearer in docked mode, though, but the moments of framerate drop are still present, especially in some of the more dynamic areas.

The Pathless’ open world is more like a giant jungle gym to bounce around in, and it’s consistently fun.”

While there were a few moments of noticeable slow-down and some asset pop-in that genuinely interrupted the flow—blocking potential shots with materializing trees—the game maintains a degree of fun that’s hard to deny. Like I said at the start of this review, The Pathless’ main gimmick is fast-past movement, combined with an archery mechanic that prioritizes precision and timing to give players added boosts to move across the open world.

When you’re blasting across the plains, combining sliding shots with intense boosts, then combo-ing into boost-assisted long jumps, grabbing your eagle for an ariel boost, and keeping the momentum going with mid-air shots, it’s really easy to get lost in the fun and fluidity of movement. Furthermore, the boss battles add an incredible sense of pace and tension to the game, and where the game’s movement really shines, as you chase down these rampaging beasts across a flaming landscape, chaining shots together to stay on the monster’s tail.

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The Pathless isn’t an incredibly deep or complex game, which is why it definitely would work on the Switch—had the game been optimized better. Every area throws you into a big, open space, with one rampaging monster moving around it—in a giant cloud of smoke and fire that is always terrifying when it begins closing in on you. Unlike something like Breath of the Wild, which works on a handheld, despite being a massive open world with tons to discover, The Pathless’ open world is more like a giant jungle gym to bounce around in, and it’s consistently fun.

However, despite the game’s boasting of a map-less open world, where you “shape your own path,” I think a map definitely would’ve been an asset here. Much like Eduard said progression in The Pathless is based on collecting emblems to place in towers which allow you to confront each area’s Tall One. All you get in the way of guidance is a “Witcher Sense” sort of radar system.

Everything within the sense is blue, while points-of-interest glow red, and while the main towers stand out like the Eye of Sauron, smaller areas where emblems can be collected only pulse briefly, getting a bit lost in the shuffle, especially if they’re in front of the Tall One’s storm area which also glows bright red.

Having a map to be able to mark points of interest wouldn’t take away from the game’s feeling of freedom or exploration, as Breath of the Wild has already proven, it would only aid it—allowing players to keep track of where they want to go, and allowing them the fun and freedom to enjoy the game’s fast-paced movement.

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The Pathless’ minimalist art style works very well on the Switch, primarily on the OLED model, where the bright red of The Hunter contrasts beautifully against the sombre blues of the corrupted lands. Once the lands have been purified and the bright colours begin to shine, it not only creates a beautiful contrast thematically but visually as well. The visuals are backed by an incredible soundtrack that changes with every area and features traditional Tuvan throat singing, which was genuinely cool to hear and made certain areas feel much more authentic and mystical.

The Pathless is definitely a unique experience—one I found myself enjoying more often than not. It certainly only really has one note to play, but it does it effectively and with style. I think the portability of the Nintendo Switch doesn’t really enhance this experience the way perhaps the Steam Deck would—having access to a clean 1080p at a more consistent 60fps would’ve definitely enhanced the game’s fast-paced pick-up-and-play. I think there’s a lot to enjoy here, although I don’t think it’s enough to justify the $ 49.99 CAD price tag.

Final Thoughts

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