When it comes to PlayStation 5 launch titles, Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales and Demon’s Souls have dominated the conversation.
But really, all eyes should be on The Pathless from Giant Squid and Annapurna Interactive, a game that Creative Director Matt Nava says will play to the developer's strengths of “making an open-world space with fluidic motion,” while also taking inspiration from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and the fluidity of a game like Marvel's Spider-Man for PS4.
The Pathless is a marvel when it comes to open-world traversal. What if you could dash and flip through the world of Breath of the Wild and even glide in the air? Inverse spoke with Creative Director Matt Nava and spent about an hour with what's shaping up to be one of PS5’s sleeper hits.
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The Pathless takes place on an island taken over by darkness. The protagonist, one of the last Hunters in this world, befriends an eagle companion that allows her to glide through the air. Together, they work to cleanse corrupted spirits across the island.
In the first area, players put magical objects called Light Stones into towers scattered around the map to weaken and ultimately subdue a corrupted Elk spirit. Once players are aware of this task, The Pathless is extremely open-ended, just like Breath of the Wild.
The structure is similar, with key areas scattered around the map that players can explore in any order to progress. Nava wasn’t shy about the inspiration for the game either, citing Breath of the Wild and even the Far Cry series as major influences on the game
“We looked at what they were doing and what we loved about them,” Nava says.
Giant Squid tried to go its own way, he explains, with one major change being the removal of a world map the player can reference. Players instead have to use a Spirit Mask, which will highlight important landmarks around the player.
“[A map] is a super useful tool, super intuitive, but we wanted to try and keep you in the world as much as possible,” Nava says. “You feel like you just are in a myth, you're living a legend here. You’re not reminded that you're in a game as much as you would be kind of switching modes and dealing with user interface and a map.”
Two other things that allow The Pathless to stick out from other open-world games are its movement and bow mechanics. You gain speed boosts by shooting arrows at talismans that litter the landscape, and they allow you to move around the world faster. Shooting subsequent talismans restores these boosts, so anyone able to skillfully maintain momentum can continue their fluid dash through the world.
While the main character wields a bow and arrow, they do so differently than games like Skyrim or Breath of the Wild. Instead of aiming a reticle, players simply have to lock onto talismans and time their shots correctly to a meter that guarantees a successful shot when full.
My time with the game culminated in a boss fight briefly seen in August’s State of Play, as I chased a corrupted Elk Spirit, dodging fire and shooting its legs in the same way to cleanse the darkness that had infected it.
Mechanics like these prove that The Pathless is far more than a simple Breath of the Wild clone or knockoff. Even in the more open areas, the game is still engaging when players can just focus on its hitting talismans to get a boost and move even faster or dodging the giant storm caused by evil spirits. Similarly to games like Marvel’s Spider-Man, movement is half the fun in The Pathless.
For an indie game, the world also feels surprisingly dense with ruins to explore and secrets to find.
“We imbue every little corner that you find with some meaning. If you are observant and you pay attention, you'll find little clues and hidden things to find,” Nava says, noting the game's deep mine of hidden puzzles and pieces of lore for players to find. “Because they all are working towards something that you care about, it makes the whole process of exploring feel meaningful and fun.”
The Pathless is fairly easy to pick up and play despite the novel gameplay mechanics. This balance should make it a very good launch title as players are looking for something simple but enthralling to try on PS5. While The Pathless is one of the most intriguing PS5 launch titles, it wasn’t always that way.
“We didn't know about PS5 until halfway through development,” Nava reveals. “It originally was going to just be a PS4 game. We realized that our timing made sense for a PS5 and that was fantastic because the PS5 is a really cool piece of hardware.”
With the added power of the PS5, the game will run at 60 FPS at default. It also uses the haptic feedback and adaptive triggers of the DualSense controller to make shooting arrows a bit easier as it will let players know exactly when they could let go of the trigger. Nava compares this to “playing like braille” as players can simply feel the controller and know the right time to shoot an arrow.
While Inverse was only able to try the PC version of The Pathless, this experience seems poised to scale well and look pretty no matter where you are playing — Apple Arcade, PC, PS4, or PS5. Still, we're especially excited to experience the PS5 version of this promising next-gen game.
The Pathless will be released for PS4, PS5, and computers on November 12, 2020.