Review: Pathway

A compelling adventure, that lacks only a compelling story.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

It’s 1939, the world is caught up in global conflict, and your friend Morton seems to have gotten himself in the thick of it. That’s about as much of a lead in to the story that you’ll need, Pathway isn’t so heavy on the story, it’s the epitome of ‘not where you’re going, but how you get there’ in the sense of what has drawn you out into the Middle-East isn’t what is keeping you there, but the beautiful art style laid over the fun, fast-paced and brutal turn-based tactical combat you’ll frequently get caught up in will. At least for a while..

You’ll start each mission by assembling your rag-tag band of heroes from a pool of up to 16 characters that can be anything from an Indiana Jones-esque American Globetrotter with a daredevil flair to an Icelandic Fairground Wrestler. The cast of characters is diverse and quirky, the game, in general, doesn’t take itself overly serious instead offering you a pulpy adventure fluffed out with cartoony and camp caricatures.

And beside their quirky character background, initial stats, and occasional use of traits like Daredevil, Brute or Sixth Sense, that’s pretty much all of the character on show here. Once again, Pathway’s strengths aren’t in what it says but what it does.

“Pathway isn’t so heavy on the story, it’s the epitome of ‘not where you’re going, but how you get there'”

Your time in Pathway (on the Pathway?) will mostly be divided between combat and an FTL-like overworld map of spider-webbed nodes leading from your entry point to the level to your goal, and managing the fuel of your trusty jeep as it takes you point-to-point exploring the random placement of treasure troves and enemy camps. You’ll come across various scenarios with each move, similar to FTL once more, sometimes you’ll find a bazaar where you can sell off old loot or valuables you’ve collected on your way, other times you’ll uncover an old tomb and enact a small choose your own adventure that could potentially result in reward or injury depending on the roll of the dice.

It’s sometimes amusing and interesting to see what you’ll come across with each move, although in my playthroughs I did notice an amount of repetition that dulled the experience by the time I reached the middle of the game, often being able to click through these events without paying too much attention at all. Which captures the real flaw of the game in many ways, even it’s saving grace, the combat.

Combat is great. It’s simple, yet with enough depth to make it worthy of calling the game tactical, a great introduction to the genre for sure. You start the engagement by placing your heroes before the game kicks things off in typical turn-based tactics format. Characters move around a 2D grid, allowing one movement and one action per character each turn, ala XCOM, and once all your characters have spent their actions you’ll be able to end your turn and watch the enemy countermove to you. It’s pretty standard fare, but the bright visuals and challenge level keep it interesting. But the lack of much else to do in the game means that toward the end of the game it all becomes a bit tiring.

Pathway tries to avoid this by making its levels short bursts, able to breeze through within an hour easily each time, and dipping in and out of the game provides a much better experience. The speedy nature of the game, however, does at the same time make you think ‘one more level’ will be fine, sadly allowing you to fall victim to the same gameplay fatigue each time.

Once you’ve adjusted to Pathways fantastic visual style, what you realize is that underneath that exterior is a pretty mundane affair. The most challenging part of the game at times is playing enough of it to unlock a lot of the extra characters. At times on the overworld map, I’d find myself actively avoiding combat missions just to reach my goal faster. On some playthroughs, I’d even bump the difficulty down just to enjoy a quicker burst of gameplay to make things a little less tedious at times.

Pathway isn’t a bad game, its full of solid mechanics that other games have been able to pioneer before it, making them accessible and colourful is where developer Robotality shines, but its lack of any real engagement on a story level takes the drive away from seeing your little jeep get from A to B. With the story spread so thin that Calista Flockhart would sit it down for an intervention, I couldn’t help but wonder why I was even playing the game at times during lengthier sessions. While there’s fun to be had with Pathway it’s best done in short spurts, a fantastic indie game with heaps of potential should a sequel arrive one day, but its lack of narrative and connection to its heroes makes you tire of its other gameplay mechanics far sooner than they deserve.

You can pick up the game on Steam, GoodOldGames, and Epic Games Store for about £13.99, and while the extra amount isn’t exactly worth splitting hairs over, this does at most feel like a £10 title. If you see this game at a discount anywhere below that and enjoy having a casual title you can hop in and out of without much fuss, this is a great game for you. But if you enjoy sinking your teeth into something with depth outside of gameplay, you might want to give this a miss.