"Pathway's on the cusp of greatness..."
Pathway is a strategy RPG with roguelike elements similar to FTL, wherein a wily band of do-gooders from all walks of life come together to stop Nazis and cultists from completing nefarious deeds. With vibes akin to Indiana Jones, Pathway feels refreshing in terms of its setting. Rooted in the 1930s, the protagonists explore the Middle East and Africa as they scavenge artifacts and provide camels with medical aid.
One might assume the retro visuals would conflict with Pathway's grandiose, serious tone. Instead, they form a marriage in which each scenario feels like an action movie. Although Pathway lacks a central thread, five scenarios can be played with increasing difficulty. This affords a natural progression in which your characters level up and accrue more robust weaponry, tools, and armor.
Previously completed missions can be played again if you need to level up, earn some easy cash, or try out a new character. While you initially have a crew of six, meeting certain conditions — like playing with an all-female team — unlocks up to ten more characters. Most feel unique with different perks and abilities, though they all borrow from one another here and there. Some skills grant damage bonuses (or penalties), while others assist in the occasional event that requires a brutish character or trickster to distract enemies.
As you travel throughout the map, various nodes are reached by expending one fuel point. Many nodes are a mystery before entering, though most result in a story-driven event. These events are brief and typically result in nothing of note, a battle, or treasure. Rarely do events lead to a shop, campsite, or new character, but these boons are littered throughout just enough to keep players hoping for a brief reprieve.
Battles take place on a standard square-based grid in which players can place each character in a zone at the start. When battle begins, enemies can be attacked in standard strategy RPG style. Various guns and knives are typical weaponry as players lean against cover and simply click on who they want to shoot. Guns need to be reloaded and ammo can run out, though I rarely ran into this problem (fuel was more my issue). Depending on the enemy's position and cover, chance to hit ranges from 100% to 40% or so. Each character has special attacks that can be used by spending Bravery points, which can be earned back by successfully doing normal actions.
That's about it for combat. Every battle is full elimination. This sounds simple and boring, but the balance and design is so crisp and well maintained that each encounter feels like a serious threat. I got out of several battles without a scratch, but this takes work — and it was satisfying when I managed it. Damage to armor and health carries over between battles, so even taking one or two hits can cause tension because if repair or health supplies don't drop, players may find themselves whittled down. I finished Pathway in about 15 hours and only failed two of the missions, so I didn't feel a need to grind, but based on the in-game achievements, methods to unlock characters, and level cap, the developers clearly intend for players to have to grind it out. I'd consider myself an above average strategy RPG player, so take that for what's worth, but I in no way found Pathway to have the challenge typically expected from other games in the genre.
As fun and addicting as Pathway is, it has several issues. Although it boasts a robust tutorial with good visuals, some information is omitted that would be useful to players. Roguelikes don't tend to hold players' hands, but some of these mechanics seem pretty basic and should be explicitly stated. I also found myself running into the same events over and over, which perplexes me. While writing, implementing, and animating each event likely takes some degree of work, this is the game. If it lacks a wealth of events, then why are we playing?
Another issue I had with the events is that some have charming animations to go along with the writing, but oftentimes the characters stand idle bouncing in place as retro sprites like to do. In these ways, Pathway feels like it gives up mid-stride, which is an absolute shame because if some more time and effort went into the events, the game could really pull me in. I suppose Pathway is primed and ready for DLC since the last scenario ends abruptly with no fanfare for completing all of the missions or any sort of conclusive cutscene with character backstories relayed. It just stops. And so I stop playing. A little disappointed.
When players boot up Pathway, they're greeted with a splendid, adventurous theme that amps them up for the tasks to come. The rest of the game hosts stylistically similar tunes, but they lack the same oomph. During one battle, I had music from the event playing over the battle theme, and that was jarring to say the least. The developers informed us that some bugs are still being worked on, and this was an isolated instance, so readers needn't worry.
Pathway is fun. It's good. Not great. Pathway's on the cusp of greatness, though. I'm sure ever-looming deadlines rushed this game to its release, and that's the unfortunate reality of the industry, but I still have to write about how the game currently is and not how it could be. Not since Darkest Dungeon have I wanted a game to be so much more as I do Pathway. It's there. I can feel it. Fortunately, we live in the era of patches
, free content updates, and purchasable DLC, so here's hoping I get to write a review later about how Pathway is finally the fantastic experience I know it can be.
This review is based on a free review copy provided to RPGFan by the developer. This relationship in no way influenced the reviewer's opinion of the game or its final score.