Pathfinder is a storied IP (intellectual property) with a rich history nearly synonymous with Dungeons & Dragons (D&D). While the pen-and-paper RPG remains a popular alternative to D&D for the geekiest among us, the PC iterations have not fared as well, with lukewarm critical praise for various CRPG titles like Pathfinder: Kingmaker. The fanbase hasn’t been forgiving, either. Here, we have Pathfinder: Gallowspire Survivors, which attempts to cash in on the Vampire Survivors hype in no subtle way. Unfortunately, what we have here is a copycat that not only fails to iterate on the title it attempts to piggyback on but is one of the most harrowing, mind-numbing grindfests I’ve played in years.
While the story is of absolutely no consequence, for those motivated, we have Tar-Baphon, a known villain in the Pathfinder universe who must be sealed away. Play as one of three heroes (wizard, rogue, warrior) to climb the tower of darkness, fight hordes of undead, and kill his generals over and over again. And over and over again. And over—
Okay, so, what you have to do (in true Vampire Survivors fashion) is walk around, let your character auto-attack enemies without you having to press anything in isometric ambulation, and pick up experience bulbs and treasure chests. Get a random assortment of four bonuses that add either a weapon or passive ability, then rinse and repeat. Each floor of the tower is finished once a certain number of enemies fall. After three floors, players fight a boss. Do this enough times and you get to fight the big baddie, then do it again on a higher difficulty.
This formula isn’t necessarily bad in and of itself, but it’s certainly uninspired. Fortunately, a well-designed game with fascinating choices, complex gameplay, and surprises can bring a mediocre premise to life. Unfortunately, that isn’t what’s happened here. Expect to do literally the same thing over and over, dying at some point in the journey and using accrued experience and money to make small, incremental upgrades to your character.
Potions drop from enemies, which give the player a temporary bonus or ability until they nab the next; players use gold to upgrade these potions slightly, such as increasing the duration of fire breath by half a second. I wish I were kidding, but that is precisely what you can do by spending thousands of gold coins. So, just upgrade something else, right? All of the potion upgrades function like this. Increase the amount of max health healed by 1%. Not only are flat number increases with nothing else boring, but the numerical amount is insulting and frustrating. I’ve spent tens of thousands of gold upgrade potions to not feel any more powerful than before and die on the same floor.
Aside from upgrading potions, core stat upgrades can offer the same modest improvements. All three classes have improvable talents, which are incredibly expensive to upgrade. The talents have some nuance and diversity that separate them from the other upgrades available, but with the oppressive cost, the grind is intimately felt.
What results from all of this is a hopeless slog of the same enemies and bosses perpetually, with each run lasting anywhere from 20 minutes to over 40 minutes depending on how far the player gets. At least the weapons and passive upgrades available change gameplay up, right? Well, not as much as one might hope.
Don’t expect flashy attacks or unique attack patterns from any of the weapons. The bow, daggers, spear, etc., all have the same exact visuals and style. Some attacks bounce or circle around you, but these are the departure from the norm and don’t excite the imagination. To make matters worse, all future upgrades are small number increases that don’t inspire creativity or a sense of customizing one’s build. Weapons and passive abilities eventually max out, and even in this state with a level six character, I couldn’t consistently reach Tar-Baphon; I simply didn’t have the damage numbers and survivability to get as far as I needed even with maxed-out abilities and weapons, which meant I had to die over and over after forty-minute runs just to get the aforementioned minuscule potion and stat upgrades. Now do it again.
The music isn’t any better, as it quietly falls in the background and doesn’t add flavor. However, I’d venture to say that with such a frustrating loop, the quality of the music could never help this game. Visually, enemies don’t pop off the screen or charm, nor do the bosses. Everything feels like it’s constructed with ten or fewer polygons and hitboxes don’t make sense, especially against the first boss.
Pathfinder: Gallowspire Survivors is not only a bad game: it’s a test of patience. Repetition is fine—several successful games lean heavily on gameplay loops—but the loop has to have mental chew and a true sense of customization. I felt like I was spinning my wheels, especially as upgrade points became rarer and upgrades became more expensive for a negligible improvement. Under no circumstances should anyone invest time or money into this game, as it takes a hundred times more than it gives.