I’m sure that the comparison has already been made countless times, but Pathway really is what you’d get if FTL were to meet Indiana Jones. The pixel art and soundtrack are nice, the progression system is cool, and even the map design is noteworthy. However, the game is brought down by its very repetitive gameplay and lackluster combat.
Nice pixel graphics and soundtrack. Pathway is pretty much the pixel-art equivalent of Indiana Jones. Everything from its setting, to its characters, and even its soundtrack all help in establishing this. It definitely works in the game’s favor though, as the pixel art is excellent and the various effects layered on top of it look great, especially when it comes to lighting. In fact, I would say that the game’s art and soundtrack were my favorite things about it.
Cool progression system. Although Pathway is a strategy RPG, it does borrow from the rogue-like genre. The maps are procedurally generated, the loot is random, and dying kicks you right out of it. Fortunately, the game has a progression system to go along with this, allowing you to make bits of progress even if you fail an adventure. Not only is money carried over, but items can also be saved and then transferred to characters back at home base. As such, if you come across a certain weapon during an adventure that you cannot equip at the time, it may be worth saving it for those back at base rather than selling it right there. As someone that’s not really a fan of the whole permadeath trend in rogue-likes, this was a nice way to balance the game’s sense of progression.
Expansive adventure design. The gameplay may have its problems (more on that later), but at least the map design is pretty cool. Each run in the game takes the form of an “adventure”, where you are plopped down onto a map full of events and tasked with reaching the end of it. Sometimes these adventures even span multiple maps, having you travel between countries. The game does provide a simplistic story to go along with these adventures as well, all of which could definitely be something straight out of Indiana Jones. In fact, the game’s second adventure is basically the plot behind Raiders of the Lost Ark. This, combined with the art and soundtrack I mentioned before, makes for some pretty cool adventure design.
Repetitive gameplay. While I do like the way the adventures are designed in this game, it unfortunately does not provide the gameplay to match. If you’ve ever played FTL, this game is basically laid out the same way, but with events that really aren’t all that exciting. Half of the time, moving to a new space presents you with the same recycled “there’s nothing here” or “enemies set up an ambush here”, with little difference between such encounters. It’s not long before you start seeing the same events reused again and again. For a game that encourages exploration, this pretty much kills the fun in it.
Lackluster combat. The combat in Pathway is pretty much your standard turn-based tactics gameplay. It’s definitely passable, but for a game that relies on it so heavily, it really lacks depth and doesn’t feel fun to play over and over. There’s maybe two abilities max per character and even then, many of them are very situational, so you’re pretty much stuck using basic attacks for most of the game. Considering that enemies are conveniently placed four or five HP above the damage you deal with one character, you end up falling into the loop of “move here, attack, end turn, take damage, attack again, and move away”. It also doesn’t help that there’s no stealth in combat, so there’s really no point in trying to hide from enemies.
On top of that, there are a few technical issues with the combat. The first being that it is oftentimes hard to judge where your line of sight will be after moving. It may look like you have a clear line of sight to a certain enemy, but after moving, you’ll find that the line of sight is more restricted than it appeared. If there was an undo function, this would not be a problem, but movement is permanent as it stands.
The AI is also a pretty big issue. You would think that, given the simplicity of the combat, the AI would at least be somewhat decent, but it seemed like every other fight, the AI would pull some stupid move that doesn’t accomplish anything. Running away from me when I’m low and they have full HP? Check. Aimlessly moving back and forth and not coming to help his teammates? Check. Running up next to me and not doing anything? Also check. Really, the AI as a whole could definitely use some improvement.
Boring upgrade trees. Pathway sells itself as a “strategy RPG”, but when you get to the RPG side of things, the skill trees are pretty disappointing. Instead of providing cool perks and unique upgrades, the vast majority of the skills are simple stat boosts that really don’t feel like they have that much of an effect. On top of that, you level so slowly that it really just isn’t worth your time to seek out XP. I actually ended up skipping out on most of the battles I came across for this reason.
Pathway may look nice and have a cool progression system, but the core gameplay is simply too lackluster and repetitive to be worth the recommendation. It’s a shame, because I quite liked the adventure design, but there are far better games out there that do the same thing.
You can buy Pathway on Steam here.
I was provided a review copy of the game in order to write this review. Read more about how I do my game reviews here.