Review: Pathway12 Apr 2019 0
Released 11 Apr 2019
A less scrupulous reviewer might put an Indiana Jones reference here to reflect the similarities between Robotality’s Pathway and the adventures of our favourite archaeologist. Similarities that are well founded and perhaps even a little welcomed in the X-Com style narrative roguelike but I will refrain.
Pathway takes place in World War 2 as you undertake perilous adventures into Turkey, Syria, Morocco and more exotic locales infested with Nazis. For each adventure you’ll get to pick 2 characters from a wide roster of adventurers, scientists, and weirdos; pack your jeep with fuel and ammo; and hit the FTL style open-road in a beautifully drawn overworld.
Each map is randomly generated with various nodes creating branching paths that lead to the objective. Each node has a random story event plucked from the 400+ events boasted on the Steam page to create a journey that feels like more than just driving and fighting. These events can be anything from there are some goats on the path to coming across a shepherd who had been trapped in a cave in to zombie bunkers and pulsing monoliths. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a character whose specific traits can leverage an advantage in the story event. Like Brunhilda lifting the boulder out of the way to save the trapped shepherd or the Baron tricking and stabbing a guard without alerting the others. During these moments, the story really feels like it’s yours.
You aren’t always jumping blind though. Scattered across the maps are camp nodes where you can refill health and armour, trader nodes where you can sell old guns and armour and buy fuel (or items if you’re a lunatic), recruits that may or may not involve a short fight to rescue and which are invaluable in longer adventures, and battles. A large part of the strategy in Pathway is picking your path carefully. Managing fuel, health, and ammo by choosing when and when not to get into a fight and when to use up those valuable health and repair kits instead of finding a camp.
As I said at the start, Pathway is a roguelike and while the tactical decisions of choosing when and when not to fight or buy and sell may seem obvious, the way Robotality have dealt with failure really amazes me. The most obvious is that if you fail an adventure, the adventurers you had are hospitalised until you try again with a different group. As each adventurer levels up and becomes more useful, forcing you to play with different ones each time keeps them all at a similar level. An important feature when recruits are randomly chosen from the available roster. Pathway also lets you keep items that were in your jeep, meaning you can hold onto curatives for a run that looks like it has a better chance or use them for one last heroic effort. But where it really surprised me is with the valuables bag. As you explore the world you will often come across tombs, lost crates, crashed vehicles, and dead people. Sometimes they have things you can sell on them like old wallets, statues, or ancient coins. You can either choose to put these in your valuables bag which increases the amount of money you start with on your next adventure (and can be used to buy fuel/ammo before setting off) or you can put it in your funds for use at the trader. That constant balance of what do I use now and what do I keep for later really makes the roguelike nature work.
But Pathway isn’t just a lovingly detailed overworld, it’s also a tactics game. At the start of each combat encounter you are given a green area to place your adventurers and a general overview of which enemies are where (though it does keep sometimes keep a few hidden). Each adventurer has a proficiency in a specific type of weapon and each weapon grants a special ability. The pistol grants a double shot, the shotgun has a blast attack, the sniper grants an overwatch ability, etc. Balancing these abilities with adventurers that complement each other can be a challenge but strike that balance right and it feels so good to take down a whole room of Nazis in a single round.
I said at the start that Pathway was like X-Com and I mean that in a loose sense. Like any sensible person in a shootout, you’ll want to use cover to your advantage. Even if the bad guys still can’t shoot straight. The half-shield and full-shield notation for how much protection a piece of cover gives are back but this time with the inclusion of a wall icon that says a piece of cover blocks line of sight. The camera still follows unseen enemies when they move but it makes guessing their exact spot difficult and when you’re relying on your 1-square range knife wielder to clinch the fight, it can get pretty tense.
Being a roguelike, Pathway doesn’t pull any punches and heroes that are KO’ed are out as soon as their counter hits 0. If you didn’t bring a medkit into the encounter with you, you have to finish it fast to save them. If you run out of fuel, you have to go by foot, with each adventurer taking different damage depending on their stats.
And I know I’ve been saying it throughout this review, but Pathway is gorgeous. Little details like the jeep fish-tailing around between nodes and the heroes getting out when you arrive makes it actually feel like a journey. The rich lighting engine and detailed tombs where the characters actually interact with the scenery is a nice touch and I found myself constantly exploring, looking for more and more events.
I can’t find many faults with Pathway beyond the occasional bit of bad luck with the map generation that puts camps and traders too far off-track to be worth going to or throws a particularly tough combat at you straight away. Apart from that small issue, this game is frankly amazing and it kept me up until dawn trying to find out what the Wrath of God was and I am so distraught that I died just before the finale. Let’s just say “I chose… poorly”.