Genre: RPG, Rogue-Lite, Turn Based Strategy
Price: £12.99 (Steam)
Pathway will instantly remind you of certain cult-status franchises (yeah, I’m looking at you Indiana Jones), both through its aesthetics and the story events that you stumble upon while you’re playing, and given some of the events I found while playing, I’m certain there is more than the odd dedicated homage to old Indie. Pathway is a mix of genres, having the fast playability but 'one attempt' gameplay of a rogue-lite, the progression and equipment management of a friendly RPG, and an easy to grasp turn based combat that all combines to create a game that is pretty much perfect if you’re looking to kill a couple of hours while also getting a sense of achievement from your time.
Within the game there are currently five ‘adventures’ to play through, providing the overriding narrative to the actions that you take on the world map, and giving the player an end goal to work towards, and these adventures are played out over an expansive ‘world map’ where the pathway to victory is left for the player to decide. Given that there are around 30 individual locations on the first map of the first adventure, which acts as a sort of introduction to the game, and on the second adventure their are multiple maps, each with in excess of 30 individual locations each offering different tactical battles, narrative text book choices or events, and a range of traders, there is plenty of scope here to play through the same adventure more than once and experience a different journey to the final destination.
Before each adventure you’ll be asked to build your team from a roster of companions, each filling slightly different roles on a battlefield or unlocking different options through the storybook events, so you do need to choose wisely up front as this team will need to take you through the whole adventure, barring some occasions that the story results in a fourth member offering to squad up with you. There’s a solid roster of 16 playable characters, each of which differ in their role and abilities from each other, which when combined into a trio to take on the bad guys offers a different tactical way to approach the adventures, personally I'm taking a mixture of short and medium range weapons (think shotguns and assault rifles) while also making sure I've got a few bandages and grenades for when need arises.
A great deal of these companions are only unlocked after completing certain parts of the game, or meeting other pre-requisites, such as looting a particular item (for example the Disintegrator unlocks Bellamy), and so there's a steady introduction to more varied members and options, but it also ensures that you aren't overwhelmed upfront through choice, as the gradual introduction allows a chance to recognise where certain skills and abilities come in useful. Speaking of skills and abilities, the skill trees for each adventurer aren’t the most in depth that have even been seen in a RPG, but they do give enough choice to tweak each of them to the playstyle and role you’d like to focus on in the tactical battles, and you will want to specialise your adventurers as they level up, because without competent armour repairs, healers or damage dealers you can very quickly find yourself in a tough spot after battling through a few encounters! As you would expect progression is permanent, so the levels and perks (and inventory) gained through one adventure will carry on through to the next, and while you’ll need to spread the love, giving different characters some game time, to get the whole roster levelled up, it’s a solid form of permanency that shows some long term reward for players.
Combat is pretty straightforward but also very quick in the main, feeling like short quick skirmishes rather than protracted or overly complicated affairs, especially as some of the 'random' encounters can be over and done with in the space of a few short minutes. The basics will instantly be picked up by any Turn Based Strategy player; try and stick to cover, get your lines of sight to increase the chances of hitting an enemy, flank where possible, use abilities in conjunction for greater effect and bring enemies down with a focussed effort rather than spreading fire amongst a wider number of foes, as it really helps getting the amount of incoming damage reduced as quickly as possible!
There are some times when combat can feel a little repetitive, especially where you end up triggering the ‘random’ event skirmishes, because these can often feel like a slightly different version of the battle you had only a few minutes before, however, given that the battles only last a matter of minutes I don’t have any major gripes, and the attrition they place upon your band of adventurers makes choosing the right time to heal and repair feel like a strategic choice. The bigger battles though, those that act as story progression and main events, they do offer a real challenge on some well designed maps. You'll come across ever increasing bad odds, where there are more enemies to face, usually of more varying specialities, higher levels, and they hit far harder and take more of a beating to get down than in the random encounters. The main map will highlight these with markers above the location before you reach them, and I'd suggest making sure you don't turn up with your armour half destroyed and bullet holes riddled throughout your adventurers body!
I haven’t mentioned the replayability of the game yet, but it’s clear that the options are available for multiple playthroughs of varying challenge, as you can tweak adventures to have more enemies during the battles, you can begin with reduced supplies for healing and repairing, and less fuel that's needed to move through the map, as well as a generic ‘difficulty’ slider to just crank the toughness of enemies up even without increasing the number of them. I found that on the standard settings it’s easily doable to complete a pathway through one of the maps in under two hours, acting as a nice time to hang up the keyboard and mouse for the evening, but if you're in for a longer playthrough you can start cranking up the difficulty.
I had great fun tumbling through an open desert, watching Nazi’s get disintegrated when they opened up ancient sarcophagi (there’s old Indiana Jones again!), and for a tactical game actually found the experience more relaxing and entertaining than some of those that really emphasise the nuances and depth that can be found within the genre. Overall, Pathway is an entertaining game, perfectly suited for starting, and finishing, something in one sitting, but where you can return at any point and not have to truly start over again because of the progression mechanics, so grab your Stetson & whip and jump in!