Developed by Robotality and published by Chucklefish, Pathway originally launched on PC in 2019 and will soon be released on Nintendo Switch. The console version benefits from several updates prompted by PC players’ feedback and therefore provides a better gameplay experience. Despite tweaks and bug fixes, however, Pathway still feels lacking in a way that’s hard to pin down. The premise is promising enough: a turn-based strategy game combined with roguelite elements that offers the excitement and adventure of an Indiana Jones movie. The game is set in the same era, in the mid-1930s, in Europe and Middle Eastern deserts filled with Nazis looking for the same coveted treasure as the player. It’s a race to see who can collect intel, research abandoned temples, and uncover secrets. Along the way, there will be tombs to raid, traps to avoid, strange artifacts to discover, and of course plenty of hostile encounters with Nazis. The story is divided into five procedurally generated campaigns or adventures of increasing difficulty, each with a different underlying narrative. These quests consist of nodes on a map, and the player moves from node to node to reach the culmination of the campaign’s story. Almost every node has some interactivity, narrated through text and minimalistic pixelized animations. Some nodes only provide a brief and somewhat pointless description of the surrounding area, but most lead to a story event or battle. Pathway’s graphics are pixel and voxel based, giving the game a charming 16-bit retro feel with enhanced shadows and lighting. While the style won’t appeal to every player, it’s really not the visuals that hold the game back, but the presentation. For some people, a story told through text will not be enough to spark excitement or interest, no matter how well written. In fact, after reading 5 or 10 of the text-based interludes, many players will probably start skimming and not actually reading. Note that the word “story” is used loosely. Fans of deep, story-heavy and based games are better served playing Firaxis Games’ XCOM 2 or Mutant Year Zero, both available on Switch. The foundation of those games is the narrative. Gameplay, graphics, and all the little details depend on that foundation, and a game of this kind doesn’t come together without a strong story. Pathway lacks any sort of compelling narrative. Sure, there’s the underlying theme of Indiana Jones, fighting Nazis, and raiding tombs, but it’s only superficial. The developers have stated that there are over 400 unique events that can be triggered at each node on the campaign map, but somehow the same events happen over and over again. Text blurs start to sound the same, locations start to look the same, and players will soon discover that none of the events have any impact on the story. What happens in one node does not change anywhere else. Some events require a character to have a necessary skill to proceed, such as brute strength or intimidation. But if that character is not in the party, there is no effect other than losing some loot. Apart from the rewards received after encounters, moving from node to node is very ineffective. And that’s a weak point in a game whose core gameplay mechanic centers around traveling from node to node. The player never feels involved or invested in what is happening in the game, and many, if asked, are unlikely to count the goals for the various campaigns. No real story means nothing tied together; there is no impetus driving the player forward. And there’s no sense of urgency or chaos, even though the first adventure centers on rescuing a comrade who’s been captured by Nazi soldiers and is about to be killed. There is no sense of purpose other than reaching the final node on the map which completes that particular campaign, often anticlimactically. That said, Pathway is a great way to pass the time because it doesn’t require a lot of thought and is quite entertaining for a while. There are 16 characters with different strengths, weapon and armor skills, and perks like engineering or daredevil. While some of the characters share perks and traits, creating repetitive and weaker clones of others, they are decently varied. Some use assault rifles, others are snipers, and some like to get up close and personal with knives. And since the party is limited to four, it can be a fun challenge to choose who to bring. Ultimately, aside from a strong story, the success of a turn-based strategy game lies in its combat, and Pathway provides engaging action for a few hours at least. The beginning adventure can seem a bit tedious as the encounters are more difficult due to the lack of gear and skills, and the party is often close to death. In fact, the first two or three attempts may end in failure, and this is unfortunate because some players may become disillusioned and do not take long to realize that the game becomes easier. In fact, it becomes almost too easy. Because Pathway has roguelite elements, experience and gear gained remain even after a party wipe, making later challenges less of a challenge. There are also difficulty sliders to customize how much fuel and ammo the party starts with and the number of enemies encountered in battle. So while the difficulty curve may be high at the start — ironically when it should be the lowest — it drops off pretty quickly, forcing some players to manually try to make it tougher. As for the combat itself, it’s pretty standard turn-based fare, albeit diluted. There’s cover, overwatch, hunkering down, action points, but nothing groundbreaking. A frequent frustration is that the game engine automatically aims at the nearest target. This often leads to accidentally shooting explosive barrels, for example, instead of people. This is not something one should always keep in mind and, although it may seem small, it is an example of why the game gives off a general feeling of dissatisfaction. Even without that small disappointment, the battle soon begins to feel familiar. Each battle plays out in parallel, taking place on what appear to be the same five maps over and over again. Maybe some battle screens are more green and others more brown, maybe the enemies change clothes every now and then. But each encounter becomes repetitive, with no real effort or thought required to come out on top, often without taking any damage. Add to that the fact that the game still experiences crashes, including three soft crashes that caused the game to stop responding to controller input and a hard crash on the Nintendo Switch’s home screen with error message. The overall pathway feels like a miniature version of a turn-based game, and the monotony sets in pretty quickly. There are no plot twists to keep the story engaging, because there really isn’t a story but the shallow foundation of one. While the game can be beaten in 10 to 20 hours, it’s doubtful that many players will see it through to the end. Players may be distracted for a while, but the game isn’t dynamic enough to sustain interest for a long time. In the end, Pathway is all the more unsatisfying because it has such potential. The creation of Robotality can be likened to an itch under the skin that is almost scratched, but not quite. Pathway is available on PC and will be released for Switch on May 27, 2021. Today Technology was provided with a Nintendo Switch code for this review.