I've always been guilty of judging a game by its figurative cover, as the visuals are the first thing that immediately draws me to a title. But while appearance is important, it only ever catches my attention and keeps it there for like a minute - because if the narrative or the gameplay doesn't deliver, then it's on to the next thing for me.
Thankfully, Path to Nowhere drew me in at first glance and wielded enough power to keep me hooked - but is it going to be the same experience for you?Table of contents:
The thing is, the concept of this strategy-slash-tower defence title puts you in the shoes of a bureau Chief who has the insanely powerful ability to Shackle so-called Sinners and force them to do your bidding. The premise left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth when I first dove in, but as I progressed through the game and discovered more about the characters' backstories, I found myself actually suspending my disbelief long enough to enjoy the experience.
As with other mobile gacha games, the allure of pulling Sinners - or criminals-turned-heroes that you deploy onto the battlefield - from the summons pool is undeniable. But with Path to Nowhere, the characters are even more irresistible thanks to the gorgeous character design that each Sinner boasts.
There's a mix of anime-esque and Korean-style elements here, and each Sinner not only has jaw-dropping mugshots (because why not pose while you're getting arrested?) but also different skins you can switch up purely for cosmetics. You don't actually see the 2D character art while the 3D characters are in combat, but they're still lovely to marvel at all the same when you're swiping through the menu endlessly.
What makes Path to Nowhere unique is that the overall theme of you catching these criminals is still in sync no matter which mode you're on. For instance, you can do Surveillance on the so-called inmates of the bureau, which can affect your relationship with your characters. You can do Interrogations with them to know more about their backstories or boost their Compliance level - in fact, the gacha banner is called the "Arrest" banner because, well, you arrest these Sinners (and add them to your collection).
Adding these characters to your roster should, of course, be your top priority, because you'll need the best lineup if you want to survive the hordes of enemies charging your way in battle. Combat is a grid-based tower defence affair where you'll strategise where to deploy your Sinners depending on the enemies' spawn points. Like in other RPGs, you'll need to maximise your Sinner's particular role or strength on the grid - for instance, making sure you've got someone blocking foes as a tank while a long-ranged mage rains down death and destruction from afar is always a good plan.
Once you've got your Sinners in place, you can start your match. There are no automated battles here - you'll have to manually unleash your characters' special skills when needed or re-position them a limited number of times to adapt to the changing situation during combat. I was pleasantly surprised by the level of difficulty on each stage, as you won't be able to cruise by just by over-levelling your characters or buffing up their skills. Strategy, timing and positioning really do matter here, which is pretty refreshing.
There's also an ongoing beginner event where you can complete certain milestones to unlock the S-rank character Nox - although to be honest, while I did nab her in the end, I feel like it's not the most free-to-play-friendly event out there. There are also no multiplayer elements here at the moment save for its guild system, although I'm guessing a PvP arena might be implemented in future patches as the game matures.
As for the gameplay, I did have a few frustrating moments where I would tap onto a specific character's tile and the game would register a completely different tile just because my character would be leaping around doing stylish attacks and stuff. It's a minor inconvenience when you can just tap again until you hit the right one, but when it's crunch time and your enemies are about to get through your human barricade, tapping the wrong tile can spell the difference between victory and defeat.
Thankfully, the aesthetics, superb voice acting, wallpaper-worthy static cut scenes, and bop-your-head-to-the-beat main menu music are all more than enough to keep me on the path - and if this is what it means to be on a path to "nowhere", it's really not that bad.