That’s it, I give up. I can’t keep banging my head against this game anymore. Not to bring down the mood, but despite my best efforts, this game has broken me, and honestly I shouldn’t be that surprised. Ghosts of Tsushima is a video game that encapsulated pretty much all of my problems with modern triple A video game development. And to at least recoup some of the money and time I dumped into this game, I’ll blog about it.
On paper, Ghosts of Tsushima is the perfect kind of game to creep onto almost everyone’s game of the year list. It’s technically very impressive, with the vast majority of the time and care gone into making it focused on its art and design. But actually playing the game: it’s a chore. An exercise in spinning wheels, doing the same things over and over for 60 hours before mopping up every little collectable on a map.
Open world checklist games hit their peak in 2009 with Assassin’s Creed II. Since that time, many games have used that title as a blueprint for their own. With good reason, Assassin’s Creed II is a fantastic video game. But in the decade since playing it for the first time, I feel like I’m being fed that same game over and over again. Every now and then I’ll pick one of “these” games up and get a kick out of it.
Almost every time this does happen, it’ll be due to some new twist on the tired old formula, either from a gameplay or from a design aspect. Like playing the whole game as a pirate sailing out on the open ocean (Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag), or it has a massively satisfying combat system that never gets boring (Sleeping Dogs). I came into Ghosts of Tsushima hoping this would be one of those cases where something about it would break it away from that tired old mould.
Sadly that wasn’t the case.
Ultimately, the game relies too much on its well-worn framework and it comes across a pretty bland by the time you’re a dozen or so hours into it. Y’see, the problem with these kinds of open games is they very quickly become checklist simulators, having you travel from point to point on a map to check that box and systematically move onto the next one. At which point, you’re hardly paying attention to what you’re doing as the task has become monotonous, hardly requiring you to make any effort on its part.
To overcome this, the developer needs to add something more to the game to retain that active interest. Like engaging movement mechanics, as seen in Marvel’s Spider-Man from 2018, or have a really unique/compelling setting/narrative like Horizon Zero Dawn. Or ideally some combination of the two like 2018’s God of War. Ghosts of Tsushima lack either of these vital components.
By far, the most compelling thing about it is how impressive the game is to behold from both an artistic and technical perspective. But like I just got finished saying, after a certain point, you stop noticing all of this because you just become numb to it, hardly playing attention as you fight enemy encounter after enemy encounter to fill in that blank square on your map.
At which point, you’re being dragged along by either the story or the combat, neither of which are anything of significance in this particular video game. Don’t get me wrong, I’m nerdy enough that the idea of playing this badass samurai is super appealing to me, but in Ghosts, after a certain point, I was just button mashing my way through every encounter with relative ease.
The weapon style triangle is the game’s only real attempt at adding any depth to the game’s combat, but unfortunately, thanks to its nature as an open-world game, you’ve almost filled out the entire skill tree before you’re a quarter way through the game. At which point you spend almost all of the game fighting trivial fights. Which isn’t fun. I feel like I’ve played a lot of this game, and yet, in reality, I’m not sure I’m a third the way through it considering I’ve only just unlocked the second chunk of the map.
At which point there is nothing compelling driving me on to continue playing it. It’s certainly not the story, which might as well not even be there as far as I’m concerned it’s so uninteresting.
It’s ultimately the same old crutch that Ubisoft likes to lean on, something I already went on a rant about not too long ago concerning their strategic withholding of ingenuity in their larger franchises such as Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry. It’s a problem I’m having more and more with larger AAA titles that are terrified of fucking it up considering how much money they’ve put on the line for these projects. It’s the thing that scares me the most about Cyberpunk 2077.
The game has a high score on metacritic though, and has generally seen pretty favourable reviews from much of the gaming media. So maybe it’s just me, but the more time I put into this game, the more I felt like I was just wasting time I could be doing something I was actually enjoying. That or spending it venting on my blog about it.
I probably wouldn’t be as annoyed about this whole matter if it weren’t for this being one of only a handful of games I’ve actually paid full price for this year. Because weirdly, value for money is something I’ve become far more conscious of these past couple of years, where previously I seemed to have little real value of my own time and money. Now, as I hardly have the time nor the funds to spend £50 on a brand new video game, it seems like a much bigger deal to me.
That, plus I feel like I’ve been somewhat spoiled by Game Pass giving me brand new games essentially for “free”.
If I really wanted that samurai fix, I should have probably just invested the time into Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. At least then, me bouncing off of it comes from what I perceive to be my own failures from being suck-ass at the game rather than the game’s failures at just being suck-ass. I guess that’s probably a really stupid way to look at things, eh?