So, there was this game, yeah? Ghost of Tsushima? Seemed pretty neat, cause you could ride around, explore, fight people with swords, and sneak around killing people. Lotta people kept saying it was a “Souls-Like” and that kinda pushed me away ’cause I dislike Souls-Likes. Wow, you rolled away from damage and were invicible for two frames and then got curb-stomped by some random mook during your fifty recovery frames because who gives a shit about fun when you can prove to the world that you’re a real badass by punishing yourself via video game? Just not my scene, ya know?
But then I learned you could pet the foxes.
I have to give the developers on this one. They know EXACTLY what they needed to give the world to make this game an instant success. Adorable foxes you can follow to various types of rewards, updated behavior for said foxes to make them even more adorable, and the ability to pet these adorable foxes. Talk about incorporating community feedback. This is the exact kind of customer pandering that needs to happen. Every game should have petable foxes. Or petable dogs. Or cats. You get the idea.
After getting hooked based purely on having the opportunity to, during a pandemic, pet a bunch of adorable foxes and knowing I’d need something to do while I was laid up after getting my wisdom teeth extracted, I went ahead and bought the game, despite my trepidation at it being described as a souls-like.
I’ll admit that souls-likes sell well these days. The fact an industry term exists shows just how much impact the series has had on video games in general. Though I would contend that simply having a dodge-roll and the potential for punishing combat mechanics based around timing a parry doesn’t make a game a souls-like, I’m not super interested in debating the specifics. This one actually has a great level of difficulty modulation, which I appreciate because it makes the game more accessible to people who don’t have the motor control to precisely time those kind of maneuvers or who don’t have the willingness to be punished for the first ten fights with a new enemy until you learn how to do the counters and dodges perfectly.
It only took about an hour of gameplay for all thoughts of “souls-like” and “am I going to feel like a masochist” to fade from my mind. The game starts off strong, putting you directly in the shit and showing you what is at stake. The plot continues this way, with parallel stories rising and falling as you progress the main story, side-quests that season each of the stories and the world, and a heavy dose of what seem like moral choices layered into every potential combat scenario that seem to have had no real consequence on the game over all. The only real consequence I’ve found, at least related to the general choices around how you choose to engage your enemies, is how the weather changes. It grows stormier the more you act as an assassin and more calm and clear the more you act within the rigid code of “honor” your character once swore to follow.
Beyond the decisions of how you engage in combat with the enemies scattered around the world, there are a few choices that can have a great impact on the game and then there are places where you are not given any choice on how to advance the plot. For the most part, though, your decisions on whether to act in an honorable way or to act dishonorably don’t really do much. Which means the decision is based on what you choose, as the player. Each style of play, honorable samurai and dishonorable assassin, have useful abilities that can make you a nigh-immortal powerhouse, so there isn’t even much of a power differential like there is in most games (which usually tells you a lot about the story the game is trying to tell).
But not this game. This time, the choice is yours and even the weather-based consequences can be ignored, given that you have a magic flute that can control the weather. Storms help cover your approach when you’re an assassin and clear days make it easy to see and challenge the enemies that wander the world, so each effect isn’t judgmental but actually beneficial to the style of play you favor. The only reason to pick one choice over the other is personal preference. Or, if you’re the type to invest heavily in a roleplay, what will let you sleep at night.
When all is said and done, it was actually a very fun game. I loved playing through it and am probably going to play through it again once I finish Horizon Zero Dawn. I’ve even considered going so far as to buy a PS5 so I can play the expanded version that came out in August. It tells a heavy, difficult story with grace and a level of humanity that made it difficult to play dry-eyed at it’s more human moments. I’d recommend it, if you’re up for a good story and a lot of game to explore.