Ghost of Tsushima is a decent game. It looks spectacular, it has rewarding combat that’s as simple or as complex as you want it to be, and it has that ‘just one more thing’ factor that pushed me towards the Platinum long after my interest had faded. However, it also features a bland protagonist, swirls around cliched tropes like Asian honour, offers up a weak story, and doesn’t seem all that concerned with establishing historical context. Also, while it did have the ‘just one more thing’ factor, these ‘things’ were mostly just generic map game activities. It’s flawed. It’s decent.
I feel the need to point out the fact that I do not love The Last of Us Part 2 either. They’re both good, but neither made my personal top ten last year. I have no idea how two Sony games – both triple-A efforts created with huge budgets, both revolving around the idea of father figures in chosen families, and both showing violence as a means to an ends – somehow became opposing forces in a very loud but very meaningless culture war, but here we are. I never learned how to ride a bike, and whenever I tell people that they usually ask me if I can swim; as if the two skills have anything to do with each other. I can, for the record, but I’m here to talk about Ghost of Tsushima and not my 50-metre badge.
Ghost of Tsushima promised us, all those years ago in April 2020, that it would be a game with no waypoints. Unfortunately, that turned out to be baloney. This was presented to us pre-release as an interesting (if ambitious and risky) concept, but I could have forgiven Ghost of Tsushima if the execution had been imperfect, but it was entirely nonexistent. Let’s be real here: ‘no waypoints’ was a lie, and not even a very good one.
I don’t want to hear any “ackshully” on this about how there’s no arrow directing you where to go, and that you have to rely on your instincts as a samurai – we were promised something like that, but it’s not what we got. You can open your map at any time, plop down a marker wherever you want to go, and then tap a button for a swirl of wind to instantly point you in the exact direction you need to head in. It’s good art design to use a gust of wind rather than a big flashing red arrow intruding on the screen, but it’s still very obviously a waypoint. It’s so clearly fits the basic definition of a waypoint that I have no idea why the devs told us the game didn’t have them. You choose exactly where the map marker goes and how often you want to be explicitly directed. No doubt about it, you’ve got yourself a waypoint.
Since Ghost of Tsushima does fall a little bit into generic map game territory, especially if you’re sweeping up collectibles for the Platinum, I appreciate the waypoint system. I’m not saying it would be a better game without it; the game was obviously designed with this wind direction mechanic in mind, but the devs either convinced themselves that a gust of wind is somehow distinct from an arrow, or somewhere along the way this fun artistic flourish was turned into a marketing lie.
I don’t want Ghost of Tsushima without the waypoints – if I did, I could just play it and not use them. Instead, I want a game designed with no waypoints in mind. Obviously, several of those exist already, so I suppose I mean I want a Tsushima-sized game without waypoints. One less concerned with specific collectibles at distinct locations, and one built on free exploration from the ground up. When Tsushima’s ‘no waypoint’ system was revealed, there was talk that you’d need to listen to villagers and interpret their vague directions, remembering to head left at the old tree by the lake. That sounds like it could be a rich and fascinating system – if the game is designed for it from the ground up, which Ghost of Tsushima was not.
The biggest drawback for us as games media is that guides would be harder to write, while for players it would be less straightforward to play – and the reliance upon guides wouldn’t be as simple as usual either. However, we’re dealing strictly in hypotheticals here, and I think with something tangible in front of us it would be easier to figure out how guides work, and how players can still get to where they need to be. Game devs are proper clever, basically, and I reckon they’d figure it out.
Breath of the Wild is the closest we’ve gotten to this idea on a huge scale, and while that does still have markers and waypoints, the game as a whole never really tells you where to go. I think there’s room for a middle ground, where the game offers hints and a sense of progression without relying on arrow point to arrow point to ensure you reach every single activity available.
In truth, I do like sweeping up collectibles, and mindlessly running through the pampas grass to reach a specific haiku mat by the lake was more enjoyable than the main story’s long monologues about honour. But I adore games that try something new – especially in the triple-A scene, where there’s a lot of pressure to play things safe. Having no waypoints in a huge world designed to not have waypoints could be that something new, and I’m still disappointed Ghost of Tsushima was packaged with such an obvious lie. Now that the idea is in the aether though, surely somebody is going to try it soon.
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Stacey Henley is an editor for TheGamer, and can often be found journeying to the edge of the Earth, but only in video games. Find her on Twitter @FiveTacey
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