As this year comes to a close, the holiday season is upon us. Gamers gather this time each year to discuss which games were the best. This culminates in The Game Awards, essentially the Oscars of gaming.
Each year, many games are honored with an award. The one award everyone anticipates is Game Of The Year. This is the most prestigious award of the event. It is awarded to the one game that is just a cut above the rest. The nominees for this year’s Game Of The Year award are Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Doom Eternal, Hades, Final Fantasy VII Remake, Ghosts of Tsushima and The Last of Us Part 2.
While each game brings something to the table, I believe that TLOU2 and Ghosts are fighting it out for the top spot. Both are successful titles that take very different approaches to storytelling and the influence the story itself has on the game.
When comparing the two titles, there are three things I am taking into consideration: gameplay, story, and how the two interact to create an immersive experience. I completed both of these games within the past month, and I noticed several talking points for which game deserves the coveted award.
When it comes down to it, the overarching difference exhibited when comparing both of these games is that The Last of Us Part II takes a drastic, out-of-left-field approach to game design and story, while Ghosts of Tsushima is very by the books and predictable, both for better and for worse. Let’s talk about why.
Warning: Past this point, spoilers will likely be said. If you haven’t played either of these games, you have been warned.
Ghosts of Tsushima
Ghosts of Tsushima’s aims to tell its story by having you explore an expansive open world, with characters that offer you quests and missions along your journey. While only a few of these are actually required to beat the game, it is important to do them. Firstly to make your character stronger, but also further your relationship with the character and get invested in the story. At the end of the day, however, what you do is completely up to you. The sense of urgency just isn’t there because of the open-world nature of the game. This is normal for open-world games. While everything presented in Ghosts of Tsushima is polished and refined, nothing is new or groundbreaking. It is a great game, but there is nothing that pushes the boundaries of gaming and storytelling. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing either, it is just something of note.
This game lets you walk in the shoes of Jin Sakai, who has realized he must sacrifice his honor to save the island of Tsushima. As a result, the islanders start to call him “The Ghost.” The struggle between honor and duty is central to the story. This is most notably seen when the player first unlocks assassination as a technique. We see a flashback of Jin’s uncle telling us that in order to fight with honor we must always look our opponent in the eye when killing them. The central conflict here is that Jin is forced to go against his morals and upbringing to allow him to become the hero that the island needs. This culminates in a fight with his uncle at the end of the game after saving the island. You must choose to either spare him or kill him at the end, bringing a conclusion to the story.
The Last of Us Part II
The Last of Us Part II, unlike Ghosts of Tsushima, has only one story to tell you. The player has no control over what gets done and what doesn’t. There is only one way to advance. This is what makes The Last of Us Part II work. By limiting the number of choices the player has to almost nothing, the gameplay directly lines up with the cutscenes. This creates a coherent, creative, and downright binge-able narrative. The Last of Us Part II takes a lot of risks with the story, like having you play as the villain halfway through the game.
Forcing the player to play as Abby humanizes her, and makes you really dwell on if her killing Joel was warranted. This also allows you to contemplate who is really in the right in this situation. Which in my opinion is nobody. Everyone in this story has done things that are wrong and it has cost them the lives and relationships of those around them. This all becomes clear at the end when, after the entire journey and sacrifices she has made, Ellie doesn’t kill Abby. The reason is left somewhat unclear, but it allows the audience to judge what the right choice is, and leaves room at the end of the game for thinking, rather than closing it right away and telling you what the “right” answer is. In reality, there is no right answer in The Last of Us Part II, and that’s what makes it so interesting.
The spoilers end here!
When comparing the two stories side, it is easy to compare the stories to sandwiches.
Ghosts of Tsushima is like a sandwich from a deli: You are in complete control of everything on the sandwich, and you can choose what goes on and what doesn’t, you don’t even need a top slice of bread, it can be open-faced. However, they only have ingredients you’ve seen before. The ingredients are high quality and are filling, but nothing out of the ordinary.
The Last of Us Part II is a sandwich that was made for you. You had no control over what went on the sandwich, and you could only ask for a sandwich. The sandwich, however, for better or for worse, is exciting and unlike anything, you have eaten before. There is a lot to unpack and discover from the sandwich, and every time you take a bite of the sandwich you never really know what it’s gonna taste like, and whether you’ll enjoy it or not.
Neither sandwich is inherently bad, but it is really up to you which you prefer: the sandwich you’ve eaten before, with high quality and interesting ingredients, or the sandwich that is fresh and new, but it might make you cringe every once in a while, or question why an ingredient is there.
Honestly, the choice is up to the individual. For me, I think that the more unexpected and fresh sandwich that I don’t have as much control over that is The Last of Us Part II is just the better game. But I love the customizable, high quality, and expansive Ghosts of Tsushima. There are no truly right answers here. Only time will tell which one wins Game of The Year 2020, if either of them does at all.