Available on: PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox X, PC
Let me start by saying this will be a game you will love to hate and hate to love.
But also, let me put out a warning right up front for anyone who is reading this review to see if they want to purchase this game. If you are prone to throwing your controller out of frustration, do NOT buy this game. If you have ever smashed a TV after getting made a game, do NOT buy this game. If you have ever taken a game disc outside, put it on the ground, and do a burnout on top of said disc with your motorcycle (I've seen it done!), do NOT buy this game. If the people around you are sensitive to loud outbursts, screaming, cussing, and maybe crying, do NOT buy this game.
This is a game that regardless of your gaming prowess will eventually and inevitably frustrate you to the extreme. Let me be absolutely clear on this, you WILL get angry at this game, probably a bunch if I'm honest.
When I first got the game on launch day, I brought it home, popped in my PS5, did the install and updates, and then set out on my grand adventure. I played for a couple of hours but had to turn it off after my throat started hurting from all the screaming. It took me a while to get the controls understood and easily recalled during action which caused me to die more than once. There is no real difficulty setting in the game which meant I was going head to head with enemies I had no business fighting right out of the gate, which caused me to die more than once. While there is a story to the game the game itself doesn't force you to go in any one direction allowing for a very free roaming experience, which caused me to die more than once due to the aforementioned reasons above.
To be frank, I was dying as much as I was adventuring. The game offered some tutorial/instruction components but for the most part it was trial and error, and I had mostly errors from the looks of it.
I put the game down for a couple of months while my son and nephew both played. They figured out how the weapons scale with different stats and how powerful status effects are in the game. After some education from them, I restarted my game with a new character and powered through the game. I ended up beating the game before either of them and I even farmed some nice weapons and explored the map pretty extensively along the way. My nephew has since surpassed me in the number of times he's beaten the game but at least I can say that I've beaten it.
I will say the graphics on the PS5 are phenomenal. The game is gorgeous and its a decent clipping range that allows you see a good distance across the massive world. The character models are very detailed and typically move with very fluid movements. The spell effects are good though I'm not a heavy magic user and can't explain really beyond the magic my enemies tried to use before I obliterated them.
The sound and music was on point. I like the music in Ghosts of Tsushima better but that was another epic game so it stands to reason it would have good music too. (BTW, if you haven't played Ghosts of Tsuhima yet...go buy it right now! Its that good.)
The world in this game is massive. There are layers to the world so that you above ground and underground maps. The legendary dungeons can take a while to fully explore and conquer. There is just so much to do in the world. So many places to find. So many places to see. So many places to unlock. You can spend a solid week just exploring the map pretty much. If you like large open world games where you're free to explore then this may be right up your alley. Just take caution because there are big bads everywhere that will kill you if you're not careful.
Questing in this game is "different". It almost feels reminiscent of old school RPGs and MMOs where there was no quest log or quest indicators on the map. You get quests to go find things, do things, talk to people, etc., but its really up to you to remember who sent you where to do what. If it wasn't for Google, I would have been up shit creek without a paddle on this game. I've never been good at remembering quest details like that. I came to kill, not to think.
Now, the lack of a quest log or map markers for quests isn't a knock on the game at all. In fact, that's part of the challenge of the game. The combat is challenging, sure, but if you were a real-life adventurer doing this you wouldn't a map that auto-updated telling you where to go. They don't have GPS in these games. Now, you might have a journal for recording this information in but that's again a manual process, not a auto-feature of the world. If I really wanted to remember what I needed to do, I'd have to write it down.
There did seem to be a fair bit of variety among the enemies. Sure, some models were used multiple times but some were given different abilities based on the environment you found them in. One magician might use normal magic attacks in the magic city but another might use more scarlet rot based spells in an area associated with scarlet rot. Essentially, the creatures would often inflict statuses and use spells consistent with their surroundings so as you moved through the map the creatures would "adapt" to their environment to give you variety.
The main bosses were challenging. Malenia, the boss that Let Me Solo Her was so well known for, was a real bitch to fight. Of all the bosses, she was the hardest for me to beat. It took me about 2 days of attempting that fight to beat her, mainly due to my character build being wrong for most of it. Speaking of which, the ability to respec your character and adjust your stats is AWESOME and without it I probably wouldn't have had the success I did in beating the game.
Speed runners have accomplished some amazing feats with this game but then again, you can complete the game with only having to "fight" a handful of the really powerful bosses. And many of them have "cheese" tactics that allow you to beat them without really having to fight them or risk you own safety that much. In other words, you can beat the game by leveraging exploits instead of actually playing the game. That's not really my style, though I did "cheese" Black Knife Tiche, and maybe at some point the developers will patch those gaps forcing players to fight more but until then feel free to "cheese" your way to the top.
After you beat the game, the option for repeat play throughs, New Game+, opens. Its the same game but you can do quests that you missed, complete quests using different options, find gear you missed, etc.. You get to keep you gear and your specs but pretty much everything else resets. For me and my nephew, the builds we had after beating the game the first time was still able to easy tear through things on the first NG+ play through. After a few times though my nephew did have to mix things up a bit to get his attacks strong enough again to blast through bosses. Each iteration through the game sees the bosses get more and more powerful so you have to keep improving too to keep up.
This can be a game that you play for an entire year just exploring, farming gear, maxing stats, etc.. If you are looking for a game to dedicate yourself to like some did Skyrim or others do Pokemon hunting for shinies and you can tolerate the extreme difficulty that comes with the game then this is definitely a game to get. If you are a casual gamer that's just looking for a few hours of stress-free fun, don't bother with this game. A few hours won't get you very far and stress-free isn't a concept this game understands AT ALL.
I won't say that I love this game but I did enjoy it. I liked the freedom to explore. I liked the cornucopia of weapons and armor I could collect. I liked the challenge of the game, once I understood the mechanics between equipment and stats better. I did not enjoy the lack of details in the Inventory. Armor pieces give you certain bonuses but when looking in the Inventory those bonuses are described. You have to know what does what from the Internet. Why the game doesn't tell you instead is a bit of a let down to me. Scarlet Rot is not well balanced. The class system seems pointless other than for starting stat bases. There were some things about the game that seemed unnecessarily complicated or just missing in a game that complex and big for me to love it.
It is not a game for the quick to anger or easily frustrated. It is a game that many people will probably play for a while and then need to take a break to calm down. Depending on your nature and your goals, this may be a game to get and play for a long time or it might be a game to watch clips from other people playing while knowing its not for you.