Despite ogling at every trailer and screenshot before the release of Ghost of Tsushima, there was still a little part of me that didn’t know if this game would resonate because of Sucker Punch’s past. The Infamous series is the main culprit of my worries because, while those games did great critically, each one failed to capture my attention for long due to their repetitive missions and dull world/characters. Thankfully, Ghost of Tsushima tackles the latter of these issues while the other still lingers, but it’s overshadowed by some incredible decisions made for exploration to make this one of my favourite open-world games this generation.
Set in 1274, Ghost of Tsushima opens with the Mongolian invasion on the Japanese island of Tsushima as Lord Shimura, his nephew Jin Sakai (the protagonist) and the rest of the samurai prepare to defend their home. The battle quickly takes a turn for the worst as the Mongolians almost completely wipe out the samurais leaving only a wounded Jin Sakai on the beach. On the brink of death, you get carried away by a thief named Yuna who tends to your wounds and reveals that the Mongols have taken over Tsushima and Lord Shimura has been captured by the Mongolian leader, Khotun Khan. Upon discovering this news, you immediately set out to challenge Khotun Khan only to discover that the Mongolian army is far too large to take on as an honorable samurai and you must find another way, you must become; The Ghost.
The story that follows is – to my surprise – a gripping, emotional and heartbreaking tale of revenge that is full of incredible reveals and moments that keep you wanting to go from mission to mission to see what happens next. Khotun Khan is a menacing antagonist and watching Jin struggle on this new path, as it completely differs from everything he was taught as a samurai, is captivating and is portrayed superbly by Daisuke Tsuji. The supporting cast is also fantastic and helps with the push and pull of Jin’s struggles while also providing some moving side missions for their own character development. There are few minor hiccups such as pacing due to the open-world, and the final encounter with Khan falls a little flat, but it was worth the journey by time the credits rolled.
There is no question that the swordplay in Ghost of Tsushima is fun and fulfilling, especially towards the latter half when you have more skills at your disposal. Combat is largely about dodging, parrying and breaking the enemy’s stance so you can begin slashing at them, which can be done with the four fighting stances you unlock as you progress. In an encounter, there could be numerous enemies with different weapons such as a spear, dual blades, sword and shield or heavy weapon, and the four stances essentially make it easier to break the stance of the enemy type it counters. Alternatively, you can stealth through these enemies by unlocking skills that pertain to The Ghost such as smoke bombs and kunai but if you’re like me, you may ignore those skills, and The Ghost, completely.
A huge reason for that is because of the stand-off mode that can be triggered before an enemy notices you. Once you activate the stand-off, you will call out any enemies in the area for a badass duel as the enemy and yourself stand face-to-face, hand on blade, ready to strike at any moment. It’s immensely satisfying when you win, but could be detrimental when you lose since it takes away almost all your health. Before the updated ‘lethal’ difficulty was added, this used to be the most challenging part of the game, which was personally an issue at the time but the new difficulty overall helped fix several problems with how trouble-free many of the battles were even on hard. There are easier options for those who want it, but this game was giving me Sekiro vibes with the combat so, personally, I wanted it to scratch that difficulty itch as well and hard wasn’t doing it.
There are numerous things in Ghost of Tsushima that helped elevate this feeling of being overpowered such as charms, resolve and just stronger abilities you can get that help you swiftly cut through your enemies. Charms increase your stats like health, damage and gaining more resolve per action. Resolve is used to heal when needed and use the stronger abilities previously mentioned. It can be gained by attacking, parrying, breaking the stance of enemies or by taking them out silently. Once the lethal difficulty released, I saw myself engaging with these elements more as I began to change my charms for certain fights or actually needing to use some of the awesome resolve moves to get out of tight situations.
As mentioned previously, the open-world can affect the pacing of the story simply because of the sheer number of things there are to do on the island of Tsushima. Mongol camps, duels, bamboo strikes, Shinto shrines, hot springs, fox shrines and writing haikus are completely scattered on every part of Tsushima, and are sectioned off by three regions which you unlock as you progress in the three-act story. Each activity strengthens you in numerous ways, whether it be for experience to level and get skill points with camps and duels, earning more resolve with bamboo strikes or unlocking more charms with the fox shrines.
It should not be understated how much there is to do in this game, but despite it being the same tasks repeated, this island is simply too gorgeous to care. Each of these can be discovered naturally by exploring the world, such as following a bird that might get your attention or can be tracked with the guided wind, one of the most unique ways to implement a guide to help you on your journey. In Ghost of Tsushima, the actual wind in the game is what leads you towards any objective you have marked and it adds to the absolute joy of exploring this island while adding to the incredible visuals.
This might be the first time that two games release so close together that clearly showcase the difference between best graphics (The Last of Us Part II) and best art direction (Ghost of Tsushima). It’s safe to say that Ghost of Tsushima is visually the most beautiful game I’ve ever played. The entire island of Tsushima is utterly breathtaking in HDR on PlayStation 4 Pro with its highly saturated foliage and flowers that just pop on screen. It feels like a painting in constant motion and the way the camera puts you at the very left of the screen while riding your horse is an excellent choice as it shows off the amazing work done by Sucker Punch. It should be mentioned that Ghost of Tsushima can be played entirely in Japanese, as well as in “Kurosawa mode” which is also Japanese but with a black and white filter that pays homage to classic Japanese samurai films. While it’s a great option to have, it’s a bummer that the lips only move to the English voiceover making the Japanese ones look like a poorly done dub.
To help showcase the visuals, there is a brilliant photo mode with a vast amount of options that can be used at any time which I absolutely took advantage of. It should also be praised how well this game runs, staying at 30FPS for the vast majority of the time where usually in water there would be a slight dip. The load times in Ghost of Tsushima are also unbelievably fast for a PS4 game as it loads in mere seconds after you fast travel or fall in battle. It truly is a preview of next-gen in terms of how fast games will load on the new SSD and it’s shocking how Sucker Punch managed to do that on the current generation.
Ghost of Tsushima (Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro)
Excellent. Look out for this one.
Ghost of Tsushima is one of the best open-world games this generation with a thrilling tale of revenge, great characters, satisfying swordplay and a stunning world that’s chock-full of things to do making it so easy to get lost in this game for hours at a time.