As we’re nearing the end of the current console generation, Sony’s plan must have been to end it with a bang. Throughout its lifecycle, PlayStation delivered exceptional gameplay experiences. With all these great games at the end of the generation, it’s easy to forget we’ve also been treated with amazing games at the start. Remember Infamous: Second Son? Well, developer Sucker Punch is now coming full circle, with Ghost of Tsushima releasing this Friday. Will this open-world samurai adventure manage to elevate the console to even greater heights?
As a high-profile release, I was aware Ghost of Tsushima was coming this fall. But for some reason, the game didn’t manage to grab my attention. Admittedly, I was more interested in that other high-profile release, The Last of Us Part 2. But when invited to review Ghost of Tsushima, I figured I couldn’t be more neutral in approaching this game. And so, my katana-wielding adventure started.
The way of the samurai
Ghost of Tsushima is set in the late 13th century on the Tsushima island. The game revolves around the first Mongol invasion of the island. As one of the island’s last samurai, it befalls on you, Jin Sakai, to defend it from being conquered. However, the Mongol army is utilizing weapons and tactics unknown to the samurai and both Jing and his uncle are easily defeated. While Jin is thrown off a bridge into the water, his uncle is taken captive. When Jin recovers his consciousness, his world is shattered. The Mongols are terrorizing the land and leave a path of destruction as they go. Jin makes it his mission to save his uncle from captivity and prevent the Mongols from launching a full invasion of the mainland.
While trained as a samurai – honorable men that defend the people while treating their enemies with dignity and respect – Jin quickly learns he needs to resort to more unconventional methods to defeat his enemy. Operating from the shadows, assassinating, and using fear as a weapon is not the way of the samurai. As a result, the Mongols start referring to Jin as “The Ghost”. The player is always free to decide how to approach battles: as an honorable samurai or a vengeful assassin operating from the shadows? Will you reverse tactics when things go awry? Or will you stand ground and honor the samurai code? Whatever you decide to do, each combat encounter and milestones in Jin’s quest add to his reputation as “The Ghost”. While building your legend, you’ll unlock skill points that allow you to unlock new skills, tools, and combat tactics.
A rewarding experience
The island of Tsushima is filled to the brim with activities with side-missions and rare collectibles. More often than not, completing these additional tasks grants Jin new vanity items or ‘charms’. Making their pursuit a rewarding experience. Each of Jin’s outfits and items has unique traits and colors, allowing the player to customize Jin to fit his taste and playstyle. Enabling charms in your loadout gives you an edge in combat. Like increased health or more time to execute a parry.
There’s always something to do on the beautiful island of Tsushima, that never feels like a drag. You’ll come across foxes and birds leading you to secrets, opportunities to write a Haiku, springs to bath in and gain health, and shrines to pay respects too. There’s also a bamboo-cutting mini-game which, upon completion, will reward you with “resolve”. Resolve allows Jin to heal or to execute special moves. Resolve is gained by executing parries or by defeating enemies with your katana. Sword fighting is probably the game’s strongest suit. What else did you expect from a game about samurai?
The Dance of Death
There is a large variety of enemies, each requiring you to change tactics in order to defeat them. In the game’s early moments, fights are more like duels. But, as soon as the number of enemies on the screen increase, combat becomes a ‘dance of death’. The game wittingly trains you in changing tactics in the middle of a fight and before you know it, you’ll be slicing and dicing through enemies like a real samurai. But just like a dance, one unfortunate misstep could mean you’re dancing out of pace for the remainder of the fight.
My dancing shoes were a little tight though. I was often annoyed by the game’s camera, which is zoomed in a bit too much on the player. This often led to moments in which I wasn’t able to see enemies around me or take note of archers in the back. Fortunately, it doesn’t really frustrate, but it does break immersion and the overall flow of combat. Immersion is also broken by the game’s incredibly weak facial expressions. Its omission is strange considering Infamous: Second Son, Sucker Punch’s previous game, did have stellar facial expressions. With that being said, the game is beautiful to look at. Its graphics might not be ground-breaking but its high-contrast color scheme and diversity are. It all adds to the already excellent feudal Japanese atmosphere. Even the game’s menus and title screens are elegantly crafted. If you’d like to take your experience up a notch, know that you can enable the Japanese voice-overs before the game starts. Additionally, at any point and time in the game, you’re free to enable a “Samurai Cinema” mode. A windy, black and white, film-grained out mode that is meant to resemble the effects seen in samurai cinema.
Interested to see how it works in-game? Check out this – spoiler-free – video that I’ve started right before an amazing sword fight.
A worthy contender
Depending on how many side-quests you decide to tackle, the first act of the game’s story can be completed in about 10 to 15 hours. Upon completion, the island’s upper region is unlocked and you’ll realize; this game is big. It almost feels as if your samurai training is complete and you’re now being set on the loose. The game doesn’t make use of a compass of mini-map to guide you. Instead, with swipe-up on the touchbar, a breeze of wind will guide you in the direction of your goal. Whether that may be your next Mythic Tale or collectible is up to you.
Sucker Punch’s Ghost of Tsushima is an elegant open-world adventure game that will be a worthy contender in the genre dominated by Assassin’s Creed and The Witcher. The game is an incredible homage to feudal Japan and samurai cinema that manages to do so much right, it’s easy to forgive its few flaws.