Ghost of Tsushima is an open-world adventure through ancient Japan. In many ways it’s a love letter to Samurai Kurosawa movies – the game is full of tense combat, exploration and secrets as well as bursting with colour and jaw-dropping vistas.
Ghost of Tsushima focuses on Jin Sakai and the invasion of the Mongols to feudal Japan in 1274. We’re introduced to Jin and his Uncle early on in the game on the beaches of Tsushima trying to fend off the vast Khotun Khan and his Mongol warriors. Jin nearly dies and his Uncle gets captured. As you progress through the game we keep returning to the central conflict within Jin – Do you approach with honour, or do you do what you have to do to survive and keep the people of Tsushima safe from harm.
In key moments in the game, we’re presented with flashbacks of Jin’s Uncle teaching him the honourable ways, but as you make your way through the game due to the sheer numbers and brutal nature of the Mongolian forces, Jin is forced to used underhand tactics. He’s not always proud. Khotun Khan meanwhile is keeping Jin’s uncle in a cell, goading him that he hears of Jin’s fall into the path without honour. It’s a pretty good set up and I appreciated the narrative, cutscenes and environmental storytelling.
The structure of the game is very good. If you want to mainline the story you can do it, and there’s no gating either which is always a bonus. There’s nothing more frustrating that going through a story-focused game only to reach a point where you have to stop, go and collect a bunch of things and come back hours later after some grinding. Here there’s none of that. There are 4 main story elements to engage in; you have the main quest, there’s side quests, Tales and then there are the mythic quests.
The side quests do a great job of fleshing out the excellent cast of characters including Yuna, who coins the phase of Jin being a Ghost after one intense battle where you have to take back a Forge. The mythic quests are nice too, as you learn ancient sword fighting techniques or moves and there’s some nice armour to find too. It has something for everyone – those who just want to see the main story and b-line the main campaign can do, but for completionists, there’s a richness in Ghost of Tsushima that’s there if you want to find it. The tales are multipart and delve into a character in much more detail.
Combat is fairly central to Ghost of Tsushima. Whether you’re battling down 5 or 6 guys with bows, swords and spears or you’re facing off against one opponent the combat feels very good and tense at times. When you approach a battle you have a couple of options – you can face them with honour like a Samurai, or you can sneak in like a Ghost. These options laid before you also weave through the narrative of the game and repeatedly ask you the moral question of what you want to do.
This isn’t a Sekiro or Dark Souls precision level of combat, but it does feel good and satisfying. The parry system implemented in the game is fairly forgiving, easing you in rather than punishing like some souls games. As you progress through the game you collect skill points and you can choose to spend them on sword fighting skills and tricks, which certainly make the game easier as your opponents increase in skill and numbers.
Throughout my playthrough, I never got tired of hitting the showdown button. This is an indicator on the screen when you’re approaching some enemies and you go into a standoff mode, where each man slowly walk in, eyes locked and then it’s the first person to blink. You have to keep an eye on the Triangle button and release at the right time, but after you’ve done this a few times the timing will be no problem at all.
This is a fantastic effort from developer Sucker Punch, who offered a couple of games this generation to bookend the PS4 and Xbox One era. Back in 2014, they released Infamous Second Son and they wouldn’t be back until the end of the generation with Ghost. I waited on this one and didn’t play it until I had my PS5, and I am glad I waited to see this in 60fs and upscaled graphics… it’s truly a thing of beauty.
The world in Ghost of Tsushima is a beautiful one and you realise this very early on when Jin is on his horse crossing the wind-swept fields, reaching down to grab the white leaves from the plants below. It’s a stunning opening. If you get the opportunity to play this game on the PS5 then I thoroughly recommend it. The colour of the environments pop out at every turn, whether it’s the purple flowers as you climb a mountain or the fields of red and brown leaves falling from the trees. The environment feels alive in the game and it’s constantly communicating with you through the wildlife, and especially the wind.
This is one of the nicest touches in the game. To navigate the word you can focus on a marker and then use the guiding winds to get to your destination. It’s a nice touch and one that makes the game feel like it’s literally breathing in and out with each just, gently directing you to where you need to go. There is also plenty to explore in the world of Tsushima. The island is made up of 3 parts, you start out at the bottom and work your way up through the chapters in the game. The island is big, and there’s plenty to do and also plenty to see. As well as Mongols to fight there’s the wildlife to contend with. This ranges from bears, Mongol attack dogs and also wild pigs too. There’s friendlier wildlife out there like birds and deer and friendly little foxes that lead you to shrines.
As with other open-world games, there’s plenty to collect, level up and secrets to find. Progressing through the game allows your ‘legend to grow’ throughout Tsushima, which in turn leads to new skills and stances. There’s the Water Stance, Wind Stance and Stone Stances (to name a few) all of which are effective against certain enemies. You can easily switch between the stances in battle, adapting to the environment and who is attacking you in a split second.
Together with the stances, you can learn legendary moves, which in effect are like special moves allowing you to strike a death blow, or attack multiple people in a short space of time. The quests for these are fun, and I’d recommend doing one or two because they’re going to help you out in battle and make it much easier as you get towards the end game.
There are merchants in the towns and forts you visit and you can upgrade your sword, outfit and also range weapons too. As well as your deadly Samurai Sword you also have an array of range weapons, including throwing knives and later on different grenades. These, however, are labelled as Ghost weapons… Your uncle would likely tell you off for fighting without honour, but when you have 7 guys coming at you, you have to do what it takes to kill them all otherwise it’s game over.
The game is already beautiful in its initial state, but there’s also the option to switch to ‘Kurosawa mode’ where the colour is drained to simply black and white and the audio is modified slightly. It’s definitely authentic, but I personally wouldn’t recommend this for too long as you’ll be missing out on some of the best colour and graphics of the last generation. It’s a nice touch in the game, and perhaps this would be good for a second playthrough or a short amount of time. However, with graphics this good then I’d recommend enjoying them in their original form.
Since its launch Sucker Punch has added a couple of modes. There’s Legends Mode and also a raid. Legends is a multiplayer expansion that features much more supernatural elements from Japanese legends. Players assume one of four available classes, and either take on the two-player story missions or four-player wave-based missions, although all missions can also be played solo. There is also a four-player raid, that takes place over three chapters.
It’s pretty incredible to get this level of support post-launch from what was seemingly a single-player adventure game. Sucker Punch has done a great job and rightly won many awards in 2020. If it wasn’t for Last of Us 2 then I am sure it would have taken much more Game of the Year awards. It’s an amazing first effort at this type of game from Sucker Punch, and the fact they added multiplayer AND a raid, it puts other companies to shame with this level of support.
It’s not all perfect in Ghost of Tsushima for sure. The lighting at times can be a little dark and off, the environments can feel a little samey and once you learn the patterns of the opponent’s things can get a little predictable in battle. Side quests are a little bland, although personally, I think this is saved by the strength of the main quest. The side quests feel a little bit like they were tacked on after and aren’t as rich as the main quest, but this is a mild complaint to an otherwise fantastic effort.
I waited to play Ghost of Tsushima, and I wish I had played it earlier. From the very first moments with the game, it blew me away with the stunning visuals and engaging gameplay. The story kept me playing and I was getting up a few hours early to sneak in more time with the game. It looks great on both PS4 and PS5, and if you’re a fan of single-player action-adventure games then I recommend you pick up Ghost of Tsushima and give it a try, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
Developer: Sucker Punch
Publisher: Sony Interactive
Platforms: PS4 and PS5
Release Date: 17th July 2020