Ghost of Tsushima is the hotly anticipated title from Sony owned Sucker Punch Productions. This action adventure blends storytelling with exploration and dynamic combat, while it’s open-world . Set in the late 13th century, you are Jin Sakai, a Samurai defending the island of Tsushima from the brutal Mongol invasion.
The game starts of a war torn beach, as the Mongols have reached the island. Samurai warriors, lead by Lord Shimura (Jin’s uncle), attempt to defend the island but are swiftly and brutally decimated by the powerful Mongol army and their unrelenting form of warfare. As a last stint effort, Lord Shimura faces their leader Khotun Khan, but is taken hostage. Tsushima is now populated by Khotun’s amry, while villages are overtaking, farms pillaged, people are captured or killed, while life on the island and the way of the Samurai is now under threat. Left for dead, Jin is now tasked with saving his uncle, reuniting the people and defeating the Mongol forces. You will have to learn new skills, question your traditions and become the Ghost of Tsushima.
One major character in this whole game is the island of Tsushima itself. Like the Samurai sword you carry, the landscapes are finely crafted with a grand open-world to explore. From bamboo forests, pampas grasslands, farmsteads, local settlements, mountains and enemy camps, the world is littered with beauty.
The world has a dynamic time and weather system, which helps build atmosphere on your journey. Travel by horse or on foot across the island as the wind whistles through the trees, sun bleeds through the clouds and leaves cascade across the screen. It’s an interesting and stunning environment to be in and I found myself in awe when a new area would become available or one you may have stumbled upon on your journey.
Peppered in are a number of extra locations you can visit to help build out your abilities. Shrines give you charms that manipulate your defensive or offensive stats, fox dens allow you to increase your resolve (your focus bar that allows you to heal or you special moves) and hot springs increase your health. These and more can be found naturally, can be marked on the map by talking to inhabitants or even indicated by the local wildlife, as you are escorted to areas by birds or a wise fox. This natural style navigational integration stretches to the blowing wind, that points you in the direction of objectives.
Movement in the world is simple but effective. You can jump, climb and traverse across paths, bridges and rooftops Later in the game, you can even unlock a grapple hook, that allows you to swing and reach new heights. The climbing isn’t as fluid as the more recent Assassin’s Creed, but you can hoist yourself over low walls, up defined rock faces and certain buildings. It’s feels natural.
It wouldn’t be a Samurai game without the combat and it has plenty of it. From the beginning you have access to your Samurai sword and minor moveset. Strike, dodge and parry your way through encounters, as you will have to anticipate the oppositions moves and react accordingly. Enemy types are added throughout the campaign and they mix up the battles. Swift swordsmen are mixed in with shield bearing or heavy weapon brutes, as you juggle your combat abilities to maintain the upper hand.
Looked as a more honourabe way of fighting, you can face your opponents head-on in a standoff, a timed attack can devastate the enemy. Mistime it and you receive massive damage. As you progress through the story, you will unlock several stances for your Samurai, that are used to take on specific enemy classes. There are a number of times you will enter into a ‘DUEL’ with certain enemies. this is a tension filled 1 vs 1 fight to the death. You will have to dynamically duck, dodge and parry your opponent, in order to allow an ideal opening to attack. These are few and far between, but act like a boss battle of sorts and one of the harder forms of combat in the game
Ghost abilities are unlocked early in the game, which contrast your standard moves. These are more of a stealth and deadly moveset, with assassination, distraction and explosive projectiles used to subdue the enemy.
Each set of moves have a number upgrades, which can be picked by using skill points you earn. You can find abilities that suit your style of play and it never feels a grind to unlock new moves. You will also get access to additional weapons like bows, blow darts, smoke bombs and kunai (throwing knives). They help vary the combat encounters.
Along with your skills and weapons, you have a chance to customise your look with a large number of armor, hats, clothing and weapon skins. Not just a visual change, many of these cutomisations allow you to earn additional traits, that give you an advantage in combat, exploration or stealth. There are a number of additions that expand your arsenal, such as pouches or quiver. You can unlock these by finding items to create these at traders and armorers dotted around the map.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Ghost of Tsushima. A visually stunning looking game, that has plenty going for it. I was happy to explore the world and was often drawn to taking out enemy camps or completing additional objectives. The mainline story is nothing out of the ordinary, but is comparable and drives the game at a steady pace. The additional story arches and lore is very interesting and can benefit you with extra armor, weapons or skill points.
Combat is fluid throughout and never feels overwhelming. Although there is a knack to the parrying and attack options, you have a range of skills to get you out of a squeeze. I do however, wish there was more of an outcome for using Samurai or Ghost moves. At this time, using either moveset does not affect the storyline. But you do have a choice in what moves you want to use, so if you want to purely be a Samurai, you can progress throughout the whole campaign.
The additional game and visual modes add to the Japanese aesthetic. You can have English or Japanese voice acting along with a black 7 white filter mode, that emulates the classic Akira Kurosawa movies (aptly named Kurosawa mode). This makes it truly like playing one of his classic films like Seven Samurai or Yojimbo.
A shout out to the fantastic photo mode. With a simple click of the right d-pad, you are immediately dropped into the mode. You have a plethora of filters, particle effects, camera options and weather sliders. Thanks to the photographic nature of the subject matter, I found myself jumping in when I reached a new area, during a battle or just exploring the grasslands, as petals and fireflies filled the air.
Ghost of Tsushima is a well made title. Visually beautiful, with solid gameplay, the game never dragged or felt tiresome. It may be compared to some other titles, but while some comparisons to the likes of Assassin’s Creed are valid, Ghost of Tsushima does have its own flair and style. Well done to Sucker Punch on another great title.
It launches for PlayStation 4 on July 17th.
The Way Of The Warrior
From Samurai to Ghost, become the legend Tsushima needs to survive. With stunning visuals to solid combat, this adventure to Feudal Japan is both exhilarating and enjoyable throughout.