Somehow, Ghost of Tsushima went from a game that I really liked, to one that I absolutely loved. Open-world titles can generally drag on for one reason or another, see Assassins Creed Odyssey for level-gating specifically, but Ghost finds a way to keep the player engaged by having one of the most visual-interesting worlds seen this generation. Couple this with an evolving combat system, solid narrative, some meaningful side missions, an addictive photo mode, and you have Ghost of Tsushima.
Like most open-world titles, the beginning of Ghost of Tsushima can be pretty standard in regards to mission structure. You’ll learn about the central conflict, the basics of combat, customization, progression, navigation, and how to utilize some of the different tools at your disposal. There are three acts in all, each set in a specific region and as you complete each act, a region will open. Seems fairly standard, but the game streamlines a number of features found in open-world titles to ensure that players are continuously progressing in a meaningful way, which allows you to forgive some of Ghost of Tsushima’s shortcomings. It’s pacing ends up being fantastic.
You assume the role of Jin Sakai, an admirable samurai who barely survived the initial Mongol invasion of Tsushima. Players are immediately thrown into the fray and will follow Jin in his journey from noble samurai to the titular Ghost. The narrative itself is solid but familiar, there are some nice twists and some decidedly grim moments, but this is a tale that has been told before. Luckily, Jin is an interesting protagonist and his inner conflict adds a layer of intimacy to the various interactions with the other characters on Tsushima. Secondary characters are all well written, its just a shame however, that the main antagonist is not given more screen time as Khotal Khan is an imposing force. Every time he appears, business has picked up and things are about to get evil. Overall, its a solid effort, even though it feels like the narrative is second to the world surrounding the player.
Most open-world titles tend to struggle balancing the players want for exploration by strictly locking them into a mission or an objective. In Ghost, you can pause side missions if you happen to get distracted by something in the open world and resume them whenever you are ready. This may be something small, but it is immediately noticeable and greatly appreciated because you are not penalized for it. Once players discover a location in the world, you’re able to fast-travel to it, and while fast travel is in practically every open-world title, you’re usually restricted to a town or an outpost. Here, its anything you discover which can drastically cut down the distance you have to travel which makes navigation so much easier.
It is evident from the beginning that Sucker Punch wants you to explore the island of Tsushima in its entirety. Each region features multiple biomes and their own distinct visual style that makes it incredibly satisfying to just roam around. There are going to be moments where you may stop and be in awe of the environment, which is something that somehow never gets old, regardless of the amount of time you spend in the world. It should be mentioned that the draw distance is insane, if you happen to discover a shrine, do yourself a favor and take a look around, you’ll be able to see just how different each region is in regards to their design. The wind, which also acts as your guide, blows the surrounding fauna around convincingly, further adding to the visual splendor.
Exploration in Tsushima is rewarding. There are hot springs, which increase your health, shrines that grant you special charms to aid you in combat, fox dens to boost your stats, and other secrets that will benefit the player. Shrines are my favorite locations to discover as they act platforming puzzles that are really fun to navigate. Golden birds will appear frequently throughout the game to guide you to important areas, which can include the aforementioned locations and citizens that can provide side quests. You don’t have follow the birds when they appear, but you never know, they may end up guiding you to something that isn’t clearly marked on the map.
While exploration is front and center, I will say that the combat is incredibly satisfying. Jin is very capable when it comes to dispatching enemies, he has four different sword styles and a number of effective tools that can be used in either direct confrontation or in stealth. The sword styles are unique to the different enemy types and switching between them is simple. If you’re feeling confrontational, you can call out enemies and engage in a stand-off in which you can fatally strike enemies in succession to help gain resolve, which helps fuel certain abilities and is your primary method of healing. Stand-offs are always entertaining because when done properly, you feel like a complete bad ass.
Being able to seamlessly switch between stealth and direct combat makes practically every encounter fun. Direct combat relies on parrying to open up enemies so that you can deal as much damage as possible. The parry system is forgiving but doesn’t feel as refined as other titles, enemies do a significant amount of damage if you do not land a parry or dodge at the right moment. But once you get into the flow of combat, it gets a lot easier. There will be moments where you will have to engage in one on one duels and besides being set in some epic places, these are always fun. It’s unfortunate that you can utilize certain combat techniques because it can trivialize these duels later in the game.
Stealth, on the other hand, is fun, but really easy. The tools that you’re given as you progress make it fun to experiment, with the downside being it also exposes just how dumb the AI can be. While that sounds like a knock, it’s actually quite the opposite. Playing stealthily allows the player to see just how effective your abilities are, these tools are meant to overwhelm and frighten enemies, which makes you feel like you’re becoming the Ghost. Watching enemies panic in the middle of combat is really satisfying and should be included in every action title. If I am meant to feel incredibly powerful, there is no reason why enemies should be sprinting at my character full speed knowing what fate awaits them.
Now, before I talk about photo mode, which is included in practically every major title this generation, I am going to lightly discuss the best missions in the game, which happen to be the mythic tales. These can be found throughout the world by saving citizens or finding musicians who will relay the tale of these quests to Jin. Mythic Tales, in short, are phenomenal. They are multi-layered and reward the player with rare gear and epic abilities. Every one of them is well-written and just hearing them makes you want to sprint out in the distance to complete them. I implore you to engage in these as they come along, you will not regret it.
In regards to photo mode, as stated above, this is usually not considered a feature in other titles but for Ghost of Tsushima…it is and it’s fantastic. There are a plethora of options to help you create the best picture or set piece possible and because the island of Tsushima is so diverse, the possibilities are endless. The game is lengthy by itself, but photo mode will add a number of hours simply due to all of the opportunities that present itself by exploring the island. On social media right now, there are accounts dedicated to Ghost of Tsushima photography and I’m all for it. It’s insane that practically everyone can agree that the gorgeous environments make you want to stop and capture the moment.
As with all titles, Ghost of Tsushima is flawed. There are a number of technical hiccups, the game isn’t very challenging, there are some uninteresting side missions, and the in-game events can be repetitive. But those gripes feel small and do nothing to weigh this game down. Almost every open-world title can be accused of those issues, but what separates Ghost of Tsushima from others is its player-friendly design. Sucker Punch saw that the formula didn’t need to be reinvented, it just needed tweaks to help navigate and minimize player frustration. This went a long way in ensuring that the pace remained consistent, while allowing the player to freely explore a beautifully crafted world. It’s really easy to fall in love with this game. Sony should be commended as they have done an amazing job closing out this console life cycle. With Nioh 2, Final Fantasy VII Remake, Persona 5 Royal, The Last of Us Part II, and now Ghost of Tsushima, its clear that Sony wanted to leave a strong impression moving on to the next generation.