Review – Ghost of Tsushima
Studio: Sucker Punch Productions
Genre: Third Person Action
Platforms: Playstation 4
Release: July 17 2020
Released in summer 2020, Ghost of Tsushima is a Playstation 4 exclusive from Sony’s first party Sucker Punch Productions studio. It is a third-person open world game set in 13th century Japan. Playing as a samurai named Jin Sakai, the game sees you fighting to free your home island of Tsushima from Mongol invaders. The gameplay, on the surface, is standard third party action. Closer to earlier Assassin’s Creed games, than Uncharted or The Last of Us. Ghost of Tsushima also gives the player the freedom of choice to play the game as a straightforward action game or a stealth game.
From a story perspective, Ghost of Tsushima balances the complexity of a rich world with a basic story that’s easy to follow. The main campaign is just about clearing out the Mongols and their big bad, saving your uncle along the way. There’s plenty of homages and inspiration from classic Japanese cinema that make the game feel familiar. The writers throw in some spicy story beats along the way, but in general the plot is pretty straight forward. The depth is really added in the game’s side quests. Whether they be stories for ally characters or just simple side quests in the Tales of Tsushima, these missions stand out.
The quests as a whole are more elevated than standard fetch and escort quests. The writers make almost all the quests feel like they have meaning. Either in supporting allies who stay with you throughout the game, or advancing your campaign against the Mongols, whilst playing through the game it always felt like the quests were helping you build towards something. Furthermore, Sucker Punch avoid overwhelming your map in the style of The Witcher 3. Some ally missions felt more engaging than others, depending on which allies you liked more. I was really into hunting down the wayward archer, or helping a fallen samurai house get vengeance. Meanwhile, my cousin’s experience leaned more towards the monk who was on his own quest against the Mongols.
More important than the surface level writing, though, is the world and the island of Tsushima itself. The game is stunningly gorgeous, encompassing a diverse variety of terrain and vistas. It offers a lot of off the path story beats and things to discover. The island is Jin’s home, and a character in itself. At times it is a peaceful, gorgeous Japanese island and at other times it’s a warzone being ravaged by foreign invaders. By the end of the game I felt attached to the island and invested in its future. You get to choose audio settings for your game too and there’s something special added to the experience if you choose to exist on this island with Japanese audio and English subtitles.
If you’ve played more recent Sucker Punch Productions games in the Infamous franchise, you might expect a morality system in the game. The game is actually kind of set up for it early on, with the dichotomy between stealth Ghost gameplay and more “honorable” samurai gameplay being a story beat. The game literally had me questioning if it was something that was coming up as they made me feel dishonorable for taking advantage of the stealth gameplay. It feels as if they may have dabbled with it early on, then pulled it to just focus on the story. This ends up being a positive, as the story is beautiful, but selfishly the idea of a branching story is appealing if only as an excuse for more time in this fantastic game.
What really surprised me when playing Ghost Of Tsushima for review, was how big the world and story were. The map is always fogged over until you explore it, so it’s hard to know from the start how much there really is to do. Whether I missed some early clues or just didn’t follow news of the game closely enough, I found myself genuinely shocked about 20 hours when I “finished” the island only to realise it was the first of three sections on the island. I had thought the first act was the whole game, and the first third of the island was the whole island. Pleasantly surprising, for such a beautiful and engaging game.
You can’t talk about the gameplay of this game though without discussing the samurai gameplay. The game sports a handful of different sword stances, as well as secondary weapons to aid you in your mission. The swordplay is fluid and satisfying. To that point, the samurai showdowns, – both mandatory and optional, – are beautiful and brutal. The animations leading up to the duels get a little redundant by hour 40. That said, you still have to admire how good it feels in game. There are multiple difficulties to choose from, with the standard difficulty being more standard video game. The harder difficulty goes for more realism in how many slices from a sword a human being can truly withstand.
Ghost of Tsushima is a jewel in the crown of Sony’s first party. It’s a reason to own a PS4 and a sequel will be a system seller for PS5. It belongs in the conversation with God of War, Horizon, Spider-Man, & Uncharted. It’s the samurai game so many of us have wanted for years, while also scratching that stealth itch. I hope the folks at Ubisoft played this game, because Ghost is a better Assassin’s Creed game than any of the actual AC games that have been released in a long time. Sakai’s journey to becoming the Ghost is tragic and exciting, and I won’t soon forget the character. I’m not sure how the game will continue, after that ending. Regardless, I can’t imagine Sony will leave this game without a sequel in the coming years.
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