Review – Ghost of Tsushima
Ghost of Tsushima has been one of the most anticipated titles for the WTMG staff ever since its announcement at the 2018 E3. Sucker Punch, mostly known for the Sly Cooper and Infamous series, took us all by surprise when they revealed they would be undertaking a massive open world RPG set in feudal Japan. An ambitious move to say the least and a huge departure from their normal works. To our delight, we discovered that Ghost of Tsushima is exactly what we were hoping for.
Set in Japan in 1274, a time in which the samurai were its legendary protectors, the island of Tsushima is thrown into chaos with the invasion of the Mongol Empire. You play as Jin Sakai, one of the last of the revered samurai after the onslaught of the Mongol forces nearly wipes them all out of existence. After being brought back from the brink of death, he embraces his legend as the Ghost of Tsushima.
Jin soon learns that in order to protect and avenge his homeland, he’ll need to utilize methods that are frowned upon by the traditional honor-bound samurai. One of the first things he learns is how to become one with the shadows and stealthily navigate enemy held outposts while assassinating targets one by one. Later he’ll unlock the ability to chain assassinate multiple enemies, which is a godsend in the more heavily occupied forts and villages.
He’ll also gain access to several different types of Ghost Weapons. Eventually, he’ll get a blowgun, which he can use to shoot poisoned darts at foes and even hallucinogenic darts that can make the target attack anyone near them, regardless of whether they’re a friend or foe. He’ll also acquire kunai which he can throw at enemies to damage and stun them, as well as learn to make various bombs. Needless to say, he has a lot of weapons at his disposal.
There are still more traditionally “honorable” ways to fight though. For example, Jin has the option to challenge enemies head-on in a standoff. This can even be a smarter way to approach small groups of Mongols and bandits, especially later in the game when you can kill several enemies in one confrontation. He’ll also pick up a longbow and half bow that he can use for ranged attacks, complete with varying sets of arrows for different occasions. With so many options available, it’s easy to tailor how you approach quests according to your personal playstyle.
No matter how you choose to approach a challenge, the combat is always fun. It doesn’t necessarily bring anything wholly original to the table, but instead takes some ideas from a few different games and blends them together brilliantly. Learning enemy attack patterns and fighting off groups feels similar to the combat in the Batman Arkham games, while the stealth has a bit of an Assassin’s Creed feel. You can even rely heavily on countering and parrying like in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. While we’ve seen these types of combat before, the way they’re implemented in Ghost of Tsushima feels like one coherent gameplay style.
Ghost of Tsushima does bring a new element to the table though, in the form of stances. Jin can unlock four unique stances that will aid him against specific types of enemies. The Stone Stance works best against foes with blades. The Water Stance is most effective against enemies with shields. The Wind Stance works well against spearmen, and the Moon Stance is the best to use against large brutes. Switching stances takes a little getting used to at first, but after a while it becomes second nature and adds to the fun of the gameplay.
I adore the progression system in here as well. Instead of gaining character buffs and increasing your stats like most RPGs, Ghost of Tsushima takes a different approach. Jin won’t actually get any stronger or faster, instead he’ll gain better defenses and deadlier attacks by upgrading his weapons and armor. He’ll also learn a wide variety of new moves along the way, as well as ways to make his stances, attacks, and counters more effective. It’s a much more realistic approach to leveling up and makes more sense as a whole.
While you might not able to make alterations to Jin’s physical stature, beyond gaining health increases from hot springs, you can still give him an edge in different situations. This is done by changing his armor. Along his travels, Jin will acquire multiple sets of armor, each with their own traits. His Sakai Clan armor gives him the best defense, the Ronin attire increases his stealth, Tadayori’s armor improves his ranged abilities, the Traveler’s outfit helps Jin detects secrets hidden around the island, and the Ghost armor boosts his stealth and increases the likelihood he’ll terrify enemies. There’s an outfit for every occasion and it’s important to swap them out accordingly.
Ghost of Tsushima has a few other unique mechanics that separate it from the myriad other open world games on the market. Instead of have a glowing trail for Jin to follow or a giant highlighted marker hovering over the world directing you where to go, here you’ll be guided by wind and animals. The wind serves as a gentle guide to lead you where your current active quest lies. It’s an organic yet effective way to help players stay on track without losing any of the immersion.
While I love just how steeped in realism Ghost of Tsushima is, I also appreciate that there are certain gameplay luxuries present. For example, once Jin visits a town or some other place of interest, he can then go to his map and fast travel there. He can also pick up items very quickly and doesn’t even need to dismount if he’s on horseback. Your horse will always appear from right behind you when you call it too. It seems like an unusual thing to praise, but after playing Red Dead Redemption 2, I’ve learned that there can be such a thing as too much realism in a game.
Along the way, Jin will meet many new people and most will want his help in one way or another. This is one of the areas that impressed me the most. In most open world games, you’ll have your main story missions and plenty of side missions. That’s still the case here, but unlike most other games where the sidequests are usually just the same few types of missions over and over, the sheer amount of diversity in the sidequests is impressive. It was very rare when I found a sidequest that was similar to one I’d already done.
Not only is there a lot of variations in the quests, but many of the characters have their own fully fleshed out story arcs. In fact, I found several of his companions to be just as interesting and relevant to the story as Jin himself. Not every person he meets will have some huge plotline, but even the more insignificant encounters still add to the richness of the world. The whole island feels genuinely lived in, which helps to create a level of authenticity not found very often in video games.
Then there are the Mythic Tales, which are an experience all their own. You’ll start these by finding musicians and listening to them tell a particular tale. The tales aren’t just told, but are also shown in the form of classic suibokuga (monochrome ink paintings). After hearing the tale, Jin will be informed of where to go next to continue the quest. Doing so will lead Jin to learning some special new move or a unique piece of armor, usually following some long treasure hunt or an epic showdown. These quests are some of the best outside of the main story and the character tales.
There’s more to discover even beyond the main missions, side tales, Mythic Tales, and random encounters as well. There are secrets hidden all over Tsushima. There are plenty of things for Jin to collect like banners, Mongol artifacts, vanity gear, and singing crickets. There are also shrines, haikus, hot springs, Pillars of Honor, hidden altars, Bamboo Strikes, and fox dens, all which yield different perks.
For example, hot springs will increase Jin’s health. Bamboo Strikes will grant him more Resolve (which is used to heal and use special combat moves). Foxes will lead Jin to Inari Shrines which will allow him to hold more stat boosting charms. Pillars of Honor will give him new sword kits which change the look of his blades. Nearly everywhere you look, there’s something waiting to be uncovered. Golden birds can be heard and spotted all across the island and following them will usually lead Jin to one of these secrets. A fun feature without a doubt, but one that can wreak havoc on finishing missions if you’re like me and are easily pulled away to explore.
Getting lost in Ghost of Tsushima is easy to do, especially because of just how gorgeous this entire game is. There wasn’t a single play session I had where I didn’t utter, “wow! I can’t believe how beautiful this game is!” at least once. The sheer amount of detail in the island is mind-blowing. From the brightly colored leaves in the Japanese Maples to the fluffy tops of the Pampas Grass, nearly everything is rendered stunningly and near photo-realistic.
The only areas that didn’t look quite as impressive were some of the facial animations of the less prominent characters. Even then they weren’t awful, just stiff and not always properly expressing the emotions they were trying to convey. The water was surprisingly underdeveloped in many areas too. Ponds and streams, didn’t look too bad, but lakes, the ocean, and waterfalls looked like something you might find on the PS2. It really sticks out like a sore thumb next to the splendor of everything else around it.
That being said, this is still one of the most striking games I’ve ever seen. Even the draw distance is incredible. Towns and foliage across the island look just as impressive as what’s in the foreground. I can’t tell you just how many pictures I took while playing, simply because of how jaw-droppingly exquisite this game looks.
The Photo Mode definitely didn’t help my overwhelming desire to photograph nearly everything in sight. I was excited about this feature from the first time I heard about it, but I wasn’t expecting it to be anywhere near as detailed as it is. You don’t just have the option of placing the camera where you want and toying with the color, although those are both a part of it.
This mode has even more customization options than a lot of phone cameras these days. You can alter the focus, the time of day, the weather, add various environmental particles like leaves and adjust their intensity, fiddle with the color grading, change the direction of the wind, and even add music, cinematic bars, or stamps. The list goes on and on.
It’s also impressive how fast the game reverts back to its original state once you’re done. It’s pretty much instantaneous. In fact, loading times overall are incredibly fast. For such a large game with so much detail, it’s truly a testament to how well optimized it is.
Playing with the Photo Mode isn’t the only way you can alter the look of the game either. There’s a Kurosawa Mode that changes the game to black and white, and even adds a bit of grainy textures so the game looks like you’re watching a Kurosawa film. It’s a totally original idea and one that further pays homage to Japanese culture that Ghost of Tsushima is heavily inspired from. It’s a blast to have this mode turned on when you know you’re about to have a duel, standoff, or take down a large faction of Mongols. However, given how gorgeous the game is I couldn’t keep the Kurosawa Mode turned on for very long as I didn’t want to miss out on the splendor of the game.
There is a Performance Mode for the PS4 Pro you can choose which caps the resolution at 1080p and locks it into 30fps. Honestly, I found this mode to be completely pointless. The framerate rarely drops below 30fps anyway on the Pro, so sacrificing the visual quality felt unnecessary. In fact, the only times I noticed a dip in the framerate was during a couple cutescenes, not even during combat against multiple enemies. I appreciate what they were trying to do, but it really did feel needless and I turned it off almost immediately.
I’ve heard complaints about the lip syncing not matching the Japanese voice acting, as it was animated to fit the English audio instead. While it is a bit distracting at first, especially if you want to hear the game in Japanese to get a more traditional feel, it didn’t really bother me after a little while. I was so busy reading the subtitles and gawking at the beautiful environments that I stopped paying attention to it altogether.
This leads me to my next topic: sound design. The entire sound design in Ghost of Tsushima is flawless. The voice acting is top notch all around. I switched back and forth from English to Japanese and the performances were solid throughout. The musical score is absolutely divine. It fluidly changes to perfectly fit the situation you’re in as well. Gazing out over a windy vista will feel serene with the accompaniment of flutes, while going into battle will bring about a dramatic thundering of drums. The whole game feels like you’re participating in a movie.
Ghost of Tsushima blew me away in every way possible. Not only is it one one of the most beautiful games I’ve ever played, but it’s probably the most immersive open world game I’ve ever experienced. This is a rare gem that is not only a piece of art, but also incredibly fun and satisfying to play. From the rich lore, to the complex characters, to the awe-inspiring beauty throughout, Ghost of Tsushima is a game you simply cannot miss.
With highly detailed environments, immaculate lighting effects, and an incredible draw distance, your jaw will drop at the awe-inspiring beauty this game has to offer. The photo mode is highly addicting.
Some of the most fun combat I’ve played in years. The moves feel natural, as does the progression system. Jin doesn’t get personalized stat buffs, but rather improves his armor and weapons, as well as learns new moves.
The voice acting is superb all around, in both the English and Japanese. The score is just as breathtaking as the scenery. The sound effects are well done and play an important role throughout the game, such as listening for the chirps of golden birds.
Fun Factor: 10
One of the most immersive open world games I’ve ever played. The missions are highly varied and even the side quests feel as important as the main ones. Toward the end, liberating the strongholds can feel a little repetitive, but that’s a small critique.
Final Verdict: 10
Ghost of Tsushima is available now on PS4.
Reviewed on PS4 Pro.