Sucker Punch (studio)
17 July 2020 (released)
28 August 2020
Ghost of Tsushima is a rather beautiful game about a rather ugly subject matter, war. Sucker Punch is a studio famed for creating massive open worlds that harbour energy, mayhem and pretty visuals. However, while entertaining, their recent games have been fairly shallow and lack depth. Yet Ghost of Tsushima is their most ambitious project to date and one that could be their magnum opus.
What’s Ghost of Tsushima about?
Set within a time of honour, war, and brutality, Ghost of Tsushima tells the story if Jinn, a proud and noble samurai who rides into battle with his brothers and uncle, only to be the last one standing against the Mongol armies, soon to overthrow the island of Tsushima. Jinn survives through the help of a local thief and together they plot their revenge on the Mongols. They do this by helping rescue other skilled individuals who will prepare Jinn for a series of encounters with powerful generals and the ultimate encounter with the leader of the Mongol army, the Great Grandson of Genghis Khan.
In terms of story, this is a classic tale that’s been reshaped and told through the media of gaming. We tend to see stories like this, but also not like it. The Akira Kaosowa era of samurai tales has never really seen its debut in gaming but many have tried to replicate it and sadly fail in many respects.
It’s not a massively complex story but one that’s heavily driven by character and done so fairly well. We have plenty of conflict on an emotional level, between characteristics and values, but also in terms of the bloody and awesome sword to sword combat. There’s plenty here to keep you invested throughout the epic journey, with some well-written characters, a world that breathing with life and a story/subject that really does sink it’s teeth into the core of your soul.
The first 10 minutes of the game will show you some horrific scenes, from a proud warrior being mercilessly burnt alive, to an army of samurai being slain in cold blood, to a local village being torn apart by invaders. It’s very tragic but also offers a great emotional connection between you, Jinn and the world.
It’s a bloody, dark and rather unsettling journey, but one that has magnificent rewards at the end. The only downside is that there’s an air of choice in the game and indeed there are different endings. Yet the ending you get is down to one choice. Not really by how you play but rather through one singular event, and the differences may not matter that much to most players.
But still a gripping story none the less.
Sucker Punch is pretty good at creating open worlds, but as mentioned their recent ventures have been missing something. Yet Ghost of Tsushima might be what they're destined to do. Rather than pushing random and rather tedious set pieces and side objectives, Sucker Punch has instead kept to the grounded nature of Ghost of Tsushima and focused their efforts to create a world that’s highly dynamic, with a rich and highly compelling design.
Exploration is purely natural, being led by the wind, the wild creatures of nature and the birds in the sky, makes for a sense of being one with the game world itself. There is of course a map and a marker, but no highlighted paths or mini-map to guide you. The best way to really experience Ghost of Tsushima is simply to let the world guide you, through visuals and it’s superb sound design. Exploration and discovery feel much more meaningful this way.
As for things to do, there are quite a few different side tasks that actually feel part of the world. Objectives such as writing Haikus that increase your focus, to chopping sticks of bamboo which increase your resolve. There are of course secrets to discover, random encounters, side missions that differ in scale, length and reward and also of course, finding fox dens. This is probably the most wholesome thing in gaming, allowing a fox to guide you to a shrine and help you increase your power. Afterward, you can pet it.
There was nothing here inside the world that felt out of place and most of it was rewarding and great to play. Smaller side tasks such as climbing dangerous mountains to obtain charms or simply having a showdown between yourself and a group of wondering Mongols are highly energetic and dripping with awe. Some of the larger quests do get a little tedious as they usually offer the same structure or conclusion, never breaking away and offering something truly amazing. As this is fairly grounded, the developers won’t be able to add in ghosts or monsters, which I understand and respect.
Thankfully there are some moments of sheer awesomeness, with duels! These are epic one to one battles at the end of many legendary side quests. All of them are great, brutal, and make you feel like a true samurai.
Combat and other gameplay
Okay so now the main bulk of the game, combat, and other bits.
The combat is sublime and puts many others to shame. Combat, while it looks intimidating to learn can be mastered in a short amount of time. Learning all aspects of combat is handled well and paced in an effective manner. Everything including the different combat stances and advanced moves will become second nature while playing.
Swordplay is broken down to basic moves, combat stances, and advanced moves. You can swing your sword in different poses, meaning you can gain an advantage over shield enemies, enemies wielding duel weapons, speared, and faster enemies. It’s all about knowing your enemy and being able to switch stances if and when. You can of course dodge, parry, and perform advanced moves if you’re feeling brave enough to perform them. But it’s good to remember when you can and when you should take a step back and maybe consider a different approach.
Combat can be brutal at first, but after a couple of hours, you will grasp it and be able to adapt or even master certain stances and tactics. While stances and sword to sword combat is a large chunk of the action, you can also use gear such as smoke bombs, throwing knives, black powder bombs, and more to help you gain an upper hand in a difficult fight. Or simply do things with stealth and cunning, as much as possible. Or, try and not engage a fight if you’re not prepared.
Aside from sword fighting, you’ll be doing a lot of sneaking and stealthy assassinations as you free prisoners and liberate slave camps and fortresses in order to bring down the Mongol empire. You will be doing this with or without others, meaning a variation of mission structures even if the goals are usually the same. You will find that there is a bit of repetition in regards to the main missions and for the first 12 – 15 hours, it’s just a case of building yourself up before moving on to the real meat of the game. Once you get to the second section of the island, the story and missions do evolve as your skills as a master samurai trying shine.
I would’ve loved to see more variation in missions and more epic set pieces between the beginning and end. But what there is, its totally amazing. The end battles alone are worth checking out this game and events such as duels and banding together with groups such as the Straw Hats make for some truly entertaining encounters.
Ghost of Tsushima ran perfectly well on a PS4 Pro and even a basic PS4 model with no problems at all. Quick loading screens and a steady framerate throughout made this a smooth and wholesome experience.
Ghost of Tsushima is definitely the PS4 game we’ve been waiting for and quite frankly one of the most compelling open-world adventure games this generation. With its beautiful world, immense and brutal combat and compelling story, you will grip you throughout a 40 – 50-hour journey. We highly recommend picking this up and if there’s a PS5 upgrade coming later this year or next, it would only make this game even more epic!
++ Beautiful and compelling world
++ Immense and tight combat
+ Great story
+ Organic sense of exploration
- Could have been more dynamic in storytelling
- Some repetitive side missions and main missions