Ghost of Tsushima is a game that brilliantly adopts the “open world” formula and gets every aspect right. Aside from being a graphical masterpiece, the game is rich in culture that radiates through the world’s design and narrative. It boasts a proud and epic tale of honor and war, with an excellent cast of characters that bring life to the story. The writing is also beautiful, and at times, poetic. Despite feeling like it is written with raw, naive emotion, never does the dialogue feel campy or pretentious. Before proceeding further, allow me to clarify that this Ghost of Tsushima review is spoiler-free. Therefore, it will not dig deep into detail of all the features and mechanics, as some are unlocked as you progress the main plot.
Character development is a prevalent theme, as there are side arcs you can play through in addition to the main story. There is almost a ridiculous amount of attention to detail in the game; the tall grass ripples to the direction of the wind, blood splatter patterns follow the momentum of the blade, footprints are embedded on muddy terrains, weather changes to certain actions as a metaphor, and so much more. Every aspect of the game, down to the smallest detail, practically screams epic.
Ghost of Tsushima Review: An Epic Tale of War, Honor, and Loss
The main theme of the game is a samurai’s honor, and how he must uphold it throughout the tragedy of war. The game starts off with Jin Sakai, alongside 79 other samurai, on Komoda Beach, defending against a mongol invasion. Following defeat at the hands of the mongols, all the samurai are wiped out except for two; Jin’s uncle Lord Shimura, who is brutally wounded and captured by mongul leader Khotun Khan, and Jin Sakai, who is severely injured and rescued by a thief named Maya. After freeing a village from mongol control, you set off on a grand journey to rescue your uncle and drive out the invaders.
The story consists of three main Acts; the first Act being to rescue Lord Shimura. Each Act lasts around 15-20 hours, and with every new Act a new sector of the map becomes available for exploration. Each sector is just different enough from the previous, keeping the player fed with fresh, lovely visuals and new landmarks to discover.
Brandish your Sword as The Ghost of Tsushima
Gameplay in Ghost of Tsushima feels very cinematic. The HUD is astoundingly minimal, and it’s not a problem at all. The Island of Tsushima communicates with the player seamlessly to guide them to the next objective. The “Guiding Wind” is a feature that shoots a gust of pale but noticeable streaks to guide Jin to points of interests. Whether it be hot springs to rejuvenate health, or to a secluded Inari shrine to get hold of charms, the guiding wind does an excellent job of pointing Jin to the right direction.
It’s worth mentioning that the environments are gorgeously rendered with meticulous attention to detail. “Ghost of Tsushima” is rich in culture, and it becomes apparent in its open world and its storytelling. These two elements compliment each other beautifully and give the player a strong sense of immersion. Despite lacking a true HUD, it’s fairly easy to navigate the Island thanks to the Guiding Wind. That is not the only navigational feature, however. Throughout the game, wildlife critters also guide Jin to discover secrets the Island has hidden for him. They are always worth following, and will often grant Jin appreciated buffs.
No Action is Pointless
As aforementioned, there will be plenty of wildlife critters and opportunities to distract Jin from progressing the main plot. None of these “distractions” are pointless. Whether it be liberating villages to farm skill points, or tracking down the audio cues of musical crickets to learn new flute melodies, there will always be a payoff to going out of your way.
Additionally, the developers absolutely litter the open world with various resources for you to collect. You can upgrade and customize your weapons and armor by visiting the various types of merchants. Instead of trading gold, they offer their services for free given Jin has enough supplies. Given the sheer volume of the world and just how often you encounter resources, it’s a wise developer choice to simplify looting by just pressing “R2” as it enables the player to preserve any established momentum.
Combat: Honor the Code, or Terrorize your Enemies?
In Ghost of Tsushima, you can play as a noble Samurai or as the dishonorable Ghost. The Samurai faces opponents head on, whereas the Ghost assassinates enemies from the shadows. As a samurai, Jin practices four stances, with each having their own advantage against specific enemies. As “The Ghost”, Jin has access to a variety of “dirty tricks” and tools that he can use to debilitate the various sorts of enemies he will encounter.
In open world exploration, you are free to switch between the two. Combat in the open world gives you access to both the Samurai’s strikes and Ghost’s tools, but you’re free to adopt any playstyle.
Combat in areas with a lot of structures can be a bit jarring. The camera does seem to struggle to keep up with all the action, and it can be frustrating at times. However, it’s nothing game-breaking.
There will be certain story points, however, where you will engage in “duels” as a samurai, and lose access to your throwable weapons. In these one-on-one “duels”, you’re usually in a fair fight, and your parry and dodge timing will be tested. Duels are usually held for unlocking optional “Mythic” skills such as the “Heavenly Strike”, or facing a key figure in a major plot point.
Contrarily, there are also missions where you are forced to sneak around as the Ghost. In missions like these, you’re not allowed to capture the attention of the enemy. Therefore, your assassinations must be swift and elegant. Using a plethora of tools, beckon your enemy or distract them for a quick kill. Engaging enemies with your conventional sword will cause noise, subsequently failing the mission.
Always have something to do…
The game is rich in offering players a sense of progression. Going out of your way to liberate villages may earn you rumors that reveal secret points of interest on the map. You could also visit villages that stray from your path to do “mini-game” activities. As aforementioned, everything is worth doing. In this screenshot, Jin demonstrates his bamboo strikes in a small, secluded village, earning himself “resolve” points.
Aside from the skill trees you’re presented with from the get-go, there’s always more hidden skills, contraptions, and weapons you can unlock by exploring different side quests. Even after 40 hours into the game, new combat tools and mechanics are introduced become available to Jin’s arsenal. Even the main story will surprise you with more mechanics as you soldier on.
An Engaging, Immersive Experience
Ghost of Tsushima’s story has a very direct plot of driving out the mongol invasion. There are little to no plot-twists in between. Despite this, the story of rallying allies in the fight against Khotun Khan is an epic, to-the-point tale that keeps the player engaged when they want to be. Sucker Punch masterfully controls the momentum of the story-telling to keep the player engaged.
It gives players optional room to breathe for world exploration or taking up side quests. In the beginning, you recruit Sensei Ishikawa and Lady Adachi, but over time, this roster grows as you progress the main story. Outside of the main plot, these characters will offer you side quests called the “Tales of Tsushima”. Despite being side quests, they each have engaging stories on their own, and explore the characters to a deep, personal level. Their stories may tie in with the game’s main plot at some point, but they aren’t necessary to fully understand the game’s central tale.
Filled with Heavy Moments and Human Dialogue
You meet a variety of characters as you progress through the game, and each character is memorable. While each may have their own specific role in the game’s central plot, their writing is still terrifyingly human. Each has their own complex personality that is consistent with their actions, and each has a personal story well worth exploring. It’s surprising at how emotionally investing a mere “side quest” can be.
The motion capture for this game is incredible. While the game does not have mind-blowing facial graphics, the mocap actors do well to convey emotion faithfully. More than once did I find myself shedding a tear for a loss ally, or yelling out of despicable anger. As terrorism is widespread on the island, the characters’ faces accurately convey emotion such as pain, grief, sadness, and determination. It really helps the player connect with the characters and empathize with their struggles.
Completing missions gets Jin closer and closer to the Khan. As the challenges become more difficult, he realizes that the conventional ways of the samurai will not win the war. He must choose between maintaining his honor as a samurai and doing what’s necessary for the sake of his allies. It sparks an internal struggle within him, and leads to Jin challenging his self-imposed boundaries. The mixture of politics, anger, loss, and character development all make for engaging drama in “Ghost of Tsushima”. For everything mentioned, this Ghost of Tsushima review gives it a 9/10.
Stop Reading and GO Get It.
I would love nothing more than to ramble on and on and on about everything this game does right; moments where I felt my heart break, my favorite combat mechanics and so much more. Unfortunately, I feel like I would be robbing readers of one of the best PS4 experiences of all time. Therefore, that’s all for this Ghost of Tsushima Review.
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