Console, Gaming, PlayStation, Review

Ghost of Tsushima Review: Living the Samurai Dream in Stunning Feudal Japan

It’s been a while since we’ve seen a new game from Sucker Punch. In fact, the last game the studio released was back in 2014 with Infamous Second Son and Infamous First Light; they were some of the earliest PlayStation 4 exclusive games. Fast forward six years later, we’ve now got Ghost of Tsushima from the studio, which is the last exclusive title for the PS4.

Set in feudal Japan in an open-world setting, Ghost of Tsushima is a stunning samurai adventure with solid gameplay elements. While there are some aspects of the game that could be improved upon, Tsushima is easily one of the best open-world titles I’ve played. To top it off, it is jam-packed with content as well, which is sure to entertain you for hours on end.

Story

You play as Jin Sakai, one of the last surviving samurai on the island of Tsushima to defend against the Mongol invasion led by Khotun Khan. Jin starts off as an honourable samurai, but as the game progresses, he needs to devise new tactics to get the edge over the Mongols, setting him down the path of the Ghost.

If you’re familiar with Infamous games, you’d know of the Karma system. Well, Ghost of Tsushima doesn’t have it: there is only one storyline in this game. The decision to abandon your samurai ways to become the Ghost isn’t yours to make, though you are free to swap between the two play styles throughout the game.

Anyway, I digress. As for the main story itself, it’s quite entertaining with a good plot and solid character development. My only issue with the story is the fact that it’s a little too short. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of things to do in Ghost of Tsushima, but the main story itself isn’t awfully long.

But that’s where side-quests come into the picture. Thing is, I usually avoid side-quests in open-world games, but I don’t feel like that at all with Ghost of Tsushima. A surprising amount of work goes into the story development of these side-quests, and a number of them are divided into several parts as well.

In fact, I find myself completing quite a lot of side-quests before I decide to jump back into the main story. That’s not to say the main plot isn’t as exciting; side-quests are just a lot of fun in Tsushima. I’ll elaborate more on this further down this review.

Overall, Ghost of Tsushima tells quite a compelling story, even in the plethora of side-quests available. But this isn’t the game’s strong suit: it’s gameplay.

Gameplay

This is by far my favourite aspect of Ghost of Tsushima, especially the combat mechanics. There are plenty of tools at my disposal, but it’s the Stances that stood out to me the most. Each of the Stance changes my attacks, and it is meant to counter specific enemies. On top of that, you can even swap between the four Stances during combat in real-time.

These Stances add a layer of complexity to the combat system without feeling overly complicated, and it is very fun to switch between them when I’m facing different enemies. Once you upgrade each individual Stance, they feel even more engaging and fleshed out. Of course, beyond this, other combat elements are equally fun too.

Parrying and dodging, for example, are very satisfying to pull off. If you time them right, and you’ve got the skill upgraded, you can immediately perform a high damage counterattack. Granted, other games (such as Sekiro) have similar implementations, but the timing is far more forgiving here. The fact that it’s easier to perform counterattacks in this game doesn’t make them any less satisfying though, in my opinion.

Okay, so just how difficult is combat in this game? I’d say it’s quite well-balanced. I played the game on normal difficulty, and it feels just right. If I rush into a crowd of enemies, I can get overwhelmed quite quickly, and each hit by them takes off quite a big chunk of my health. But if I’m smart about it, and pick off some of them from afar with a bow before engaging in close combat, it’s very manageable.

In short, I can’t just power through enemies without proper planning; the game is quite punishing in this aspect, which is fair. Plus, if you’re not keen to engage enemies head-on, you can always take the stealth approach with Ghost tactics. You can sneak around behind them for instant kills, eliminate a group of enemies with a bomb, or poison them with a blowgun.

However, the stealth gameplay isn’t particularly polished in Ghost of Tsushima. The enemy AI, for one, is…not very intelligent. There was one time where I failed to kill an enemy archer with one shot while I was on a roof, and I was sure the other enemies were alerted when the archer started shouting. But once I killed him off, the enemies – who are right below me – simply acted as if nothing happened.

Basically, Ghost of Tsushima gets much easier when you take the stealth approach; too easy, even. There’s no feeling of dread as I sneak around Mongol camps, enemies take much too long to detect my presence (even when I’m almost out in the open), and in short, the stealth gameplay just doesn’t match the difficulty curve of the “samurai gameplay,” if you will. It would’ve been great if playing as the Ghost was a bit more challenging.

That aside, let’s talk about the open-world nature of the Ghost of Tsushima, which is vast. Side-quests are littered across the map, along with a number of hidden landmarks to discover. It’s quite fun to just ride across the island on the horse without any destination in mind, though if I want to get to certain points quicker, I can simply fast travel to any location I’ve discovered. This makes it very easy to traverse across the map, and I love it.

I’ve mentioned how I’m often sidetracked by side-quests throughout the game, and I’m surprised by the sheer amount of them. Naturally, not all of them are particularly enjoyable – such as the dreaded trailing quests – but the ones I’ve completed are really quite fun. This is especially the case with Mythic Tales: their plots are very entertaining, and the quest rewards are worth the time as well.

All in all, Tsushima has excellent gameplay with plenty of content to offer. Sure, the stealth gameplay isn’t as polished as it should be, but I still thoroughly enjoyed assassinating enemies from the shadow.

Graphics

Sucker Punch promised that the Ghost of Tsushima will feature beautiful, awe-inspiring landscapes of feudal Japan, and I’m happy to report that this is really the case. I played this game on a PlayStation 4 Pro system, and the sprawling island looks stunning no matter where I travel to on the map. The dynamic weather as well as the day and night cycle further add to the realism of the game. Just look at the screenshots below:

But as impressive as the environment of the game is, there are a couple of graphical elements that I’m not fond off. Take the facial expressions of the characters in the game, or lack thereof. The characters don’t look very expressive, giving them a stiff appearance in cutscenes. Even the studio’s own Infamous Second Son – which was released back in 2014 – had better facial expressions, which really surprised me.

This is unfortunate, given just how good the voice acting is in Ghost of Tsushima. The emotions are all there, but the animations just don’t capture them very well. Fortunately, other graphical aspects of the game look fantastic, and I had a ball playing around with the photo mode to capture the stunning scenery.

Conclusion

As the last exclusive title for the PlayStation 4 system, many will have big expectations for Ghost of Tsushima; so did Sucker Punch deliver? Well, it definitely exceeded my expectations. While the stealth gameplay isn’t particularly refined, other positive aspects of the game more than make up for this, especially the combat system and awe-inspiring landscapes.

On top of that, Tsushima will keep you entertained for many, many hours. I’ve easily spent over 50 hours in the game, and there are still a lot of side-quests that I have yet to complete. I rarely go for the platinum trophy – even more so in open-world titles – but I definitely feel motivated to do so with this game. I really want to complete Tsushima to its fullest extent, which really shows just how fun it is.

Plus, you get to play as a very skilled samurai in beautifully rendered feudal Japan. What’s not to love?

Ghost of Tsushima launches on the PS4 on 17 July.