Ghost of Tsushima

July 28, 2020

 

     Well folks, Ghost of Tsushima is finally here and, wow. To say it met my expectations is an understatement. There's so much about the game I want to discuss, that it's difficult to know where to start, so I guess we'll start with the (literal) beginning. Don't worry, this review is spoiler free.

     Ghost of Tsushima is an open-world action game by Sucker Punch studios. You are Sakai Jin, one of the Samurai Lords of the small island of Tsushima, part of the Japanese isles. It's 1274 and the Mongols invaded, slaughtering the Samurai and leaving Jin as the only survivor. He's now all that stands between his home and an unstoppable horde. It's up to you to take back Tsushima by any means necessary, even if that means using dishonorable means. So, the game begins and you're off to explore, continue the story, etc.

     For starters, the open world is absolutely gorgeous, easily one of the best-looking games I've ever played. Graphically, it gives The Last of Us Part II a run for its money, and I promise that's the only time I'm going to bring up The Last of Us in this review. The colors really stand out, so much so, that I found myself not wanting to play the black and white Kurosawa Mode (yes, that's its actual name) because I felt like I was losing something. Furthermore, I haven't been this engaged in an open world since Horizon Zero Dawn. I always wanted to see what was beyond the next hill or across the river. I didn't even want to listen to podcasts while exploring (as I usually do in open world games) because I was that immersed in the setting. It's a beautiful recreation of thirteenth century Japan. Like most open world games, there's plenty of things to uncover, secrets to find, and collectibles to grab, but it never feels excessive or out of place. Every collectible is rooted in Japanese culture, from Shinto Shrines, to haiku spots, to the hot springs that increase your health bar.

     The combat, the meat and potatoes of this game, is fantastic. It's challenging, but not frustratingly so. There is a learning curve at the outset, but if you stick with it, you'll be parrying in no time. Enemies die quickly, but so can you, as the lethality of the blade is really emphasized in this game. Which makes sense, you are a Samurai after all. You can get into open fights with multiple enemies at a time or challenge them to a stand-off, a quick time event that lets you kill an opponent in a single strike.

     Boss battles are epic one-on-one duels, just you against your opponent, and it feels like a genuine Samurai film. In fact, this is how I sold a friend of mine on this game. We were doing a share play (a PS4 feature that connects consoles over the internet so someone can see what the other is playing) so I could show him the game. I was doing a mission set that ended with a duel on top of a mountain during a thunderstorm. When I'd defeated my opponent my friend said, "I'm going to buy this right now." And he did. You're welcome Sony, hire me.

     The stealth is where this game will probably get the most comparisons to Assassin's Creed, and that's not without some justification. You hide in tall grass, run along rooftops and climb structures while striking from the shadows. However, to just dismiss this game as "Assassin's Creed Japan" I personally think is unfair, because there's plenty here for it to carve out its own identity. For starters, there's no stupid animus, you play as Jin, not Jin's memories. The grappling hook is a fun mechanic that adds a bit of challenge to climbing and exploration, particularly as you find Shinto shrines. Another big difference is the assassinations themselves. In Assassin's Creed, the character is always just immediately capable with the hidden blade to kill enemies with one hit, that's not the case here. Jin is a Samurai, and therefore used to fighting his enemy face-to-face, stabbing them in the back is something he's been ingrained to not do his entire life. The first time he does assassinate an enemy, it's not smooth. In fact, it's an absolute mess as he stabs the Mongol several times in the neck and abdomen. It's only as he continues to use assassinations that we actually see him improve. He goes from mess, to stabbing in the armpit and then the throat, to finally being able to chain assassinations together without any moral qualms about it. And as he gets better, the Mongols begin to fear him, sometimes they'll even run away after seeing him kill an enemy. It's true that gameplay wise, Ghost of Tsushima doesn't do anything new. But the fact is that it does almost everything so well, I don't think it needs to. It's a lot like Horizon Zero Dawn in that regard.

     I don't want to say too much about the story because I don't want to spoil it. Suffice to say, I really enjoyed it. It has many of the beats and tropes that Samurai cinema fans will recognize, but that's what Sucker Punch sold the game on. There are three kinds of missions (Tales as they're called in game) Main Tales, Side Tales and Mythic Tales. The main tales move the story along, the side tales add to the world and the characters, while the mythic tales unlock special abilities or equipment, but all feel naturally part of thirteenth century Japan. That is my one warning, this is a dark game. It's not bleak, but side tales very rarely have a happy ending, and the victories are often bittersweet. However, that's very much in nature with Samurai films, which often have melancholic endings where characters either fail heroically or succeed at enormous cost. Also, this is a VERY violent game. Blood spurts, limbs are severed, and one will often see dead bodies on the road or strung from trees. The violence and the tone continually remind the player that for all its beauty, Feudal Japan was a BRUTAL time and place to live.

     Which brings us to the bad. Ghost of Tsushima, awesome as it is, is not perfect. There are a handful of bugs I encountered, but nothing game-breaking, and I assume those will get fixed with patches. There's also places where the devs could improve the gameplay, mostly little quality of life things. For example, when running along rooftops and moving onto a rope, you have to jump onto the rope. If your aim is off, Jin will fall and alert every enemy in the camp. In Assassin's Creed the character just automatically jumps onto a rope when you move towards it. That, and being able to hop to another rope without stopping and timing your jump, would improve the stealth immensely. Also, the parkour (for lack of a better term) could use some tightening up. Hopefully these are things that will be added and polished in the next game, assuming there is one. I certainly hope there is as Ghost of Tsushima is a great new IP, and there's an easy enough sequel possibility right out of the gate. The Mongols launched a second invasion of Japan in 1281.

     I could go on and on about how much I enjoyed this game, I haven't even talked about the little details that are sprinkled throughout the game. Like the subtle hints that some of the supernatural beliefs the characters have may be real. All I can say is go play Ghost of Tsushima, despite some minor issues, it's a fantastic game, and it has my highest recommendation. Your move Ubisoft.

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