Given that Ghost of Tsushima is probably going to be the last BIG first-party release from Sony on the PlayStation 4, it’s only natural that they’d want to go out with a bit of a bang.
Fortunately, Sucker Punch Productions’ latest release does just that. Taking inspiration from the countless open-world titles that have thrived in this generation of consoles, Ghost of Tsushima offers an adventure that manages to feel both familiar and distinct in its stylings. Its tale of honour is often a brutal one, but it’s also one that features intuitive gameplay mechanics, slick combat that ensures each clash of swords is mesmerising, and an absolutely gorgeous world that really pushes the PlayStation 4’s capabilities to their limit.
Ghost of Tsushima’s tale takes players back to Feudal Japan, with Mongol invaders attacking the island of Tsushima. With the odds stacked firmly against them, a large group of samurai look to defeat the Mongol army before they’re able to seize control of the island. Alas, it ends in failure, with the game protagonist, Jin Sakai, left to die on the battlefield. Game over… or at least it would be if he wasn’t rescued by powerful thief named Yuna, who nurses Jin back to health and helps him remain hidden from the Mongol forces.
With his strength returned to him, Jin looks to avenge his fallen samurai comrades and rid Tsushima of the Mongol army for good. However, it’s already been proven that he won’t be able to do this through just the way of the samurai, so he has to sacrifice the traditions that he believed in and embrace the role of a ghost in order to seek revenge for those that have fallen to the Mongolian blades. This leads him on a journey of self-discovery, ruthlessness, and sacrifice across Tsushima, with plenty of twists in the tale that ensure that the game’s lengthy narrative remains gripping until it reaches its epic conclusion.
Whilst there’s no denying that Ghost of Tsushima feels very distinct in many manners of its design, the open-world setup of the gameplay will feel familiar to just about anyone. Players will lead Jin through the different regions of the open-world of Tsushima as they work through the game, with each bringing with them clearly marked main missions to progress the story, side-missions to engage in that offer their own little tales, plenty of different collectibles to find, and an abundance of gorgeous sights to see. I’d be lying if I said it felt particularly original in any way outside of the setting, but it doesn’t mean that the adventure itself isn’t of a high quality; it just has a real sense of familiarity that players will click on to fast, especially if they’ve previously played open-world releases such as Assassin’s Creed Odyssey or Horizon: Zero Dawn.
A lot of your time playing will be spent in awe at the beauty of the game’s world. Honestly, between gazing over the mesmerising vistas of mountains around you and the more confined moments where you’ll soar through forests full of colour on horseback, there’s no shortage of impressive sights to encounter as you explore your surroundings and its many landmarks. It’s hard to put into words how attractive the world, is, not only because it looks so damn good but because I also don’t want to spoil the many wondrous sights that are ahead of you. If you go on social media, you might have seen plenty of users sharing some photos of the game that look absolutely stunning – well, when you play yourself, you’ll find yourself in these moments of beauty time and time again.
There’s more to Ghost of Tsushima’s world than just pretty sights though, with plenty to discover when exploring. There are unique springs and shrines to uncover which bring with them improvements to your stats or special charms that increase Jin’s capabilities, an abundance of collectibles to seek out for those players who like to hit that 100% progression mark, and a heck of a lot of side quests that allow you to learn more about the game world and its inhabitants. Oh, and of course, there are enemy camps to wipe out too. Ghost of Tsushima is an open-world game, you know…
One thing that definitely deserves a shout out is Ghost of Tsushima’s method of leading the player, with no GPS or waypoints around in Feudal Japan (duh). Instead, you have to follow the wind and animals around you to find your way around, with the direction of the gales leading you to your goal. Not only does it feel fitting of the world, but it looks beautiful in-game too – especially with all of the impressive flora and fauna that blows with the wind. Animals will lead you to some of the optional areas you can find in the world too, so it’s always worth following the birds and foxes that are lingering in the wild if you want to discover a few extra treats. It shows that despite wearing its open-world inspirations like a badge of honour a lot of the time, Ghost of Tsushima still has plenty of room for its own clever ideas.
The side quests (or ‘Tales’ as the game refers to them) feel pretty substantial, with some following quest lines of their own that have a strong emphasis on storytelling. There are plenty of different characters to meet across Tsushima that each have their own fleshed out background, which adds a greater sense of meaning to the missions they offer. None feel pointless, even if their objectives can be a little run of the mill by open-world standards, and it makes completing them feel all the more rewarding. Some of the side quests even tie mythical elements into the mix, which were some of the highlights for me. Enjoy hunting the mythical creatures in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey? You’ll DEFINITELY want to check these out.
Of course, Ghost of Tsushima puts you in the role of a samurai, so combat is one of the most important aspects of the game. Fortunately, it delivers in spades here, with the combat not only feeling fluid but also deep in design. It gets all of the basics right, with players able to unleash quick and heavy attacks that have their own benefits. Defensive manoeuvres come in the form of parrying and guarding with player’s timing playing a big role in keeping themselves safe from incoming strikes. Where Ghost of Tsushima spices things up is in its stances, with four options to switch between that are best utilised for various different enemies. In a similar manner to the stances seen in For Honor and Nioh, using the right stance at the right time can be the difference between life and death, so you’ll want to get used to switching between them on the fly when facing one of the game’s larger scale battles. Add to that some special attacks that come into the mix as you progress through the game, and you’ll soon find that the combat feels precise, strategic, accessible, and ultimately very satisfying.
Remember how I said earlier in this review that Jin has to abandon his samurai methods in order to defeat his enemies? Well, that’s where the game’s stealth elements come into play, with Ghost of Tsushima feeling more like Tenchu in places with an emphasis placed on sneaking across the environment, utilising cover, zipping your way around with a grappling hook, and picking off your enemies unnoticed. Anyone who appreciates a stealth element to their games will definitely enjoy these moments where you can sneak around, especially with all of the different tools at your disposal that allow you to distract enemies from afar and stop them in their track when their pursuing you.
Still, I couldn’t help but to feel a little guilty when sneaking around. Sure, it’s encouraged, but knowing that I’m abandoning my samurai ways? It got to me at times and I instead found myself running head on into battles. It shows that there’s plenty of depth to the Ghost of Tsushima’s mission design though, with players able to approach it however they please… except for in the missions where stealth is demanded. Guess we can’t try to follow our samurai traditions all the time, right? It also shows that the game’s storytelling is absolutely on point, with no secret made of the dismay felt by Jin for taking a more silent and dishonourable approach. Whatever way you decide to play, both Ghost of Tsushima’s combat and stealth elements are a hell of a lot of fun and there’s plenty of different tricks to utilise as you take your enemies down.
You’ll also be able to upgrade Jin’s capabilities with the skill points that you earn, with each unlocking and improving different abilities. These can tie into both play styles, with plenty of flexibility in the levelling up system for you to cater it to your preferred approach. Do you love sneaking around undetected? Improve your stealth and assassination skills or unlock new tools such as smoke bombs and firecrackers to distract foes. Or do you want to go heads on and slay enemies in combat? Improve your evasive manoeuvres to help you recover mid-battle or grab some new moves to give you the upper hand over foes. There are a ton of different options to choose between and there’s a real sense of empowerment to be felt as you increase your skills in-game. Add to that the different armour that you unlock that can also change up Jin’s capabilities and it becomes easy to see there’s a lot of flexibility in place for players to make their own perfect samurai.
Ghost of Tsushima is a wonderful swansong for the PlayStation 4, with its deep combat, stunning world, and enjoyable story making for a gripping experience. There is a sense of familiarity to be felt within its open-world design and it isn’t always the most original of titles, but players won’t mind – especially since it’s so damn fun to play.
Whether you’re slaying enemies in intense sword fights, sneaking your way through tall grass, following the wind within the beautiful world, or simple enjoying a restful moment of solace in one of the peaceful springs, you’re guaranteed to be having a REALLY good time in Ghost of Tsushima.
Developer: Sucker Punch Productions
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Platform(s): PlayStation 4