This is a spoiler free review. You can also check out the video version of this review in the link below
To be a samurai was never a fantasy for me growing up. This may have been why when the first Ghost of Tsushima gameplay was shown during E3 2018 I was nowhere near as impressed as I perhaps should have been.
Despite my original lack of enthusiasm towards the title I very much enjoyed Sucker Punch’s previous titles, namely the Infamous series, and have felt during the marketing for Ghost of Tsushima that they deserve to be successful with this new franchise. Commercially and critically, it has been very well received by those who have played and reviewed it, and I can preface this review by confirming it is worth playing even if you only possess the slightest interest in what you have seen of it so far.
All of the images you see throughout this review have been captured by members of the Respawning team, and the powerful graphical visual quality cannot be denied. I would go so far as to say that, in the correct conditions, Ghost of Tsushima is capable of delivering some of the most stunning sights and landscapes possible for the current generation of consoles. For further examples of some of the incredible sights this game possesses we have created the Respawning gallery which we have filled with our best photos taken in the game.
You play as Lord Jin Sakai, a samurai warrior who survives the initial Mongol invasion of the titular island of Tsushima. Throughout the game you battle against Mongol forces using your traditional samurai fighting experience as well as learning dishonourable stealthy ‘Ghost’ tactics to level the playing field between Jin and his foes. Utilising four different stances for using Jin’s katana, you unlock different upgrades and special combat abilities across the games early hours, leaving the remainder of the game for unlocking additional combat options for them and your Ghost weaponry, such as bows, smoke bombs and kunai.
Every inch of Tsushima breathes nought but outstanding and mesmerising natural beauty, best experienced on PlayStation 4 Pro and during the games daytime hours, as the lack of sunlight subdues the most beautiful popping colours that the game has to offer. From fields as far as the eye can see of swaying white flowers to rolling hills of the best grass you have ever seen in a game, Ghost of Tsushima will at the very least awaken the photographer within you. Before playing this title, photo modes were very much something intended for others players in games and not for me, but now I find myself switching into photo mode at the press of a button on the D-pad and tinkering for ages to capture the perfect snapshot of my adventure through Tsushima.
The combat as mentioned earlier ranges from four different stances of using the katana as well as an assortment of stealthier ranged weapons Jin can use to come out victorious in every fight. The battles are really where Ghost of Tsushima comes to life for me, for the rush of excitement I get every time one breaks out to counting down the moments until the next fight when one finishes. Varying from a one on one fight to facing a whole squad of enemy Mongols, Jin must use every honourable attack and dirty trick he knows in order to survive and bring himself one step closer to his ultimate goal of liberating Tsushima from the invaders.
Occasionally the game combat will shift slightly into a cinematic one on one duel between Jin and a rival desperate to kill him. In these fights you cannot use projectile weaponry and must rely on your skill of dodging, parrying and striking at the best moment in order to win. Some of these encounters can prove quite gruelling, aside from when playing on easy difficulty, but the feeling of euphoria for conquering a long-contested foe cannot be matched by anything else in this game. I have a feeling a couple of the duels in this title could be serious contenders for my favourite boss fights of all time.
The sound design is absolutely inspired. The occasional wind instrument or gentle acoustic melody blending seamlessly with the breeze through the trees or the gentle trickle of a picturesque stream working perfectly to add depth and further beauty into everything going on around you. The clash of sword on sword complimented by the distant screams and yells of frightened peasants lend an extra level of authenticity as each confrontation unfolds, simultaneously taking you further into every moment of the battle whilst reminding you of the fate of those around you should you fall.
The opening of the story could be one of my favourite introductions to a video game ever, though after this rush of excitement the story feels very basic through the first act and most of the second act. By the time the story kicks in again I had resigned myself to the thought that the plot only exists to connect Jin’s journey across the map, but when the time finally came for the big late game set pieces and plot twists I loved every second of it.
Most of the early story missions don’t feel particularly special or that a lot of effort went into the design of them, but sometimes you will find yourself thrust into a true samurai fantasy in which you can’t help but marvel at how cinematic it looks as you play.
I was sceptical during the marketing when the developers said they had done away with a normal mini map in Ghost of Tsushima, instead programming gusts of wind to direct you to your next objective. While it is a nice idea in practise it falls flat when you consider the amount of times you’ll be distracted by a battle or a pretty view, and I frequently found myself having to check I was still heading in the correct direction, which I found more immersion breaking than a simple map on screen reassuring me I was on the right track. Gold star for effort, but better luck next time.
Massive open worlds are at the top of my list for things I enjoy most in video games and while the open world is undeniably beautiful to spend time in, aside from attacking Mongol strongholds or eliminating gangs of them that roam the roads, there isn’t a great deal to do in it. Fox dens are scattered in the dozens across the map, and all they consist of doing is following a fox a hundred metres or so in exchange for an arbitrary reward. The sheer number of them begs the question of why Sucker Punch bothered to include so many at all, other than to unnecessarily pad the game length.
You may already be aware that a commonly disliked trope in gaming that hasn’t appeared for a while, mandatory stealth sections, make a comeback in Ghost of Tsushima. Prior to playing I was loudly against the return of this mechanic, but now I have experienced them as Sucker Punch intended I can confidently say that this is the only game I have played that implements them without subtracting from my overall enjoyment of the gameplay. Particularly early in the story, it makes sense that a lone samurai would do everything in his power to avoid raising any alarms in hostile territory, and there are enough stealth options that ensures no pacing is lost during these frequent occurrences.
Late game missions don’t force stealth upon you quite as much, though the ones that do are among the most satisfying and tense missions in the game, and I found myself completely invested in and loving the stealthier sections far more than I expected to previously.
One mission very early on brought back another old and seemingly forgotten gameplay mechanic which was escorting a group of NPC’s through an enemy held area without them being killed. At first this didn’t seem like it would be an issue until one of them was spotted by a Mongol and they threw themselves at the feet of their potential killer rather than fleeing. This led to a couple of irritating reloads until I decided to take the long way around to avoid all enemies altogether. If this is what the game had intended I’d rather it had just said so instead of leaving me with a group of painfully thick AI with loudly apparent death wishes.
My assortment of small gripes with the gameplay are totally insignificant when compared to the memorable and powerful story ending. The final act of the game is a love letter from Sucker Punch to everything samurai, and the high level of detail and care that they have packed into this adventure is indisputable.
I give Ghost of Tsushima an absolute recommendation, and for its glorious world, addictive combat though let down by a handful of questionable design choices and repetitive world exploration, I score it