Developer: Sucker Punch Productions | Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment| Release Date: July 17, 2020 | Genre: Action-Adventure/Stealth | Reviewed On PS4 Pro
The copy of Ghost of Tsushima used for this review was purchased at retail by the reviewer.
Sitting up front at PlayStation’s E3 2018 press conference I was blown away at the presentation for Ghost of Tsushima. I am a huge fan of samurais, ninjas, stealth, visceral action, and all things Japan. It was apparent to me back then that this game could effectively encompass all of these things in one package and I am happy to say it does so spectacularly. Even though I got my copy of the game early, it was not as early as those who were able to get review copies. So since the game has been out for about a week as of this writing and reviews are everywhere now, I will keep it tight and focus on how I feel about the game.
Ghost of Tsushima takes place in 1274 during the Mongolian invasion of the Japanese island of Tsushima. While the invasion is a very real part of history, the events, and characters found in the game are fiction. The game begins as a small group of brave samurai prepare to face off against the massive Mongolian invasion force. You assume the role of samurai Jin Sakai as he rides into battle alongside his uncle Lord Shimura. The quick battle that follows doesn’t end in his favor and the samurai are defeated. Jin is wounded and Lord Shimura is captured by the leader of the invaders known as Khotun Khan. Jin’s goal becomes to rescue his uncle, mount a counterattack against the Mongolian army and free the people of Tsushima.
The last game Sucker Punch brought to the PS4 was inFamous Second Son. The inFamous series is…infamous (I know) for allowing players to make heroic or villainous choices that shape not only how the game ends but also how you are perceived in the world. GoT does not go deep down that moral path but Jin does find himself faced with a dilemma. It becomes obvious during the game’s opening cutscene that no matter how badass samurai are known to be, the small force assembled to defend Tsushima would not be enough to take on the Mongolian army. Now that Jin is on his own, he needs to adapt to be able to take down his enemies. After meeting with Yuna, a thief that saved him from the battlefield, Jin learns he may need to act more like a thief to get the upper hand. Using stealth to infiltrate enemy camps and kill enemies is a direct violation of the samurai code which dictates that Jin fights with honor in the open and attacks enemies head-on. Fortunately for us, Jin doesn’t wrestle with the idea for too long and Ghost of Tsushima’s combat becomes a wonderful mix of swordplay and stealth kills that is as satisfying to play as it is brutal to watch.
You can approach combat any way you want. Most will find it more satisfying to go into all encounters sword in hand but I prefer a mix of stealth and all-out action. There is no right or wrong way to approach a battle unless the game gives you a specific objective for a certain encounter. As you progress in the game you will unlock 4 different stances that you can switch between at any time. These stances grant you access to new moves and combos. Each stance is also good at breaking the defense of certain enemy types. For example, the Stone Stance is effective against enemies with swords while the Wind Stance is suited for taking on enemies that use spears. Jin has just a few moves at his disposal to begin with. Early on, flashbacks that serve as tutorials will give him access to a few moves. More moves and abilities such as Focused Hearing (the ability to see enemies through walls ala The Last of Us) and more equipment can be earned by completing quests known as Tales.
Tales of Tsushima are quests that involve the companions that Jin meets throughout his journey. By completing these missions you will learn more about your companions as they vow to help you fight back against the invaders. You are also rewarded for each one you complete. These rewards come in many forms such as an increase in your Legend status. In GoT you don’t level up to become stronger in the traditional sense. To take on your foes you must unlock and master new moves and equipment. Legend, however, is a type of XP you earn that rewards you with Technique Points (TP). TP is then used to unlock abilities in Jin’s different skill trees. In each skill tree you will unlock things like being able to use your sword to deflect arrows, new combos, and equipment upgrades just to name a few. Then there are the Mythic Tales. These sidequests send you out on fun, challenging journeys for ancient armor and powerful techniques. Every one of them is worth doing and everything you unlock makes you feel more powerful as enemies scream and run away at the sight of you slaughtering their comrades. All of these things help to ensure that you can deal with any situation in a variety of ways and that combat never gets old.
Ghost of Tsushima‘s combat and story are fun and engaging but the real star is the game’s world. The developers have said they were not trying to recreate the island of Tsushima stone for stone but they damn near did it anyway. Even with all of the carnage of war going on, the island is full of beautiful sights that beg to be captured in what is arguably the best photo mode in a game to date. When utilizing stealth, Jin can hide in tall grass that feels like it actually belongs there and is not just simply placed in the area for sneaking around. Sure you can tell it can be used for stealth but it also feels like a natural part of the environment. There are dense forests with bright green, red and golden leaves that react realistically when you walk or ride your horse through them. The world is so vibrant in the face of all the death going on at every turn. The contrast between burning villages and sacred temples is something that pictures and YouTube videos just can’t do justice to.
The sound plays a huge part in the immersion as well, especially when using a headset and the 3D audio option. You can sit in one location and hear the sounds of animals in one area and the screams of dying villagers from another. It makes you feel as if you are in 13th century Japan and the fates of countless innocent lives are in your hands. While the standard dialogue is recorded in English and is extremely well done, there is also a Japanese language option that pairs perfectly with GoT‘s Kurosawa Mode. In this mode, the entire game changes to black and white with extra wind effects and film grain that mimics the classic samurai films of Akira Kurosawa. The inclusion of this mode shows just how much love the developers have for the source material and it is a very welcome touch of creativity and style. Style is a huge part of the entire experience right down to traversing the world. With no type of GPS in the year 1274, Jin can mark points on his map and the wind will blow in the direction of the objective. Swiping up on the touchpad will cause a gust of wind to blow in case you lose your way. This is a feature I simply love and I won’t be surprised when other developers use a similar system in their upcoming games.
As far as the PlayStation 4 is concerned, The Last of Us Part II and Ghost of Tsushima were my most anticipated games of 2020. GoT lived up to my expectations and then some. I earned the Platinum Trophy shortly after finishing it and I decided to start a 2nd playthrough immediately. My only real complaint is that there isn’t a new game plus option but you can continue to play on once the story has been completed. Ghost of Tsushima is a lengthy adventure full of invaders to punish, foxes to chase, charms to collect and so much more. There is a ton to see and do and plenty to unlock all without a single microtransaction to offend the eye. Ghost of Tsushima is to 2020 what God of War was to 2018. An epic single-player adventure that has set a standard for all games that follow. Without a doubt my favorite PS4 game this year. Here is hoping that an enhanced edition will be available when the PS5 launches later this year.