Ghost of Tsushima Review – A Samurai Sensation
Sucker Punch has come a long way as a studio in their 20+ years of existence. The plucky Washington-based studio burst onto the scene and into the collective gaming consciousness when they released Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus and subsequently grew in prestige over the years. Following the continued acclaim and plaudits being directed towards the team after the release of 2011’s inFAMOUS 2, Sony wisely snapped up the studio thus locking their talents down for the foreseeable future. From that point on, the rate at which titles emerged from Sucker Punch slowed, and it would be quite some time after 2014’s inFAMOUS: Second Son before we heard anything about the Bellevue based team. Through the titles they’d released and the tones that resonated in each of them, consumers came to think of Sucker Punch as “the cool guys” with a bit of style and flair. That changed when Ghost of Tsushima was revealed to the world in October of 2017 and it was suddenly made clear to us all that Sucker Punch had a more serious side as well. Now, three years on, Ghost of Tsushima has finally arrived, and it’s not a stretch to suggest that it might well be the studio’s finest work yet.
Set on the island of Tsushima in 1274, the player assumes the role of Jin Sakai, the last samurai standing after a Mongolian invasion of the island. The Mongols and their unfamiliar techniques bring the Samurai and the inhabitants of Tsushima to their knees. Jin, having survived the encounter with the Mongol army and their leader Khotun Khan, determines that the only way to overthrow the invaders is to embrace a different approach, one that lacks honour, but might also be the only way to save his loved ones and his homeland.
The critical path is a fascinating journey, one that twists and turns in ways that, whilst not completely unexpected, are no less satisfying. Even more impressive are the side-objectives, the Tales of Tsushima which often are sequences of missions involving specific inhabitants of the island that Jin encounters throughout his story as they seek to fight back in their own ways. Some Tales can be 7+ missions long and are forcibly broken up by bottlenecks in the main narrative that segment regions in the map and prevent you from sequentially chipping away at each story in a quest chain. As impressive as they may be, however, the Tales are quite time consuming and the sheer number of them will quickly bloat your game clock if you intend to experience the entire game’s narrative. The star attraction on the side quest menu is the “Mythic Tales”, a small selection of special quests that focus on key people from Tsushima’s history and the legends surrounding them. The stories of these local heroes speak of one’s deadeye skill with a bow, abilities with the blade or other extraordinary feats, and if Jin takes the time to investigate the folklore, he’ll be rewarded accordingly with new skills or tools to make Jin an equally dominant force.
Being an island on the brink thanks to the Mongolian invasion means that Jin doesn’t have the fortune of being able to waltz freely through the meadows and countrysides. The stunning flower-filled meadows are often drizzled with the blood of Mongols felled by your hand. The combat dance is elegant as Jin sweeps from stance to stance dependent upon how the opponents are armed. Jin will regularly need to swap between four key stances that are more or less effective against the four core enemy types, sword wielders, shield bearers, gigantic brutes and those that brandish spears. Sniping from the sidelines are elite archers who can need to be accounted for as well. Factoring in each opponent’s strength or weakness and countering and/or dodging accordingly is a challenge at first, as you need to train yourself to look at the weapon, rather than the person flourishing the weapon, but once you’re into a rhythm, you’ll be gracefully parrying, slicing and dicing your way through the enemy with breathtaking fashion. Things can get a bit cluttered at times, as you’ll sometimes find yourself surrounded by an enormous crowd of enemies all looking for a piece at the same time, and it suddenly doesn’t become feasible to quickly alternate between Jin’s various stances.
As the last great hope for his people, but severely outmatched if he sticks to tradition, Jin recognises the need to fight dirty and embrace the way of the Ghost. By doing this, Ghost of Tsushima makes great strides towards representing a modern Assassin’s Creed title. Jin is capable of many of the assassination methods that we see from Bayek or Alexios/Kassandra in Assassin’s Creed Origins and Odyssey respectively, along with some fantastic additions that make you even more lethal in the right circumstances. As Jin’s status amongst his own people and the Mongols grows, skill points unlock which can be spent on further improving his skill set, unlocking or improving Ghost Abilities such as the Kunai or Smoke Bombs. Points can also be spent on honing his honourable Samurai skills, giving Jin more fighting techniques for each of his various stances. Jin’s gear, such as his sword, armour and bow can all be upgraded by collecting resources such as bamboo, iron, gold and supplies from all around the world. The price, (especially as you near maxing out your gear) isn’t cheap, but the perks make the investment in resources and time well and truly worth it.
The island of Tsushima is stunning, even in regions that have been more devastated by the Mongolian army; the light refracting from puddles, the wilted but not yet dead flora and even the encampments themselves, all look remarkable. Ghost of Tsushima isn’t the technical powerhouse that recent PS4 exclusive The Last of Us Part II is, but offsets that technical deficiency with wonderful artistry. The world has been designed to constantly provide players with that beautiful sun popping up over the horizon moment that we all love in the real world, which here looks even more extraordinary in the many stunning hills and valleys that Jin traverses. Sucker Punch has also paid respects to the landscapes and culture of Japan, giving players number of fantastic audio/visual options to further enhance the playing experience, such as a stylised Black and White filter mode which acts as a homage to the films of Akira Kurosawa, as well as all relevant language options (both spoken and subtitled) one would expect in a game such as this. The guiding wind mechanic, which stems from a simple upward swipe on the touchpad is a fantastically subtle way of steering players in the correct direction without the need for a UI marker, though there were certainly some circumstances where a traditional blip on the screen would’ve made locating a particular person or item a bit easier to manage, alleviating a bit of brewing frustration in the process.
The world is enormous, filled to the brim with rich content to explore. It can be a bit much sometimes with the number of artefacts you can find or haikus to sit and devise bloating things a little bit, but players will be blown away by the deep storytelling and unbelievable style and personality that Ghost of Tsushima brings to the table. A player looking to breeze through the campaign will do so in 20 hours, but for those who dive into the side objectives, who want to explore every nook and cranny and learn the ways of the Samurai it will likely balloon way past 30 hours. No matter your preference however, Ghost is Tsushima is not to be missed.
Ghost of Tsushima was reviewed on the PS4 with code kindly supplied by the PlayStation Australia.
Born and bred on the Super Nintendo era, Paul relishes any opportunity to sink his teeth into an RPG, action or platformer. Despite being an owner of all major platforms, Paul does have a particular love of the Playstation family of consoles – take only a few minutes to skim through his Twitter and you’ll see him ranting about the next big thing on PS4. We swear he’s sane.