Ghost of Tsushima is a new game coming from Sucker Punch studios joining the portfolio of Sly Cooper and Infamous, published by Sony, and it is a console exclusive for now.
It was first announced at E3 2017. With a gameplay trailer and cinematic, the game looked stunning during its gameplay and cutscenes and in addition, the music was top notch.
It was built on the infamous Second Son Engine, which the developers said back in the end of the PS3 era it was limitless and would improve as time goes on at the end of each era of hardware. Oh boy was he right back in 2015! But as always, the game was years away and trailers can’t be trusted sometimes, plus it was a style of game that I wouldn’t vision Sucker Punch do, after Infamous’ very different style art setting and genre.
It has its historical setting in the era of the Mongol invasion of the islands of Japan, and heavy cultural influences for that country at the time, Samurai and war, a romance we all have seen before, but told in a different way by a foreigner studio that wants to nail the look and feel of the era.
Astounding, it’s breath-taking a piece of art, in visual, feel, and sound. The game is set in the year of 1274, the year when the invasion of Mongolia takes place, as they try to take on the island of Tsushima. (Quick disclaimer: I’ll try to make this review spoiler-free before we continue with the setting.)
Their leader is named Khotun Khan. (A Fun fact the original general of the real war was named Kublai Khan nice work there Sucker Punch?) And you are in the skin of a samurai named Jin Sakai, the last member of the Sakai clan.
Things start badly at a young age, your father dies in front of you powerless and scared as your clan starts to crumble, then a shimmer of light comes to your life you’re taken to a new family and under the tutelage of a new clan.
Trained and raised by your uncle Lord Shimura who is also the head and last of the Shimura clan, he is also the jitō of Tsushima.
When the Mongols invade the island a war starts. During this invasion, Lord Shimura summons all the clans of the island to make up one big army and drive back the invaders.
This did not go as planned as the attack failed, most of the samurai died, plus your uncle is captured and you are left for dead. You are saved from the massacre by a thief named Yuna, who nurses you back to health, proceeding then to ask for your help to save her brother, in return for this favor.
It’s your job as a samurai to rescue the island, help people’s needs and drive the Mongols back.
A bit of a pickle for just one guy, I know, but you’ll quickly see that the reason why your army of samurai lost is precisely because you’re a samurai. Khan knows this fact, he studies Japanese culture, language, and customs, including tactics.
So to achieve victory you’ll need to learn a more dishonorable way of fighting, the Ghost. Thanks to Yunna you’ll learn to move in the shadow and silently assassinate your enemy, while being unpredictable to khan by dishonoring your samurai code … spreading terror or hope everywhere you go.
You’re what you want to be, this game does not stop you from becoming what you want to be and plays it simple with some RPG mechanics.
It plays out like a kind of Dark Souls fighting system where there are several opponents at any given time and you need to guard or Perry and master that function to win.
There are also two bows, one long and a short with specific amo and skills that make you slow time for enemies, for example.
As for the samurai skill tree, you can challenge opponents to a standoff, where you’ll need to nail your timing strike vs your opponent to do a chain reaction of “one slice, one kill”, as the enemies come for you one by one.
But that’s not all, you have several skills trees and weapons available. You will not swap your katana but instead, upgrade it and get new different stances, for example. You have several enemy types: Heavy, Shield, Sword and Lance. You get four different stances that are effective against its designated enemies. This is not mandatory, you don’t need to swap between them to win, but it will make it more efficient and will give you new strategies to use.
The core is just mastering the parry and dodging and you’ll manage fine. You also have Ghost Skills that make assassinations easier and your opponents run from you, with gadgets you have available to use like smoke bombs, firecrackers and many more.
You get a skill point once you get to a certain threshold of the legend meter, which is the equivalent of a traditional level system. You have four thresholds that give you one skill point every time you get to them so you can level up your skills.
During the story you’ll also get one key gadget: a grappling hook that will make the gameplay easier. You’ll be climbing a lot of mountains to reach shrines, inaris, and hot springs. What are those, I hear from you? Well they are side activities that will make you stronger. I’ll break them down for you: the game has several side objectives like inari, where you need to follow a fox to honor one inari and you’ll get a boost to some charms (which I will get to later).
Bamboo practices will raise you the determination meter which is used to do abilities or get health back when used. Hot springs will raise your maximum health and honoring shrines will give you pendants (but I will also show this later in this review). There are more side activities that will give tons of cosmetic options for your Armor and weapons.
So back to charms and armor, you’ll unlock several armor types with many useful skills. For example, when you get your clan armor you can raise the number of enemies in a challenge. On the samurai skill, you can unlock it as you progress to the story or do side activities.
The armor has charm slots that are unlocked through level up legend meter and honoring inaris until you get the maximum number of charms on any armor (there are six). The charms give you little advantages like more damage, health, critical hits and many other more complex charms.
I could go on and on about skills and mechanics but the game does a good job of teaching you the mechanics.
I need to make a special mention to the side quests, there are several random events throughout the game that will appear, for example, save hostages, get supply wagons, pretty generic things that latter in the game will be more annoyances when you try to get from one place to another quickly, and yes you have fast travel.
The side quests you get from your main allies give you meaningful insight into their background. Don’t let this game fool you the story is dark, gruesome and hits hard. If your into storytelling, you’ll find many controversial topics here on the side quest, be it by your allies or strangers but don’t expect many happy endings.
Side quests from strangers are half in half, some are boring, generic, get old quickly and some are actually meaningful on one’s emotional level.
There are also mythic quests, these are harder than normal and got some twist to them. They also normally end in a duel on special hidden arenas and unlock juicy rewards, like technics you can use to quickly wipe enemies or even Armor. they are useful and give you a little story to back it up. I suggest you do them at least for the technics.
The environment, landscapes, music, and lifestyle of the era are gorgeously recreated, they nailed this department. The island is divided into three sectors and it feels different in every part of the map, from snow to beach, cliffs, vegetation, rivers, everything feels different everywhere you go. The world feels bigger than it is, and trust me, it is pretty big.
The game also lets you stylize it to your samurai way, you have several filters to use from normal black and white and Kurosawa mode for the more traditional old samurai movies. You can also pick from a variety of sub and dub options, although I suggest Japanese voices since it’s the original language of the setting, and subtitles with what you prefer but your free to do as you wish. You can also alter the sub size color and many other options.
If you only do the main story it’s fine but, it might feel short, yet it’s still worth it. Music and ambiance wise it’s massive, the songs feel very suitable to the era.
There are several interactions with the environment like petting foxes, bowing to honor someone that died, playing the shakuhachi (Japanese flute), and much more. This comes all together nicely and makes the players immerse themselves in this world, granted if they have the time and patience to explore it.
About exploring it you don’t have a normal quest guide system that indicates where the quest is. You have the Guiding Wind, that works as a compass, as the direction the wind is blowing at the moment is where you have to go, you can set the wind to guide you to several locations and quests. You can also find animals like foxes and birds that will guide you to special events and there are a wide range of them for the player to have an immersive experience on the world.
I played this game on a normal PS4. The graphics were turned down vs the PS4 Pro version. I still found myself having fps drops due to the sheer amount of stuff at once on my screen. This was noticeable more at the later stages of the game, where the war gets more chaotic, but the game still plays fine and looks amazing even when turned down.
On the PS4 Pro these problems were not present and the looks improved slightly, but again, bear in mind I played it more on the normal PS4, so this is a worst-case scenario.
There is one thing that bugs me through the game and it’s the AI, it’s bad and comical most of the time, even on hard difficulty, enemies can get stuck on some things or just do crazy random stuff that you can exploit easily once you get the hang of it. They are still challenging most of the time throughout the game, but this AI needs a lot of improvement.
The character’s facial expressions need improvement, they look ok while talking but sometimes the faces are shallow or the camera angle is not in a good position to capture them.
These damn bugs always show up no matter the game. This game does not have all that many, but the ones that it has are hilarious or frustrating. Where to start? As mentioned above, the AI; the walls disappearing into a white screen; fall detection is bad, if you jump to a place where there are two small rocks below, you can get stuck between the rocks on the falling or floating animation between them. Even if you are just inches away from the ground it doesn’t matter, the game fades to black after a while and puts you on the last autosave.
Objects go through walls sometimes and edge detections are bad in this game. Possibly part of the problem of the falling glitch, sometimes to use a ladder or jump from one place to another, you might land or be in front of it and the game won’t do the animations like grabbing some cliff edges, resulting in falling to your doom because of it.
It’s just annoying. Another example is trying to climb up a ladder, but the game does not let you interact with it several times.
This might be just a hardware limitation to some extent but not all like the AI problem.
Yes, the effort that went into making this game is notorious. Nothing is perfect, but even with its flaws, this is definitely going to be one of the best games for this generation and the sales show. It might get dumb AI, but it never ceases to be amusing and challenging at times, puzzles are not that challenging but reward your effort and time spent on this game. It keeps getting updated with its live service, but only time will tell how good it will really be in the end.
Right now it’s looking good. The live service is good and with Co-op and “New Game+” it got even better. Now is the best time to play it and try it out for yourself, get exploring, take screenshots, raid with friends and customize to your heart’s content! I know I did it and can’t wait for the next entry, if that ever comes.