Ghost of Tsushima review: PS4 triumph is more than the sum of its parts
At the beginning of Ghost of Tsushima, the Mongol invasion changes Jin Sakai’s world overnight, and he must change along with it if he wants to reclaim his home.
While the game’s story focuses on Jin’s adventure to drive the Mongols out of Tsushima, the road ahead is a deeply personal one filled with loss and loyalty.
As a samurai of the Sakai Clan, Jin has to abide by a code of honour taught in his family for generations. However, when he learns that it’s not enough, that’s when he assumes the mantle of the Ghost.
Throughout the story, Jin has to deal with the consequences of his actions as the Ghost: the gameplay, quests, and mechanics all reflect the game’s themes of duality and moral ambiguity.
As you travel through Tsushima, Jin gains allies that will help in his cause, as well as other minor characters that will assist him. In addition to the main story, Jin can participate in “Tales”, which are the game’s interpretation of sidequests.
The character specific Tales involving Jin’s allies are absolutely worth exploring as they often deal with stories such as revenge or the value of human life.
Even as the Ghost, Jin still holds his own personal code of ethics and it’s interesting to see how the people that Jin idolised are not perfect, just like himself.
Even non-character specific side quests with NPCs often have some sort of narrative through-line and provide Jin with a valuable life lesson, along with materials to help him on his journey.
There are also Mythic Tales, which are longer side quests about the land of Tsushima itself, and give Jin even greater rewards such as new skills and mechanics.
As for the gameplay, the combat is very reminiscent of older Assassin’s Creed games, with a focus on deliberate strikes and parrying.
There are different stances that you can unlock and switch between on the fly that are effective against certain enemy types to break their guards.
Standoffs are particularly fun, where Jin can approach a group of enemies head on in broad daylight and challenge them to a deathmatch.
During battles, Jin has access to Resolve, which is a meter that he can tap into to heal himself or perform special attacks.
What’s especially great about this is that it rewards you for playing well and healing isn’t tied to a limited consumable item: if your back is against the wall, you can play defensively by parrying attacks and striking at the right time to get yourself out of almost any sticky situation, the honourable way.
However, that’s as Jin, the Samurai. As Jin, the Ghost, you have a plethora of other tools such as kunai for quick strikes and smoke bombs for escaping in case you get cornered.
The Mongols don’t play fair, so why should you? Sneaking up and assassinating enemies from behind is always an option as well. You know, the honourable way.
Although one glaring issue in the combat is the lack of a manual lock on mechanic.
You’re supposed to point your blade at your target, but when confronting multiple enemies at once, it can lead to frustration when you don’t hit your intended target if two enemies just happen to be close to each other.
Additionally, there are points in the story where you’ll face off against huge waves of enemies and sometimes the camera isn’t cooperating.
Having to shift my right analog stick to adjust the camera while I’m fending against four Mongols during the heat of battle isn’t the best use of my time.
Having a manual lock on that shifted the camera automatically when needed definitely would have been helpful.
Completing quests, liberating Mongol territories, and rescuing peasants on the side of the road all contribute to levelling up your Legend and earning Technique Points to invest in skills that suit your playstyle.
The gear system is relatively straightforward, too. You simply just need to collect certain types of materials and then go to the appropriate vendor to upgrade your weapons and armour.
Additionally, there are dyes that you can purchase to customise the look of your suit, mask, and weapons. Jin can also equip Charms that he finds throughout Tsushima that can help him in battle, such as increasing health or increasing damage dealt with his Ghost weapons.
One thing that I thought was a missed opportunity was the ability to use the dynamic weather and time of day to the player’s advantage.
While there are armour sets and Charms you can equip to make sneaking around enemies easier, it seems like attacking Mongol bases under the cover of night or during rainy weather makes only a slight, if not minimal, impact on enemies’ detection levels and lines of sight.
From what I recall, this isn’t mentioned in the game as a feature, which is unfortunately because considering weather or day and night cycles definitely could have added another element of strategy to how players approach enemies.
For example, fire-based weapons seem to have the same effectiveness whether rain or shine, and it could have been implemented where those types of weapons did less damage or lasted shorter during rainfall.
It’s also especially weird because in several cutscenes, characters will actually say it’s better to tackle the upcoming story mission during night to avoid detection.
Tsushima itself is also a sight to behold. The colours are vibrant and there are different environments ranging from flower fields, snowy mountains, and beaches.
The game’s photo mode is incredibly robust – as is now standard with Sony's first-party offerings, to be fair.
You can tinker with certain settings such as wind speed, time of day, and weather in order to take the perfect cinematic picture.
When exploring Tsushima, the Guiding Wind will blow in the direction of your chosen destination and there will be a notification at the top left indicating how close you are to your intended spot.
It's a visually pleasing and inventive way of solving the age-old issue of way-finding in games.
Along the way, you can encounter foxes and birds that will lead you to places like hot springs and bamboo stalks that when interacted with, increase your parameters.
Finding areas like shrines and pillars also reward you with items, so you’re encouraged to keep exploring!
What’s great about these smaller landmarks is that every single one of them can be used as a waypoint for fast travel.
So if you’re exploring an unknown destination, you can just pop open the map and travel to the closest landmark and ride your horse from there.
You never feel like you’re wasting valuable time trying to get from point A to point B.
I played Ghost of Tsushima on a PlayStation 4 Pro, and everything ran great. I didn’t notice any framerate dips, and the game loads surprisingly quickly between areas during fast travel.
The game’s presentation is top notch. The voice acting, whether you play in English or Japanese, is great.
I was actually surprised at how soft spoken Jin is, which plays well into his persona as the Ghost. There are people in Tsushima who think he’s a demonic spirit hellbent on revenge, but in reality, he just cares about his homeland and friends.
The black and white Kurosawa mode is gorgeous as well. The game also has a variety of different options including changing the language and providing subtitles to tailor on how you personally want to experience the game.
However, another issue that I came across is the relative lack of accessibility options, especially coming from the recently released The Last of Us Part 2 .
Something like that game’s high contrast mode could have been incredibly useful in Ghost of Tsushima when trying to scavenge for materials and collectibles throughout the world.
The Guiding Wind is a nice mechanic in terms of world building, but sometimes there needs to be a bit more concrete direction.
Verdict: Ghost of Tsushima – 5/5
I think that your enjoyment of Ghost of Tsushima will come down to how you like the game’s structure.
If you’ve played Horizon Zero Dawn and Days Gone, you’ll know exactly what to expect.
While I understand the comparisons, calling the game “Assassin’s Creed but in Japan” is doing it a bit of a disservice, in my opinion.
Yes, you will raid hideouts. Yes, you have a “listen mode” where you can see enemies behind walls and stealth kill them.
The game also does have similar ideas from its contemporaries, like Sekiro’s focus on parrying and Nioh’s stances.
But Ghost of Tsushima does many aspects exceedingly well – and it's more than the sum of its parts.
The gameplay is fun, the narrative and its characters are great, and the art direction is absolutely beautiful. The pros here vastly outweigh the cons. Ghost of Tsushima is a breathtaking adventure.
– Good narrative and character motivations, Jin undergoes character development
– Fun gameplay that rewards skill rather than an over-reliance on pure damage numbers and stats
– Gorgeous to look at as the different locales and vibrant colours are astonishing
– Some players might experience some “open world fatigue” due to the game’s structure
– Lacking in more accessibility options, especially compared to The Last of Us Part 2
– Weird omissions of standard genre gameplay features here and there
- Assassin’s Creed
- Days Gone
- Ghost of Tsushima
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