The first western game to be fully immersed in an Edo Japanese setting, Ghost of Tsushima got players incredibly interested when it first debuted at E3 back in 2017. It saw huge success when it launched back in July, marking one of the last major games on PlayStation 4. Fast forward to October, Sucker Puck Productions added free DLC which includes a performance upgrade and backwards compatibility for the PlayStation 5. There has been strong mention of it being Game of the Year circulating around, so if you missed out should you pick it up?
Jin Sakai is a samurai lord, who was part of the large Tsushima army who took on the invading Mongol army, led by Khotun Khan (Genghis Khan’s grandson’s cousin). Using underhanded tactics, Khan defeats the Samurai army and Jin is left for dead on the beach while the commander, his uncle Lord Shimra, is captured. Sometime later, Jin finds he was rescued and treated by someone in a nearby village, which is being attacked as he regains consciousness. Managing to escape, Jin sets out to free his uncle and liberate Tsushima from the Mongol invasion. However, as they don’t fight fair it causes a moral conflict in Jin as he questions the effectiveness of Samurai code against the Mongol army. As such, he learns underhanded techniques to start playing on their level. Becoming the Ghost.
With clear inspiration from plots of classic Samurai films, there is a great level of storytelling throughout the game. From both cinematography and the writing itself, it comes together to be one of the greatest storylines in a video-game. A particular highlight is the previously mentioned moral debate Jin has as the story goes on, causing a great amount of character development as you sympathise with his struggle to stick to the honour bound way of life he was brought upon, but also his desire to save Tsushima at any cost. This is further refined through a good range of supporting characters that explore this debate further with Jin as they each experienced loss and suffering due to the invasion. It also makes the side quests more worthwhile as they bring a huge contribution to the main plot. Still, it would be even better if the player’s actions had an influence over the story as it forces you in one direction. It loses the immersion as if playing more like Samurai or the Ghost feels like it should change how Jin acts to different situations. Sure it is faintly present as acting as the Ghost does prompt flashbacks to his Samurai teachings, but it just feels like an oversight. Still, the plot is still gripping so hopefully, this is something they develop in a sequel they already seem to be working on.
To describe the controls simply, it would be to say Ghost of Tsushima mixes button precise combat such as Dark Souls with some more general aspects from Assassin’s Creed. Leaning more on the latter, there are two aspects to the game, combat and exploration. Both containing depth as they work as an immersive experience. So let’s look at both in more depth.
First, the combat which is all about precision and can be broken down to stealth (Ghost) and face-to-face (mainly Samurai) styles as a player chooses how to engage the enemy. Generally, stealth and Ghost methods are the easier way of taking down enemies but fighting as a Samurai can be more satisfying. To the extent, players can even start an encounter with a group of enemies with a standoff to kill one of them once they leave themself open. At first, these are great, although later on, some enemies take a bit too long to create an opening and a bit draining. Yet it pays off when upgraded to give openings to other enemies. After this normal combat begins that revolves around two main kinds of attack. Light attacks are quick strikes that can be blocked and heavy stagger an enemy by wearing down their guard. Now heavy is further separated for different enemy types by stances that are easy to swap between on the fly. These do also change light attacks but these are still effective across enemy types. As to be expected, there is also a parry system which involves guarding at the last second, leaving the enemy open for a critical strike. For most enemies will defeat them in one go but for larger enemies it allows Jin to get some strikes in. Racking up kills fills Jin’s resolve that allows him to unleash special moves to cut down enemies even quicker in style.
These are all techniques for fighting as a Samurai, but as discussed Jin becomes more open to breaking the honour code to more dishonest methods. Sneaking around you can assassinate enemies via stabbing or from a distance there is a bow or even poisoned darts. Other items such as wind chimes, allow you to create distractions to lure enemies away from their posts. These can then combine with environmental features such as hornet nests and fire torches that can be shot to cause damage to enemies. Of course, if spotted, Jin has kunai, smoke and even sticky bombs to turn the odds to his favour. Further to this, as Jin delves further into the Ghost persona, a 7 kill streak without damage allows an activation of Ghost mode which terrifies enemies and Jin can strike them down as they are paralyzed with fear and start running away.
In terms of exploration, there is standard climbing mechanics where Jin can climb up to where there are ledges. Later on, this is enhanced with a grappling hook to swing from branches or posts which have a rope tied onto them. It is basic but effective, working within the realm of realism to give an authentic experience. Where it goes hand in hand with Ghost mechanics, these are also used to find collectables to enhance gear, follow Foxes to shrines to unlock charms to boost stats, and even climb up shrines to get other charms. Explorings are vital to also find bamboo strikes to increase the resolve meter and hot springs to increase health. Where there is a lot of motivation to explore, the graphics themselves are a huge motivation in itself.
Graphics and Sound
Without a doubt, Ghost of Tsushima is one of the best looking games on the PS4. Clear from the large amount of research that went into the game as it is based on the real Tsushima island in Nagasaki prefecture. The island in-game features a range of environments to show off different parts of Japanese nature in a vibrant range of colours. This combined with highly rendered textures that show an insane amount of detail in the game’s environment. To ensure a variation, different parts of the island have a different season feel. Where it works with the plot the island doesn’t change but it looks so good it is easily overlooked. A real highlight is the tall grass that has a real natural flow as it moves in the wind. Not only that, the aesthetics of shrines and Samurai mansions have an incredibly realistic feel to them. Arguably, it is as if Sucker Punch have created a history simulation of feudal Japan.
Sucker Punch have openly said they have taken inspiration from classic Samurai films for the game and it truly works. Cutscenes are dynamic and have a true Japanese feel to them, brought further alive with the use of motion capture acting which has been made full use of. The movements look realistic, and it feels as if it allowed the actors to fully get into the role as the voice acting is a real high standard. Outside of cutscenes, it is prevalent in the lighting effects used, most notably the moonlight as it shines down. Combined with the great visual assets, it is a pleasure to just explore. There is even a black and white filter to go even further in the classic experience. The only fault is the lip movements weren’t redone for the Japanese audio which is a shame.
If that wasn’t enough, there is also a picture mode that allows you to change filters, camera angles, and etc. so players can take incredible photos. There does seem to be more options compared to other games as if they know it is one of the greatest looking games ever released.
As mentioned at the start, free downloadable content (DLC) was added in October for Ghost of Tsushima that has two parts. The first is a new game plus mode with a harder difficulty (which is optional) with a new merchant selling more customisation options for the different sets of armour and etc, purchased with a new collectable. However, the main bulk of new content is a new online mode, playable with up to three other people.
Named Legends, the online mode involves fallen warriors who have become spirits, fighting to protect Tsushima from not only the Mongol invasion but yokai and evil spirits they have released. Heavily rooted in Japanese folklore, tales are told in a two-player story mode. There are 9 chapters, bringing in new, more challenging, enemies to fight each time with mechanics such as the spirits who cannot always be seen, and elemental powers a player needs to gain to take down particular enemies. It is refreshing, bringing in something new and interesting to the base game. Showing the clear amount of effort despite being free.
The other main mode is survival, played on one of four maps with three other players. The mode starts with the group taking out the enemies on the map to take over the three bases, only for you to fight off 15 waves, protecting these bases to win. On the 5th,10th and 15th wave, a boss will appear with a slight break and the number of reward increases. Each player earns points for each kill and for surviving each wave that can be spent on perks such as healing everyone, summoning spirit animals to fight alongside, burning enemies near players, and restocking everyone’s ammo. It works well as a base defence game, with a twist that if you lose a base, the health of players is reduced to increase the tension.
The last mode is a raid mode, again played with 3 other players. Mixing the story and survival mode together to create a further challenge and adding further mechanics into the mix. One such mechanic is having players needing to destroy red orbs that sort of look like hearts, however, to do this players need to fight enemies around it as once they explode are defeated, damaging the orb. There are even sections focusing more on platforming and, of course, boss sections. A word of warning though, this is a very challenging mode so make sure your character is maxed out and kitted out with tactical equipment.
All of the legends modes build a character to play as. The first choice involves which class they are out of Samurai, Ronin, Hunter, and Assassin. The main difference is the skills they develop as Samurai focusses on direct combat, Ronin on support, Hunter on the bow, and the Assassin on, well being an assassin. However, they all control and play the same other than these skills, which is fine as it allows flexibility but it does feel they should fight differently in the controls. Still, beating modes gives equipment that gives different weapons and such to suit your character. This does include a sword stance, that sure if playing with friends works by planning together but it can be frustrating as it locks you into one style against a range of enemies.
Looking at the DLC itself, the fact it is free makes it incredible as it is a better quality and gives more content than other paid DLC packs for other games. Even more so as it adds something new to the game, bringing even more Japanese culture to the game it is a worthy addition. If the base game alone wasn’t enough, the DLC makes the game even stronger.
Ghost of Tsushima is simply a fantastic game through and through. Solid gameplay, with a story that shows a great development of the characters. Not only that, visually the graphics consistently deliver a movie-like feel, put together with a range of environments that showcase the different beauties of Japanese nature. Where the base game was great enough, the free DLC brings even more greatness to the game for free. The only real flaw with the game is the lack of influence you can have over the plot but this is easily overlooked due to the quality of the writing. With the upgrade to backwards capacity for PlayStation 5, if you haven’t gotten it already, now is the time to get it.