It’s rare, but there comes a time during the lifetime of a console when you play a game and think “Wow! This one is special.” This year has had a handful of great games but Ghost of Tsushima is absolutely the one to fittingly play the PlayStation 4 out.
Ghost of Tsushima is graphically breathtaking and masterfully written. It uses all the little things that the PlayStation 4 has at its disposal. It may not be the best PS4 game ever, but man is it in the upper echelon on PlayStation games.
Ghost of Tsushima tells the story of the samurai, Jin Sakai, during the first Mongol invasion of Japan. This is one of the first times that the Japanese had encountered the Mongols and the initial battle goes poorly for Tsushima’s samurai.
The game makes it immediately clear that while the samurai are all about following their code, the Mongols are willing to do whatever they need to win. The initial battle ends up with the 80 samurai decimated, Jin left for dead and his uncle, Lord Shimura, captured. The game opens from there, with Jin having to come to grips with his training as a samurai being grossly ineffective against an enemy that doesn’t care about honor.
Ghost of Tsushima is a story of redemption and deprivation
As Jin explores the invaded island of Tsushima, he recruits members to his resistance. These people, while joining the cause in the story, also provide new skills and abilities for Jin to use. Some of these abilities align with the samurai code, while others do not. These “ghost” abilities are generally dishonorable ways of fighting, like throwing weapons or assassination skills. These skills are fortunately imperative to Jin’s success to save his uncle and gives the player their own options to play the game.
I tried to play the game in a more honorable way and it was a lot harder for it. When encountering enemies, I was able to immediately challenge their strongest to a duel. The duel system allows you to (with a high risk of penalty) take out an enemy fighter before the fight truly begins. I initially tried to approach every battle in the open and with clear intent but the Mongols don’t care. While I would fight an enemy, their teammates would pelt me with arrows or stab me in the back.
Slowly I found myself adding more ghost techniques into my skillset. I used kunai to stun enemies waiting to get a shot in when I was fighting another enemy. The bow and arrows were effective for taking out archers and less armored invaders before they reached my position. Stealth assassinations became another option instead of challenging the biggest guy to a duel, and smoke bombs gave me moments of reprieve when fights spiraled out of control. Ghost of Tsushima really does give you all the combat options you need.
The island of Tsushima is fairly huge and the terrain isn’t always easy to navigate. During the time I’ve had with Ghost of Tsushima, I’ve scaled cliffs, swam in rivers, climbed buildings with grappling hooks, and rode horses. With that being said, I’ve also stubbornly just sprinted across the island while looking for my next encounter or missions.
The hud in Ghost of Tsushima is incredibly minimalistic. After marking a place on the map, the world directs you to your destination without a minimap. Using audio cues from your controller and blowing winds or birds, the game directs you to your destination without arrows of highlighted paths.
More or less, you control the story
Because there aren’t any truly direct paths to destination points, it is easy to get sidetracked. You’ll encounter Mongol camps, villagers in need, or even opportunities for collectibles. You’ll also learn that fall damage is an absolute beast and jumping off of things is a very easy way to end up dead. Seriously, don’t do it.
Because of the natural way you arrive at the destinations in the game, it feels far more cinematic than many other games. I climbed down a rocky wall and was running along the beach to a little fishing hut, my wife didn’t even realize it was a game until I called my horse to make the trip quicker.
As you clear enemy camps, save people, or complete missions or the story, your legend increases. This appears to slowly ramp up the difficulty, while also giving you access to more skills and abilities with points. I did initially put a lot of points into sword fighting, because ghost moves aside, Ghost of Tsushima is all about swordplay. Jin learns a few different sword stances that help deal with certain enemies. These stances are effective against shielded enemies, enemies with heavier or longer weapons, and even for just raw power. They are also fun to just switch around in combat to look cool as well.
There’s so much that Ghost of Tsushima does right, that the little things it doesn’t do so well stand out like a sore thumb. I’ve never used my touchpad on my controller as much as I did with Ghost of Tsushima but brushing against it was also a pain when doing things.
Combat is enjoyable but there wasn’t a lock-on feature, so every so often I would find myself attacking an unintended enemy. That usually resulted in dying or taking an unnecessary amount of damage. There was the occasional physics glitch or silly things like getting pushed far from a wall when climbing. It isn’t anything that would ruin your gameplay but there are times where patience is a virtue.
I grew up watching old Kurasawa films and spaghetti westerns when we visited my grandparents. If you had told me that Ghost of Tsushima was an adaptation of a Kurasawa film (he’s the guy that directed Seven Samurai and Yojimbo) I’d have believed you. The world is beautiful but dangerous, the people are broken and desperate and our heroes have grit. There’s an overarching theme of honor vs doing what is needed. Ghost of Tsushima is fantastic if just for story alone.
At its core it, Ghost of Tsushima is more Breath of the Wild than Assassins Creed. It’s a game you can play how you want and the story doesn’t really change too much because of your actions. You want hack and slash, you got it. Want to sneak around stabbing people in the head? Sure. Want to roll up to a Mongol camp and demand they come out and fight you like the cowards they are? You best fucking believe it!
Ghost of Tsushima is a game that is absolutely legendary and an amazing way to close out an awesome generation for the PlayStation 4. Do yourself a favor and pick it up!