Ghost of Tsushima is an open-world, third-person action/stealth game developed by Sucker Punch, the creators of games like inFamous and Sly Cooper. Releasing exclusively for the PlayStation 4, Ghost of Tsushima places players in 13th century Japan on the island of Tsushima, where war rages between samurai and foreign invaders. Playing as a skilled swordsman named Jin Sakai, you’ll slash through the opposition as you grow to become a bonafide samurai legend. The map is packed with activities and the combat is varied, but does Ghost of Tsushima managed to rise above the standard hack-and-slash experience? Let’s see if Ghost of Tsushima is the start of an exciting new IP or a sloppy and choppy adventure.
Jin Sakai’s Super Samurai Saga
Ghost of Tsushima kicks off with a giant battle between eighty Japanese samurai defending their home island against a brutal invasive force of Mongolians. Playing as Jin Sakai, a skilled but reserved samurai warrior, you do your best to dispel the oncoming invasion despite the tide of war turning against you. Like the real-world conflict that the game is inspired by, things don’t turn out too well for the Japanese. As the Mongolians stomp over the samurai in battle, Jin manages to escape with his life, leaving his uncle Lord Shimura to be kidnapped by the enemy. Vowing for vengeance against the Mongolian leader, Khotan Khan, Jin begins to recruit a resistance in order to slowly take back Tsushima and rescue his uncle.
As Jin progressively pushes back the Mongolians from Tsushima, he meets a small cast of supporting characters along the way. Generally speaking, everyone in Tsushima is having a rough time, but you’ll help out those who need it most when you can. This includes the grieving Lady Masako, the irresponsible sake merchant Kenji, a master archer named Sensei Ishikawa, and more. Each of these supporting characters has their own questline, usually five to ten missions long. These sub-plots add a lot of narrative depth to Jin’s story, strengthening his character through the tough decisions he must make.
While the overarching narrative surrounding the Mongolian invasion is decent enough, it’s the great supporting characters that carry the story. Apart from a few key villains, most of the foes you face are nameless Mongolian invaders, so having some additional context to the quests is appreciated. Across the board, Ghost of Tsushima paints a bleak but mostly realistic world of war. Everyone is sad, nothing is going well, and there are far more problems than solutions. Watching Jin rise from a notable samurai to a true legend during this time of turmoil is pretty satisfying, even if the story beats lack excitement. When compared to bombastic action games like Uncharted and Tomb Raider, Ghost of Tsushima is a bit more soft-spoken with its plot, but that’s not always a bad thing. Where the main story slumps, Jin’s personal growth shines, resulting in a mostly satisfying adventure.
So Much Tsushima
While the initial few hours of Ghost of Tsushima are mostly linear, the game breaks wide open after the prologue sequence. The island of Tsushima is full of lush scenery and interesting locations to discover and explore, as the map is absolutely littered with points-of-interest and various missions. Plainly put, in both the structure and the gameplay, Ghost of Tsushima is very comparable to the newer Assassin’s Creed titles (Odyssey especially). In an effort to take back Tsushima from the Mongolians and opportunist bandits, you’ll ride through sprawling fields and steep cliffs on your trusty horse, completing quests and slashing through various side activities.
The side activities in Ghost of Tsushima are numerous and consistently entertaining, even if they grow slightly repetitive after a while. There’s a good variety of content, so not everything is focused on combat. There are Mongolian encampments that can be raided and cleared, securing portions of the map and allowing you to travel around unaccosted by enemy patrols. There are serene, beautiful locations where you’ll reflect on life and write a haiku. Bamboo strikes can be found in towns, testing your button-pressing accuracy. You can even come across fox dens, where an excitable and friendly fox will lead you to a nearby prayer shrine.
You’ll gain a wide variety of unique rewards (more on that later) as you complete each type of activity, so it’s always worth it to explore off the beaten path. Better yet, none of the side-missions should take you more than 15 to 30 minutes to complete, making them great for short play sessions or players with a short attention span (like me).
Where the Wind Blows
That said, you don’t have to do too much exploring if you don’t want to, thanks to the helpful and ever-present “Guiding Wind” mechanic. Unlike Grand Theft Auto or other open-world games, there aren’t a ton of waypoints to guide you. However, by swiping up on the touch-pad at any point, a swift gust of wind will point you in the right direction. Occasionally, you’ll encounter golden songbirds in flight, which also lead you toward missions and hidden side content.
It’s also easy to find enemies amid the bustling scenery, as Jin possesses a “Focused Hearing” ability. By tapping the touchpad, you’ll slow down and enter a monochromatic viewing mode where enemies are highlighted in red. Focused Hearing is pretty powerful too, with the ability to spot enemies through walls from a significant distance. Unfortunately, Focused Hearing isn’t the biggest help for hunting down mission objectives, which presented an issue once or twice. Similar to “Eagle Vision” in Assassin’s Creed, Focused Hearing makes it super-simple to hunt down foes regardless of the environment, so you’ll never be completely blindsided by an enemy attack.
Generally speaking, I never felt completely lost or misguided during my time with Ghost of Tsushima. Thanks to the abundance of content and helpful guiding mechanics, I always had a destination in mind or something I was working toward. The constant flow of new quests and points-of-interest might feel overwhelming at points, but it ensures that there’s never a shortage of activities to encounter.
The Way of the Blade
Combat in Ghost of Tsushima can be either fast-paced with an undeniable flow or slow and methodical, split between hack-and-slash swordplay and stealth. Slicing through enemies with your katana is one of the most consistently enjoyable parts of the game, which is good, since you’ll spend a lot of time doing it.
You can slice quickly with quick-attacks, bash through blocks with heavy attacks, and pull off a wide array of stylish special abilities. It’s not super challenging like Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice either; there are lenient parry windows and easy-to-perform combos. Ghost of Tsushima is primarily interested in making you feel like an ultra-badass samurai without requiring god-like reflexes or skill.
There are four major sword-stances to unlock via mission progression, including Stone, Water, Wind, and Moon Stances. Each stance is more effective against certain enemy types, so you’ll want to switch between stances as you take on new foes. Thankfully, switching between stances, offensive equipment, and ranged weapons is very smooth and only takes a second or two, thanks to an intuitively designed hot-swap system. This makes it easy to continuously cut through your enemies like butter, resulting in a glorious display of style and violence.
Silently Breaking the Code
Although it’s not exactly up to samurai code, you’re also able to sneak around, stabbing enemies in the back without honor. Combat encounters are designed to fit both aggressive gameplay and stealth, but things often lean more towards action over assassination. As you unlock various upgrades, you’ll be able to chain together assassinations, disappear with smoke bombs, and sneak with more precision. Generally speaking, stealth works just fine, but it always feels like a lead up to the sword-play. Unlike Hitman, it’s not always efficient or pragmatic to silent snuff out your prey. In fact, it’s often far more fun to face-check an entire group of Mongolians and start hacking away. There are only a handful of missions that force you to use stealth, which are tedious at worst, but never mess up the pacing of the game.
The only major downside to combat in general is the utter lack of a lock-on feature, which can make the fighting feel less precise. The camera also has a habit of getting stuck on the environment or obscured by bushes and trees, which can be frustrating at times. Either way you cut it, the combat in Ghost of Tsushima is surprisingly violent and consistently fun, even with the mentioned annoyances.
Grow Your Legend
Ghost of Tsushima matches its abundance of content with an equal abundance of progression systems and upgrade mechanics, which are woven through every aspect of the game. As you progress through missions, you’ll earn experience that goes towards your overall “Legend” meter. As you fill up the Legend meter, you’ll unlock technique points, which can be spent on a wide variety of character upgrades. You can make gadgets more powerful, unlock new attack combos, and learn new abilities. There are dozens of different upgrades to unlock with technique points, with enough content to keep you unlocking new stuff until the very end.
Most of your gear, be it armor, sword, or bow, can be strengthened by collecting various resources throughout the environment. You’ll pick up lumber, metal, and other rare materials as you naturally play through the game. These materials can be traded in at various vendors to add static improvements to your loadout. There are over ten different armors to collect, each one offering a unique set of bonuses. For example, samurai armor is best used for aggressive combat, while ronin attire will help out stealthier players. Completing missions and side-activities often rewards you with charms, which also provide bonuses. Some charms bolster your power in battle, while others provide more unique passive boosts.
Certain side-activities, such as pillars of honor or haiku locations, offer cosmetic goodies upon completion. There are dozens of different hats, masks, and face-wraps to equip, as well as a slew of options for gear coloring. Your armor, sword, and bow can all be customized with dye-sets, which are earned through questing or purchased from dye merchants. Whether you favor an all-black set of robes with a blindfold and a face mask for show, or a flashy and colorful outfit that makes you stand out, Ghost of Tsushima lets you dress Jin the way you want.
The Bottom Line on Ghost of Tsushima
From beginning to end, Ghost of Tsushima is an entertaining and satisfying action game with an exceptional amount of visual splendor. The overall narrative occasionally loses its luster, but Jin’s personal story of growth pays off in some memorable ways. Any story-based shortcomings are easily forgiven thanks to the consistently exhilarating sword-play, which offers a great variety of options for both aggressive and cautious playstyles. Through a well-rounded progression system and a long series of upgrades, general combat stays enjoyable throughout the experience, with new mechanics revealed at a good pace.
If you stick to the beaten path and plow through the main missions, Ghost of Tsushima will take you anywhere from 20 – 30 hours to complete. If you’re anything like me though, you’ll likely feel compelled to clear the entire map, making sure to complete every side-activity and unlock every upgrade. Obtaining full completion will most likely take 40 – 50 hours, depending on how long you stop to take pictures in the impressive photo mode. Either way, Ghost of Tsushima is a quality adventure that manages to overcome any notable mistakes with its alluring sense of style and a substantial amount of content. If you’re a fan of open-world action games or the samurai era of Japan, consider Ghost of Tsushima your next favorite PS4 exclusive.