Ghost of Tsushima is a fantastic look into 13th century Japan as imagined by Sucker Punch Productions. The world is a vast, semi-accurate portrayal of the Tsushima islands during the first Mongol invasion. While Sucker Punch chose not to directly reference actual places and people, for the most part, there are some topographical and historical locations to be seen.
As your character ride through the groves of bamboo and valleys of horsehair grass, you may stumble upon a rock formation or inlet that looks strikingly familiar on a map. Part of the charm of the game is the beauty and variety of landscapes in the game world. This game takes your character from mountain temples to ocean side monuments, showing you views of lush grasslands, calm bamboo groves, and bright Japanese maple forests that seem to ignite the land.
The world of Ghost of Tsushima feels genuinely open and you can head off in any direction you want nearly right away. This might not be advisable unless you want to face a challenging enemy right away. However, you have the freedom to do so even if it means ignoring the main plot and going off on an adventure of your own.
The world opens up even more as the story progresses to a point where you can go pretty much anywhere on the Tsushima islands. Most locations can either be fast traveled to directly after visiting them or can be reached by going to another point of interest nearby, letting you easily travel across the map without taking long walks or horse rides.
Changing weather in the Tsushima Islands
The weather system and day/night cycle in Ghost of Tsushima feel seamless and adds to the scenic setting. It can show sunsets and sunrises painting the sky in golden light, rainy days that are damp and cold, and deep eerie fogs that creep along the forest floor at night. The way the environment reacts with the system is also very detailed, from glistening grass from the morning mist to stormy seas and wind-worn cliffs. Everything in this world feels alive and dynamic.
One of the more interesting things about the weather in the game is how it reacts to your actions. Following the path of “the Samurai” will give you brighter, warmer weather while following the path of “the Ghost” will give you heavy rains and strong winds. The things you choose to do with your character have consequences extending far past your reputation and legend.
Survival and Honor – Samurai or Shinobi
Your character, Jin, is forced to choose between two worlds. Will you choose to maintain your honor at the risk of your homeland or will you lean into the legend of “the Ghost” fighting like an assassin from the shadows?
You can use Jin’s abilities and skills befitting a samurai lord or those of a shinobi, employing every possible advantage at your disposal. With the exemption of some moments of forced exposition via duels, how you choose to do battle is entirely up to you. You can have Jin challenge foes head-on as an honorable samurai or strike from the shadows as a shinobi using tricks to quickly and quietly take them down. The more he embraces “the Ghost”, the more the people and islands take notice.
The people along the way
Jin’s journey will not be a solitary one. Even if you choose to isolate him as much as possible, you still end up having him smell like sake and good company at some point.
The people he meets along the way feel like they have lives of their own. He takes part in their stories but won’t always be the focus of them. You can choose to have him engage with others even when it won’t progress his story.
There will be rewards, but none of it is strictly speaking necessary. Still, you may feel an obligation or a strong desire to help someone. This gives you an excellent opportunity to examine your own biases through Jin’s actions.
Dynamic combat and strategy
One of the things I love and hate most about Ghost of Tsushima is the combat. On one hand, you have many options at your disposal to dispatch your foes. On the other hand, the combat can feel somewhat repetitive. Changing tactics is an easy solution to this, but combat comes in 3 basic forms: standoffs, dueling, and assassination. This is where everyone equates Ghost of Tsushima to Assassin’s Creed or Arkham games. However, the truth is it’s just not like those games.
You don’t have to rely on quick time counters or point perfect precision. My roommate chose to power his way through half the game and while I dispatched most of my foes in a hail of smoke, knives, and backstabbing. Ghost of Tsushima may have some similarities to other games, but it’s very much its own game.
My only major gripe is the game’s annoying habit to pause and remind you to use the appropriate stance for your foe if they so much as breath on you. It gets a little old, but it’s easily ignored after you get used to it. At this point, I don’t use anything but moon stance except in certain circumstances. Besides, who needs a stance when you can throw a smoke bomb, zip around slashing throats in the fog, and hack a kunai at anything left standing?
Photography in the 13th Century
It may sound odd to suggest pulling out your DSLR in the middle of 13th century Japan, but that’s exactly what I recommend doing. Photo modes in games have come a long way, and Ghost of Tsushima has one of the best I’ve seen this year. With all the beauty and action presented to you, the photo mode makes an amazing addition to the plethora of ways to enjoy the game.
Currently, I have 60 screenshots from the game. Some are admittedly from various trophies I’ve earned, but a large number of them stem from my insatiable desire to take cool pictures.
The photo mode goes beyond letting you take simple shots. This mode gives you access to Fstop, focal range, lighting, time of day, angle of shot, and height. It also has scene accents such as particles, expression control, and to my surprise, the ability to add music and string shots together. It’s a wonderful tool and I cannot suggest enough on familiarizing yourself with it.
Peeking through feudal Japan
Any open-world game can feel directionless at times which can easily cause burnout. Ghost of Tsushima works its way around this by making side quests genuinely fun. The world lets you follow foxes, chase birds, climb mountains, bathe in pristine hot springs, and construct touching Haiku-like poems. Finding forgotten relics, clan banners, beautiful shrines, and secret places gives the vastness of the world a meaning beyond taking in its beauty.
Ghost of Tsushima is a wonderful game and I am eager to see it through to the end. I’ve been swept up in the story, and the action never gets old. I believe if we can keep getting games like this out of developers like Sucker Punch, we are headed in the right direction for the future of gaming. It’s been a blast so far. Ghost of Tsushima is a PS4 exclusive and is available for $59.99.
YouTube: Ghost of Tsushima [Gameplay Compilation]
Photo credits: The images used have been taken by the author for TechAcute.
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