Ghost of Tsushima - Shadows of a Samurai (Game Review)
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Sucker Punch
A game that's been in development for 5 years, 6 since their last game Infamous: Second Son was out. Which was their only 8th gen title before this. Ghost of Tsushima is a passion project based on their early concepts of feudal Japan with the story being based on a historical Mongal Invasion. While also taking various influences from films of Akira Kurosawa.
On that note, I'll say this. Ghost of Tsushima is one of the greatest games released this generation and anybody who assumes that it follows old open world tropes needs to get their head and eyes check. Maybe a combination of neurologist and E.N.T. Sucker Punch did not let me down.
While yes, there are problems, they only hinder the experience at tolerable points and did actually little to mar my enjoyment. Not only does this game finds its way to use some ideas from various games, it also uses its world and atmosphere to complement them throughout the entire game.
Set in Feudal Japan, 13th century. The beginning of the Mongol Invasion swept the island of Tsushima away with the residence living in fear, panic, disarray while the lords of the land are either defeated or in-hiding. But arrives Jin Sekai, a lord by birthrigth/samurai warrior who was defeated by the Mongol invasion now turns the table by learning different techniques and ways to kill them that goes pretty much against the samurai code, hence the title of this game. He goes on a quest to rescue his uncle and reunite the rest of the island against their new enemy and claim it back.
So this story isn't super complex to understand, but it's strong in both emotions and themes, as well as with great world building itself that holds up the game all the way. While the protagonist is basic, savior hero. He does have internal struggles, you also get to choose how he deals with it. At long last, where most games adds multiple choices, and they feel like added for checkmarks, there's a nice payoff to these as they add depth into both story and character for a game of this linear nature. Kind of sort of like what Titanfall 2 did.
But that's not only it, the world of Tsushima has much going on. You go around village to village to cities that are raided and claiming them back, you get to meet various people with different personalities and the way they flesh out is pretty much an earnest attempt at adding richness to the world itself. You get to chase spooky myths for item hunting, urban legends, fight crazy battles and duels. It's everything you'd expect and more for a game about a samurai.
Though there are few cutscenes where I felt like they were repeatedly pandering about honor and respect about warriors, it only expressed that part without being dragged for too long at the first act. There are good moments of brevity and characters having different points of view have made it more palatable. The story isn't as surface level as you'd want once the game really sets off from the first half.
Never have I imagined playing an open-world with so many places to look at, almost everything has stories to tell, and they don't follow the by-the-book design that most open world games have. Even the amount of side activies you can do are just icing on this great cake.
Ghost of Tsushima is a pretty big game, large open world maps, abundance of tasks, story missions, collectibles and so on. Sure it's not Spider-man big with Manhattan but it's also about maintaining a balance between detail and areas to explore, and there was barely a moment where I was out of focus, observing every minutiae and having to absorb the brilliant atmosphere it creates. There's just too much good stuff to look at while continuing with the regular programming of playing the game much like every open world. And the open world aspect is pretty interesting.
In Tsushima, you travel across lakes, rivers, bridges build over ravines, villages both with people and decadent, beautiful outskirts of land and such. Sure, this isn't part of the gameplay as much as it is aesthetic but in a holistic sense, it kind of does. If you set up a waypoint, a gush of wind blowing across flower petals and tree leaves guides you to your designated location and it's done in such a beautiful way that leaves you, dazzled in a sense.
But enough about the environments, let me talk about the meat of the game. The combat, exploration, activities, mechanics and such. To start off, Tsushima is no slacker when it comes to gameplay. The combat is fast, quick and requires a good amount of discipline to win battles. Sometimes you can go crazy with the swordplay, but not always. Unlike Sekiro where it's constant parry, dodge, avoid attacks and then attack. GoT has you fighting against powerful foes, they will surround you, gank up and dish crazy damage. They can knock you back, be pushovers or distract you from the distance. The enemy A.I design works in favor for the challenge you face. The Mongols have tactics and weapons that can easily eliminate any samurai warrior which is why you use stances created to counter them in each combat sequences. It's too much, you use bombs or Shurikan type weapons to stun your enemies, breaking the mold.
One of the other important aspects is archery, you can aim your bow and shoot. Though it's important to note that firing arrows with successful hits depends on timing and precision. Sometimes you can hit their limbs that trips them enough or heat shots for immediate kills(doesn't apply to boss battles or band leaders). You can shoot flaming arrows or explosive ones enough to change the game. While enemies are ferocious, they're also easy to distract with these limited combat gadgets.
You can upgrade your equipment by visiting smiths or craftsman(or craftswoman). Upgrading your sword allows you to kill enemies quicker and easier, that also translate to adding more damage as well. Your Tanto used for stealth kills can easily sniff out life easier with upgrades as well. Upgrade your bows. It all seems easier and streamlined but getting these require that you do side activities and explore the world in order to find the materials for them. You can upgrade all the different types of armor you unlock as well. Heck, if you want to accessories and change cosmetics, there's plenty to unlock by collecting flower petals. These different sets of attire are so colorful and so savvy to look at even for clothes from Feudal Japan. Am starting to even believe they've existed before. Quality of life stuff.
As you progress through the game, finishing quests and killing bandits or Mongol squads, you earn technique points. Allowing you to unlock new abilities and sword fighting techniques. At first, you start off weak but once you start getting some skills, you really start to feel like a warrior that legends speak of. Once you've Stance are also something to unlock, but they require that you observe and kill Mongol leaders to unlock. Both of these have trees, feeling the technique point tree allows you to pick and unlock new ghost weapons like smoke bombs, wind chimes to use distracting enemies or literal sticky explosives. Unlocking all 4 stances allows you to battle all types of Mongol troops from the ones using spears, shields to the big guys. A lot of crowd control is given thanks to these.
The side activities involve cutting bamboo stands which increases your resolve, resolve that restores your health like it used to in Prince of Persia. Pretty neat. Finding Fox Shrines increases your charm slots, allowing you to add charms to your armor for attribute bonuses. Hot springs allows your character to reflect and increase max health. Then there's the whole liberating towns and premises taken over by Mongols. Scavenge around for a lot of materials and collectibles. You can even hunt bears or hogs for said materials needed to upgrade armor or bow. There are also lot of story missions, termed Tales. Some of them if completed becomes part of the main story like hiring your old tutor or finding a sole survivor of another clan that was massacred.
The swordplay is hell of a lot of fun, shooting arrows makes you seem like a badass of the ages, sneaking through enemy encampments is another joy. Which is sort of similar to Tenchu, strangely enough and yet works well as long as you have the right abilities for it. Battles can easy but once you lose the edge, you start losing fights fast. That's the one thing that this game does good, it keeps you well on edge especially during boss battles. I just love how it all goes out especially when you learn the combat so much with practice.
It ain't all sunshine and rainbows though from the land of the sun, the camera issues and the lack of lock-in system. The latter being a grievous omission for a game with a camera as funky as this. You can't see who you're hitting at times or objects will create parallex situations where as game engines like Unreal make these objects translucent for better experience, wish something like that was implemented in a game like this or maybe allow me to play at a different camera view by adding that option.
With that all being said, this was tons of fun to play. Like, imagine ever fighting Mongols. This game gives you that. Being a highly trained Samurai playing in this wishful thought out version of AC with elements borrowed from Far Cry and Shadow of Mordor yet comes to be itself as its own. The open world part rarely made me weary, that's how good these activities are.
Here's a bunch of photos I shot for the game on the site link >https://ibb.co/album/9GrVT0
Am pretty tired of writing just to praise this game so here I am instead giving you ideas of what the game's visuals are like. Drop-dead-gorgeous.
As for the audio, everytime you kill an enemy with your sword, the sound of flesh being torn really gets to you. Even the craziness of battle isn't enough to distract you from the calm, soothing wind blowing across the landscape. Sounds of foxes and elks howling sucks you in to its wildlife. The music is pure tribute to older Japanese films and then some. Then there's the voice acting; the english one; it's pretty good actually. The Japanese one is the preferable experience for some of you connoisseurs out there.
Sucker Punch has come a long way for telling stories, sure this hasn't exactly innovated anything in terms of action-adventure games as a whole but how much depth and nuance it provides, is enough to pull you in and is sure of a win for me.
It's not perfect, but its subliminal ways of dazzling me has sort of won me over. If some of the flaws were fixed, maybe this game would have been actual GOTY contender this year. Sure beats the last exclusive I've played, hell this was my palette cleanser for that abomination.