On July 17th, 2020 Sucker Punch Productions released Ghost of Tsushima to widespread critical acclaim. In light of its pre-launch reception, we obtained a copy on launch to see what all the fuss is about. Join us as we examine Jin’s journey to liberate the island of Tsushima from a violent Mongolian invasion.
How one derives fun from a product tends to be highly subjective. Therefore ALL forms of review are opinionated, and should be taken with a grain of salt (this included). So let’s review Ghost of Tsushima through the lens of more objective metrics such as; graphical fidelity, characters & story, content & length, controls & gameplay, then finally, sound design & cinematics. This product was reviewed on a launch model PlayStation 4. For full transparency: this content was reviewed playing a purchased copy.
It should be stated bluntly that: Ghost of Tsushima is one of the best looking games on PlayStation 4. That’s not to say it is the best looking game on PS4 (as some facial animations and characters look cartoonish and exaggerated), though Tsushima’s landscapes are nearly unmatched. The sheer breadth, scope and scale of the island is utterly breathtaking.
I wasn’t exactly sure where to put this, as Tsushima’s foliage deserves a segment of it’s own. The way fields of flowers, grass and trees sway to the wind in a manner that feels dynamic, yet natural, is unlike anything I’ve experienced in a video game. That’s not to say cool wind = 10/10, though the contributions to the game’s overall aesthetic are both unpredictably and subtly massive. Not only are the wind mechanics pleasing to the eye, but they’re also practically intuitive, as we’ll discuss in the controls & gameplay segment.
All of this is made possible with the utilization of the Unreal Engine 5. This enables incredible draw/rendering distances that often disallow unwelcome pop-ins and muddy backgrounds. While I’m gushing about visuals, It’d be criminal not to mention the incredible attention to detail in regards to Tsushima’s environmental, and particle effects. Contrasting some of the lackluster textures (we’ll touch on that momentarily), many of the animations such as: smoke clouds, sparks, falling leaves, wet/drying clothes, and drifting snow, are exemplary. Additionally, reflections are sharp, and the lighting is bloody incredible. It’s the small details like pant legs getting dirty in mud, then washing clean when players run through water that bring Tsushima and its inhabitants to life. That being said, some of the shading details aren’t exactly top notch, and some of the textures appear a little mushy up close. All things considered on aging hardware I imagine compromises must be made somewhere. Especially bearing in mind the fairly consistent performance of Ghost of Tsushima, the negatives are easy to overlook.
While I did experience occasional frame rate drops, there were (very) few moments where gameplay was practically effected. Over my 50+ hours in Tsushima I only noticed a single instance of screen tearing and not one crash. There were, however, a few amusing bugs that will in all likelihood be patched (if they haven’t already). Load times are impressively short, being literally extended to enable players time to read tips. Graphical options are fairly slim, though this is to be expected with most console titles. Players can adjust camera speeds between slow, cinematic, fast and default, although a precision slider for fine tuning would be optimal – especially for combat which we’ll get more into later.
HUD (heads up display) and UI (user Interface) is oftentimes minimalist and very clean. I adore how this truly allows players to get immersed in Feudal Tsushima, and soak in all the sights. HUD display consists of a health bar, and players’ “resolve” meters, as well as occasional enemy indicators. To be clear, there is no mini-map and I love it. No compass chasing here, only the guidance of natures wind. A small but welcome detail is the inclusion of dynamic menus that change depending on player progression. Nice touch Sucker Punch. Finally before moving on I’d like to highlight the tasteful use of occasional widescreen (with top and bottom black bars) that help hone and focus the intensity displayed onscreen.
Characters & Story
Personally speaking, interesting characters & stories are the driving force behind successful single player titles. Ghost of Tsushima does not disapoint in this regard. Being viewed as a sum of its components, Tsushima’s tales never detract or deter from the main plot or character development. More often than not, side quests contribute meaningfully to character arcs with heartfelt moments that truly allow players to empathize with its varied personalities. Avoiding spoilers, Tsushima contains riviting stories of revenge, redemption, reconciliation, adaptation, exile, and even subtle tales of love. I find it enjoyable that the writers chose to restrain from heavyhanded storytelling, instead relying on players’ ability to read between the lines and follow subtext. Characters often express more than their words portray, revealing thoughts & intention through body language, and facial expressions.
Setting the stage for the players’ adventures, Jin begins his journey as a broken samurai. Throughout your playthrough, players will gradually develop the legend of the Ghost as they liberate Tsushima from its captors. I won’t go into further detail but I was pleasantly surprised by the intimacy of its story, compared to the potential simplicity of a clichè revenge plot. Unique dynamics of the era and culture add nuances to what could have been an otherwise standard story.
Furthermore, while Ghost of Tsushima may not have a 20-30 character cast, the variety of roles keep the experience from feeling stale. Individuals like the merchant Kenji can lighten the heavy tone with much needed comedic effect, while the tales of people like Yuna, Masako and Ishikawa ground the story in a more mature context.
Content & Length
Ghost of Tsushima’s sole component is it’s single player open world. If you’re looking for some jolly multiplayer cooperation, you won’t find it here. That’s not to downplay it’s depth however as Tsushima’s tales (quests & sidequests) are each comprehensive and engaging all on their own. Broken up into Story Tales, Tales of Tsushima (side quest) and Mythic Tales (abilities quest) these offer a variety of story, world building, and exploration. These tales are (for the most part) legitimately compelling stories that flesh out the world and characters residing in Tsushima. I appreciated the departure from standard fetch quests (though there are a minor few), this allows Ghost of Tsushima to focus on it’s strengths: combat and story.
Tsushima island is a massive 11.02 miles² – “there’s so much room for activities”. Playable content varies from fighting to liberating camps, exploring for hot springs, following (and petting) foxes, finding and scaling lighthouses, bamboo cutting mini-games, and a small variety of other tasks. Exploration is highly encouraged, and the non-inclusion of a mini-map is of no hindrance to players’ ability to adventure. Completionist playthroughs will run players about 50-60 hours, with 20-30 hours for a casual experience. Difficulty levels include standard Easy, Medium, and Hard, although a recent update has amped the challenge up further with a new Lethal mode. Generally speaking Ghost of Tsushima is a mature game, with mature subject matter, for mature audiences. It’s a damn violent game but we didn’t pay for Care Bears. No micro-transactions or paid skins or any of that, hurray.
The Cherry on top of all of this: tiny bits of choice sprinkled in. Jin gets to name & choose his horse, and player choice determines Ghost of Tsushima’s ending.
Controls & Gameplay
Handling Ghost of Tsushima after a few hours feels natural to the touch. Every button on the DualShock 4 is utilized and in hindsight, I wouldn’t change a thing. X is jump, Square and Triangle are light and heavy attacks respectively with O as dodge. Bumpers block, and use quick-equipment while R2 and L2 aim, and open menus for different ammo types, ranged weapons, and equipment. Menus are quite snappy, which is essential for split second timing in the heat of combat. My favorite button mapping decision is to set the item pickup to R2 for easy access outside of combat. This makes looting extremely simple, instead of a tedious process of agonizing monotony. Now, there is still a lot of supplies, iron, and other items to pickup, however the convenient and abundant placement doesn’t make gathering a chore.
Time to talk about the glorious wind. The wind is your guide on Tsushima. Begone are the days of intrusive compasses, bulky mini-maps, and endless waypoints – now we have whooshhhh. By swiping up on the touch pad, a gust of wind will blow in the direction of your appointed goal; merely follow it and you’ll find your way. While this interesting mechanic doesn’t entirely negate the use of a start-menu map, it does help exploration feel more natural and seamless. Taking into consideration the help of your noble horse traversing Tsushima isn’t just easy, it’s pretty damn fun. Add a grappling hook to top it all off and speed up certain areas, it’s a recipe for a mighty fine open world experience.
Now to the core of what makes Ghost of Tsushima so satisfying: Its fluidity of gameplay and smooth feeling mechanics. Throughout their playthorugh players will acquire resolve slots that can be used to heal, and activate special abilities. This meter can be refilled during combat by either getting kills or parrying enemy attacks. This creates a risk/reward dynamic to combat, although with the numerous tools at your disposal players rarely feel restricted. A few options are presented to players in regards to combat engagement, whether they want to stealth their way through strongholds, or walk through the front gates like an absolute beast. Jin may initiate fights with a mechanic unique to Ghost of Tsushima: Standoffs. Players may hold the triangle button until an enemy swings their weapon, then release for a flawless kill. Holy shit, this is cinematically satisfying when the camera cooperates. Speaking of the camera, this is likely my largest complaint with Ghost of Tsushima. Sometimes during combat or a standoff the camera will get stuck behind a leaf or pressed up against Jin’s back by a wall. Oftentimes this can be a bit of a death sentence, but camera control is entirely with the player – so better bail quick and find a better angle. I understand the necessity of a drawn back camera as opposed to an over-the-shoulder God of War style, due the the chaotic style of combat and sheer number of enemies. On the topic – that is why this game does not utilize a lock on mechanic. Striking enemies feels like a “soft lock” with the player directing Jin, and the game (more often than not) predicting the intended enemy.
Once combat begins it has a sort of ebb and flow, with hyper-aggression being handsomely rewarded. Contrasting this; the patience of a samurai can be highly advantageous in the right hands. Properly timed dodges and parries can be not only essential to survival, but formidable offensive tools. In my opinion, the best fights were large scale battles with dozens of enemies and allies engaging in savage combat. Sure it’s fun to slice and dice a couple enemies with Jin’s glorious executions (my favourite being a straight stab to the heart), but true gratification comes from slaying a dozen foe with an arsenal; fulfilling the title Ghost. Weapons at player disposal range from bows and throwable distractions, to stunning explosives and kunai knives. I won’t detail them all here as to avoid possible spoilers (as some are quest rewards). Each new piece of equipment further deepens gameplay diversity, allowing different tactics or at the very least: looking badass. Next we have stances. Jin will acquire 4 sword styles each tailored with its own moveset and hard-counter. Stances are acquired sequentially by eliminating multiple enemy leaders. I did enjoy this form of progression, until I’d hunted my fill and the thrill of those fights wore off due to no reward.
When tales allow you a companion (to my surprise) they’re actually useful. Early in the game I noticed Yuna annihilating mongols with ease, and I honestly thought it was just a crutch for players. This doesn’t quite turn out to be the case later in the game as difficulty rises, but companions are legitimately helpful nonetheless. They will get downed occasionally and require revives, but its nothing strenuous. Additionally there are some minor scripted scouting segments in some missions that add some interesting dialogue, but aren’t overly innovative.
Finally on the topic of gameplay we have armor and stats. Armor variety in Tsushima bolster Jin’s stats and potentially give him passive abilities allowing players to further customize their experience. Most players I imagine will be split into two categories: Fashion-Samurai, and Statistic-Players. I tried to aim for both, but at times I found it difficult to compare statistics when modifier descriptions are sometimes inconsistent. For example: “Moderate Damage Boost” and “15% Melee Damage Boost”, without knowing the exact value assigned to “Moderate” how would players know which is optimal? Regardless, I found my capacity to murder was far more reliant on my skill as a player, than my ability to dress pimp.
Sound Design & Cinematics
Beginning this segment with Ghost of Tsushima’s soundtrack, all I have to say is: the E3 gameplay reveal that included the live flute performance was ridiculously appropriate. The OST for Tsushima is so accurate to its tone and environment that it cant help but flaunt its synchronous taste and personality. Music and sound effects are so natural to the island that it’s honestly far too easy to overlook the intricacies of its construction. From birds chirping, flowing streams, blowing winds, growling bears and clashing swordsman – each sound is finely tuned, crisp and precisely timed. (Especially in the cinematic and highly scripted segments) But before that, let’s touch on the voice acting and performances. As I primarily played with Samurai Cinema I experienced the majority of the dialogue in Japanese. Nevertheless, the acting is incredible from nearly all participants. Daisuke Tsuji’s Jin performance is commendable, delivering believable and humanizing dialogue that allows players to truly empathize with his characters struggle. Lauren Tom also projects a powerful role as Masako Adachi, conveying moments of sombre anguish, as well as spiteful rage and hatred. From Yuna (Sumalee Montano), Khotun Khan (Patrick Gallagher), Lord Shimura (Eric Steinberg), Sensei Ishikawa (François Chau), every performance felt like a slam dunk. Excellent portrayals all around, from the motion capture actors, to the vocal artists. I sincerely wish I could accredit everyone here – but that’s what credits are for.
Upon starting their game, players will have a variety of options for their preferred audio setup (headphone, T.V. speakers, etc), which is always welcome. A detail I especially enjoyed was how Ghost of Tsushima tailors its player experience with the inclusion of it’s “Samurai Cinema” & “Kurosawa” modes. Essentially these are combinations of English, or Japanese audio, with or without subtitles. “Kurosawa Mode” is played entirely with a black and white filter for a highly cinematic samurai experience inspired by filmmaker Akira Kurosawa. Just for all you purists out there. All this in mind, the lip-syncing has been animated specifically for the English audio. While the dub doesn’t exactly match up with the spoken Japanese, it is passable (and in my opinion a far more immersive experience). During my gameplay I experienced a vacant audio glitch (no sound effects, voices, etc), later rectified by a checkpoint restart. While this may have been momentarily jarring for player immersion it was an isolated incident and likely patched in future updates. A minor nitpick, to be clear.
I never thought I’d say this, but I didn’t absolutely hate the usage of the DualShock 4’s built in speaker. Ordinarily I end up turning this function off out of sheer annoyance but it feels tastefully applied here and harmonizes well with the other in-game audio. Be it the subtle engagement it brings to standoffs with the sound of draws, or the accompanied gush of wind with each swipe up on the tocuhpad. It all sounds seamless and is naturally integrated with the other sound design.
Lastly, the cinematics in this game are just incredible. Truly there are some compelling moments that nearly sucked me right into my television. Bonds build – they break, the stakes are high and the betrayals sting sharp. High octane scenes grip you early, tragic events maintain the hold, then compelling emotional drive takes it all home. Each cinematic is impactful, detailed, and overall what I’d expect from a high budget AAA title.
Utlimately, Ghost of Tsushima is a masterclass in its medium. While both compelling and equally beautiful, Sucker Punch finds a delicate balance in form and function. Ghost of Tsushima may not be perfect, but it’s not a far cry short either. Initially with Tsushima, I expected a next generation open-world experience from the studio that’s been making super-hero games for nearly 10 years. I anticipated a cheesy Assassins Creed-style romp around an occupied island, instead we received an eloquently presented plot, compelling characters (and subsequent arcs) accompanied by fluent and satisfying gameplay. A common complaint I’ve seen about Ghost of Tsushima is the inclusion of Haikus in 13th century Japan, when they weren’t invented until the 1700’s. While the factual accuracy of their time period may not always be precise, I feel this is allegorical of the title as a whole. Ghost of Tsushima is a phenomenal work of fiction, and if one of the biggest issues is simply an overlooked detail – it’s a fair trade for everything Sucker Punch got right.
Right, well I have utterly dumped my thoughts on Ghost of Tsushima in text, and I freaking love it. It looks great, both plays and runs phenomenally, contains great interconnected plots, characters with developing and intriguing arcs, and dozens of hours worth of gameplay. Honestly, what more can you ask for in a single player open world title? Sure, some camera issues are frustrating at times, but considering the cumulative quality of the product – Solid 9.4/10. Tiny bit more quest variety, bug fixes, and a better camera – It’d be flawless. Ghost of Tushima is available on PlayStation 4.
What did you think of Ghost of Tsushima? Let us know in the comments. If you enjoyed this content, why not check out our SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom – Rehydrated Xbox One Review?
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Here’s a bonus gallery because this game is just so damn beautiful.
Shogun Approved Samurai Simulator
- Score - 9.4/109.4/10
+ Incredible Landscapes & Visuals (For the Most Part)
+ Engaging Story/Character Arcs
+ Satisfying and Glorious Combat
– Camera is Wonky Sometimes
Just a Canadian dude who’s passionate about gaming, and the industry as a whole.