Ghost of Tsushima, the latest release from Sucker punch, is a katana-wielding, honour-code breaking, open world masterpiece. It follows Jin Sakai, the only nephew of samurai Lord Shimura, on his quest to rid his homeland from the invading Mongol army. He battles with his own grief and his uncle’s expectations as he becomes a legend, The Ghost of Tsushima. It has so many merits as both an open world and action-packed game but, much like Lord Shimura’s unyielding honour code, it has its problems.
Let’s start with what the developers got so right. The expansive world that they have given to exploration-starved players is nothing short of breath taking. I haven’t experienced this level of freedom since Red Dead Redemption 2. The title cinematic has you ride your trusty samurai steed across a rolling grassland and it only gets better from there. The graphics are colourful and you can make serious use of the photo mode to capture your journey across Tsushima. Mountains, rivers, beaches, oceans, forests and caves are just some of the landscapes you can explore as Jin. No, this is not the first game to offer such a variety of terrains but the satisfaction lies in how you traverse this world. You begin with your horse and the well-travelled legs of a Samurai warrior, along with upgrades to reduce your gravitational limitations that happen later in the game. Sucker Punch have made the world feel accessible enough that you don’t spend ten minutes trying to find a rock to jump on, but realistic enough that you feel challenged and satisfied when you reach your destination. Jin is an agile climber, perhaps slightly unrealistic at times, but no more so than Nathan Drake and that didn’t hurt the Uncharted franchise. But maybe you don’t want to spend your time running, galloping or climbing. That’s fine. Just press ‘fast travel’ and do your own thing. I definitely made use of that feature but avoid overusing it if you can. Rambling across the world you’ve been gifted allows you to find the many extra bits that add to not only the whole experience but also to your health and combat customisation.
Ironically, or predictably depending on your experience, the game’s biggest problems are products of its greatest feature. The sheer size of the map means that there are side missions along every road or river you travel. Now this is great at the beginning. You get a chance to connect with Jin’s story as well as improving your combat skills. It also introduces you to some interesting characters, or ‘tales’, that are like mini story missions. But after the first third of the game the constant side missions become a bit tedious. There are only so many farmer’s daughters you can rescue before you get frustrated that it’s distracting you from the main story. Now, if you can play happily in the knowledge that there are thirty side missions you haven’t done then this won’t be a problem. But if you’re like me, you will find yourself simply doing the same kind of missions over and over again just to get them done. Is “there just too much to do” a fair criticism? I think so when it impacts other areas of the game. The generous rewards from these missions means that you can easily have your equipment and armour fully upgraded relatively early in the game. Yes, you can now slaughter Mongol troops like it’s nothing but it takes fun out of completing other missions and gathering supplies.
While we’re on the topic of slaughtering Mongol troops, let’s talk combat. I was a bit apprehensive that the use of just a katana and tanto blade would mean repetitive combat mechanics – I was wrong. You can choose between all-out attack or defy your Samurai code and rid the enemy from your island with stealth moves. Whichever you chose – I liked to mix it up – you won’t be disappointed because the range of moves and throwables keep each encounter interesting. Having to choose between four sword stances depending on what enemy you are facing means that you can’t really get away with just swinging your sword with random button mashes. And come on, you’re a Samurai, it’s not meant to be easy. I did experience some glitches where you get stuck between a tent and a fence while you are mercilessly impaled by a Mongol leader. But these were minor and seldom during my playthrough.
You also want to look good while you become a legend of Tsushima and the game doesn’t disappoint. While yes, the upgrades can be maxed out too early in the game, you can keep earning new colours and patterns for your armour and weapons right up until the end. A feature that I appreciated was that many of these cosmetic details are attained by Jin collecting flowers that are then turned into dye by merchants you meet along your travels.
Is this a perfect game? No. Is it close? Yes. If you like the freedom of RDR2, the climbing and exploration of Uncharted and Far Cry, and the engaging backstory of God of War and the The Witcher then this is going to take up a lot of your time. And let’s be honest, what better way to spend your time than as a complex and fierce Samurai who throws caution to the wind?