Ghost of Tsushima Game Review

Travis Vuong
10 min readSep 28, 2020

Sucker Punch Productions, the developers behind the Sly Cooper and inFAMOUS franchises, started working on Ghost of Tsushima right after inFAMOUS First Light. The studio wanted to develop another open world game but outside of their already existing franchises. Ideas of pirates and The Three Musketeers were thrown around but they ultimately came back to the idea of a Samurai game. They wanted it to be historically accurate to Japan, doing thorough research and even sending a team to Japan to capture different sounds. Their goal for this game was to give the player as much freedom as possible to explore the world at their own leisure. The game was initially revealed during Paris Games Week of 2017 which showed beautiful visuals and glimpses of a Samurai. I was pretty excited to finally see Sucker Punch Productions’ new game. Being quiet since 2014, Sucker Punch Productions landing on a Feudal Japan setting was definitely unexpected. I didn’t have any expectations or predictions for what their next project was going to be but returning to Sly Cooper and inFAMOUS did seem a bit far-fetched. Many didn’t enjoy inFAMOUS Second Son and Sly Cooper didn’t do well on his resurgence for the PlayStation 3. As more information on Ghost of Tsushima started to trickle out, I was still relatively calm during new gameplay reveals and details. It’s a new IP, so it’s hard to get super excited about it, except for the fact that it’s a new Sucker Punch Productions title. The State of Play event for sure got me excited, going in depth on the open world aspects of the game and the two different gameplay styles; the samurai and the ghost. As reviews started to pour in, the scores were relatively high with some being of a mixed bag. Now that I’ve finally played the game, where do I stand with Ghost of Tsushima? Is it another PlayStation 4 game that’ll go along with the greats? Or is it sadly that mixed bad some were talking about in their reviews?

The story of Ghost of Tsushima takes place in 1274 of Feudal Japan. You’ll be playing as the Samurai named Jin Sakai and are in the midst of a war with the Mongols. Your goal is to recruit new and familiar faces in this war against the Mongols. As Jin grows his number of allies with each mission, you’ll be going up against the Mongols to regain territory and reclaim the land of Tsushima. That’s about as much of the story I can talk about before I head into spoiler-ish territory. The themes and topics this story tells are pretty good. They aren’t surface level topics and themes either, they challenge these ideas constantly and are well executed in the end. There are so many characters in this game, they’re all unique and different in some way. You’re bound to have a favorite side character by the end of your journey. The overarching story through all of these acts was fun to see. By the end of it, I wasn’t too blown away by the story but was glad to see it all the way through. Overall, the story won’t necessarily blow your mind but it will keep you entertained the whole way through.

Jin and one of the side characters, Ryuzo

The gameplay for Ghost of Tsushima is the major chunk of this game. It’s another massive open world game but you’re playing as a Samurai in Feudal Japan. You’ll be traversing the land of Tsushima to defeat the Mongol forces while helping whoever you come in contact with. You have the basic story missions and side missions. The story missions follow Jin on his journey to retake Tsushima from the Mongol Empire. The story missions are also pretty long at times so be prepared to be stuck in a story mission for like double the amount of time a normal side mission would take. Speaking of the side missions, they usually involve helping the people of Tsushima. There are some story-based side missions called Tales of Tsushima which help in exploring Jin’s many new allies. They’re never required to fully complete but will help you understand where they’re coming from and how this war has impacted them. The story-based side missions are definitely my favorite type of side missions since they advance a side-part of the story and they’re never too long. The last type of side missions are called Mystic Tales which follow legendary stories of Tsushima. I didn’t do a lot of these missions but the rewards they give are pretty good.

Fox in Ghost of Tsushima

Other activities in the world include taking over Mongol territory, dueling against random foes, haiku poems, platforming shrines, fox shrines, bamboo strikes, hot springs, and lighthouses. The purpose for all of these side activities is to make Jin stronger or unlock new cosmetics like headbands and katana skins. Once you discover a side activity, completed or not, you can use them to fast travel which makes exploring Tsushima more streamline. So even if you have your eyes set on a story mission and you stumble across a fox shrine; you can either do the shrine right then and there or fast travel back to it later. Either way, fast traveling to that location will always be available. You’ll often be using your horse to explore Tsushima more quickly which the horse is a god damn tank. No matter how many times I knock my horse down, he’ll come right back up to keep moving. I really like the horse in this game because he doesn’t really take damage at the end of the day.

Getting into the combat, it’s split between the Samurai and the Ghost. The Samurai gameplay is focused on defeating enemies head on with your katana while timing defensive maneuvers accordingly. You’ll want to use different stances on the different enemy types to maximize your advantage. The Samurai gameplay feels so satisfying to pull off because it’s not about mashing the attack buttons over and over again. The defensive maneuvers; blocking, dodging, and parrying, are important due to enemies hitting for a lot of damage along with blocking your attacks rather well. When approaching a group of enemies, you can often challenge them to a standoff. Standoffs start you one versus one with one of members of the group. All you have to do is release the triangle button at the right time to defeat them at the start of the fight. I’m pretty bad at these but like blocking/parrying, it’s really satisfying to accomplish.

Samurai Gameplay, Resolve Circles Bottom Left

The yellow circles are called resolve and are used to restore health or pull off special attacks on your enemies. This sort of mechanic is being used more often these days, more recently Marvel’s Spider-Man used this mechanic and I like it here too. Either use it to regain some HP or use it to deal more damage to your enemies. When multiple enemies are attacking you at once, that’s when the combat becomes especially challenging and is when skills are tested the most. We’ve seen this new sort of gameplay style emerge with Souls-like games becoming more popular and I think it works rather well here. The Ghost gameplay is all about stealth. Sneaking around your opponents to take them out from behind. You can also use stealth tools like the bow and arrow, kunai, wind chimes, smoke bombs, and poison darts to take out enemies. The stealth tools in this game aren’t too robust, sort of like the normal stealth weapons you’d see in an open world game these days. The kunai I would use in Samurai combat since they break the opponent’s block and do a lot of damage. Regardless, the Ghost gameplay is still super fun. Upgrading your move set and tools is a major part of the gameplay.

Ghost/Stealth Gameplay

Upgrading your blocks and parries will make combat somewhat easier but won’t be a sure fire way to ease through gameplay. You can also upgrade your stances to handle the various enemy types better as well. The stealth tools can also be upgraded to hold more ammo or deal more damage. You’ll acquire various armor sets throughout the game and those can be upgraded too. The armor sets themselves have various attributes attached to them like more durability during combat, stealthier in Ghost sequences, more exploration on the map, etc. The armor types are pretty cool since they lean towards however you want to approach the game. You can also give Jin passive enhancements with the charms. They’ll help in defense, offense, stealth, and utility. The charms can be useful in some way. Honestly, I just equip whichever ones are the best in my inventory and move on. I’m not entirely sure if the charms are actually in effect since they’re just passive enhancements but it’s nice to think I deal more damage or I’m a little extra tanky next time I go into a fight.

Sword/Katana Upgrades

You can also upgrade your swords to deal more damage which results in faster kills. As you can tell, pretty much everything you use in this game can be upgraded, making the gameplay feel fleshed out and fun to play. The only time I feel super powerful against enemies is in the post game. At this point, I’m maxed out on my favorite abilities, have full armor, additional health, and maxed both swords out. I’m kind of unstoppable. Also, I’m super familiar with the gameplay now so combat isn’t too challenging now. I mean, I’ll still get hit because I can’t parry or block but the combat is still not a walk in the park. In short, the gameplay for Ghost of Tsushima is awesome. I haven’t played and finished an open world game this big since Grand Theft Auto V. I wouldn’t consider Marvel’s Spider-Man as a massive open world game since the game is less than 20 hours long with its medium sized world of New York. I’ve tried other large open world games since Grand Theft Auto V like Red Dead Redemption 2 and Days Gone but those games couldn’t keep me engaged for the first 5–6 hours. So much to do in this game outside of the normal missions, you’re bound to get lost in the world of Tsushima. The duality of the Samurai and Ghost are both equally fun to play and execute. The extensive upgrading system makes gameplay feel fulfilling with many different weapons to boot. Ghost of Tsushima’s gameplay is a great time all around.

The presentation for this game is definitely a mixed bag. On the plus side, the game does look spectacular at times with the lighting and how stylish the game can be. Sucker Punch Productions using an all Asian cast for the central characters in this game was appreciative as an Asian American myself. Seeing Asian representation rise in entertainment just puts a big smile on my face, you don’t even know. All of the actors do a great job playing their characters, pleasant performances all around. The technical side of this game is where it sadly falls a bit flat. When running through some parts of the world, the frame rate dips and it happens a lot. It’s really noticeable when riding through trees or bushes. I played this game on a regular PlayStation 4, so the frame rate might be better on the PlayStation 4 pro but I can’t confirm that. Just letting you guys know this info as a regular PS4 user. Another problem I saw a lot while playing this game was random glitches or weird things happening during gameplay or cutscenes. Getting stuck between a box or a weird brush hitbox, things like this are funny at first but kind of take me out of the game for a bit on top of the frame rate drops. Because of these two problems, the game never feels 100% stable on the regular PS4. Maybe the game performs better on the PS4 Pro or even the PlayStation 5 but these problems were present throughout my playthrough of the game. Not game ruining stuff mind you, I was still able to enjoy the game in the end but an inconsistent frame rate and jarring glitches do stick out.

In conclusion, what’s my final verdict on Ghost of Tsushima? Sucker Punch Productions is by far my favorite PlayStation Developers. They created my childhood favorite video game character, Sly Cooper, and one of my favorite PS3 titles, inFAMOUS 2. This new project of theirs, set in Feudal Japan where you play as a badass Samurai, is superb. The story of Jin and his journey to defeat the Mongol Empire was a delightful story at the end of the day. The gameplay is filled with tons of activities to do outside of the normal story and side missions. The Samurai and Ghost gameplay is cool, having two distinct ways of approaching engagements. While the presentation does have its flaws technically, the beautiful visuals were a major plus. When I finished the main story, I played for about 30 hours and there was still so much more to do within the world of Tsushima. Players are averaging 20–30 hours, obviously depending if you blaze through the main story missions back to back or you do side missions and activities between the story missions. However you decide to play the game, you’re guaranteed to have a good time if you’re into the Feudal Japan aesthetic and are down for a massive open world experience with an intensive combat system. Ultimately, Ghost of Tsushima is a great send off for the PS4 and should not be overlooked by any means.

Travis “tvsonic” Vuong
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