It’s been a few months since my “further thoughts” stage of the Ghost of Tsushima review. Mostly because I dropped off from it shortly thereafter.
At that point, Act 2 had dragged a bit and I was hitting the 30 hour mark without much of the end in sight.
Struggling to get my head around the type of game Ghost of Tsushima is. Is it an open-world Samurai game? Or is it more a stealth/action open world with leanings into the tradition and honour of the Samurai? This is, to an extent, the struggle of Jin the protagonist, and his uncle, Lord Shimura.
I don’t know why, but I needed a break. Time and distance create perspective, right? Perhaps my review and playthrough of Ghost of Tsushima was hampered by my real life? Certainly work has been a massive external factor in recent months, and slogging through all the side content and the meaty second act, had honestly exhausted the fun I was having.
That’s no way to get a good review of a game! So I dropped-off, regrouped and came back to Ghost of Tsushima a week ago.
And now, clocking-in at just over 41 hours, I’ve rolled the credits.
I’m so pleased I gave myself that time and distance. Because coming back, being properly objective, I’ve realised just how great Ghost of Tsushima really is.
The most prominent part of the story, to me. Isn’t that of repelling the Mongol Invasion, but the stories around that. Working with allies and their personal woes. Delivering exposition for both Jin and the other core characters in the story.
I don’t want to give too much away, but the Yuriko arc was a particular favourite. Yes, I saw the end of that arc coming a mile off, but it didn’t de-value it or soften the impact.
Ghost of Tsushima is Jin’s story. But it really isn’t.
Jin is a blank canvas of a protagonist. There to let the characters and actions of the game to paint the story. He allows for it to wash all over him and reflect if back in a way that a more chatty/quirky protagonist just couldn’t do.
Sure, Jin is stiff and a bit wooden. But that just allows for everything that happens around him, to have more impact. Those character moments, his friends and allies. That’s the heart of the game, and you’re always there, present but not central. It’s a bold choice and Ghost of Tsushima is better for it.
Getting through the story led to a very touching ending, too. One which I was actually a little surprised by. It was genuinely touching, and when the credits played, the music took over. It was honestly more moving than I could have anticipated.
Going against Jin’s uncle and his strict, honourable ways was hard on Jin. I felt like I wasn’t playing as a Samurai, but as an assassin. This is something I alluded to early on in my first part of the review.
What happened though, was that I came back to Ghost of Tsushima and needed to get back to grips with it all. So I went to do some quests for allies. Doing the Yuriko quests was enlightening in a way I hadn’t thought possible. As she reminisced about Jin and his dad, talking about how Jin was like his father, and his father wasn’t as straight-laced as his brother (Jin’s uncle). I felt like it was suddenly ok. The game wasn’t forcing me to play a game against my expectations, rather, letting Jin be who he really was.
That really changed my perspective and enjoyment of Ghost of Tsushima. Odd, I know. But the detail, the character from these missions really fleshed everything out for me.
You have to work hard as a western developer to be able to deliver a serious story based around an entire other culture. You can totally go too far, and make it parody-like, or cheesy. You’ve got to hand it to Sucker Punch. Every time I thought it might look like it’s going to go over that fine line, it never did. Music, voice acting, writing. Everything comes together perfectly.
The end is cinematic, beautifully lit, emotional, traumatic and just a lot more than I expected. Having to make a final decision was nearly enough to make me stop playing. Like, holy shit. The music, the cinema of it all.
Gloss and substance
Story is one thing. And we all know Ghost of Tsushima looks incredible. But does that shiny-looking story carry any substance in terms of gameplay and content?
Hell yes it does!
Ghost of Tsushima is delivered at an incredibly high standard. As we’ve come to expect of the Sony first party studios. And well, I arguably spent as much time in the photo mode as I did riding horseback.
But photos aren’t everything.
Fact is, there was nothing in Ghost of Tsushima that made me think “oh, this is not a well implemented system”. Combat works great, the use of the touch pad on the Playstation controller, was honestly inspired. Using the wind for direction, to subtly guide you using nature, whistling your horse and setting off to take in the landscapes. All next-level.
Think if Assassins Creed started to pare-back the massive worlds, and instead gave you a more contained, more refined experience. That’s what Ghost of Tsushima is.
Rocking up to an enemy camp, deciding if you want to stealth around it (my favourite method, in games), or just stand at the front gate and challenge them to a duel. Honestly, I was so happy to go either way, my stealth aspirations went out of the window more than once.
You have all the climbing, hiding, stealth kills and tools that you need. But you also have, by the end of the game, a whole suite of swordplay moves and stances to play with. Mixing it up is what keeps it fresh and Ghost of Tsushima gives you more variety than most modern games.
Rounding it off
Ok, so I’ve spent a long time talking about what makes it good. But what qualifies these comments?
So, my playthrough was just over 40 hours. I unlocked all of the mythic legendary combat arts. I upgraded several armours to the max level, and unlocked a lot of different sets.
Writing haiku’s in peaceful spots on the map. Reflecting upon life, death, war, family and a whole host of existential elements. Ghost of Tsushima has seen me tackle hoardes of Mongols, sneak into encampments, light-up lighthouses, assassinate and terrify whole groups of enemies.
Ghost of Tsushima is a well-refined game, top to bottom, and I’ve tried to experience everything it has to offer.
Sure, there is plenty of map, to uncover, and a whole swathe of things left to complete in terms of side missions and map-based objectives. But I’ve done more than enough to qualify more thoughts and feelings.
Two things of note:
- I played the entirety of the game on the “hard” difficulty, and definitely suffered for it from time to time. In fact, I had to dial it down on the final boss fight (with the Mongols). That was a bitter pill to swallow, but it was tough!
- I haven’t played the “Legends” mode which was added post-release as a multiplayer component. So I can’t speak to that, but I’ve only seen good things in reviews.
So my 3-part review is over. It’s an easy “exceptional” but I think taking a break, gaining perspective and getting my head around the quandaries I previously spoke of, made a big difference.
But there has to be some objectivity, and I don’t think I was able to be objective, without taking a break. Take that how you will, but it’s the right call.
Ghost of Tsushima is excellent. Jin isn’t a fantastic protagonist in a traditional front-and-centre sense. He’s stoic, struggling with tradition over revenge and juggling the needs of his allies, his homeland and his family.
The intuitive use of the touch pad, the subtle, natural ways in which you interact with the world. A gorgeous, lush and varied landscape to explore with loads to do. All of this balanced against excellent mechanics around stealth, combat and exploration.
If you want an open-world game that delivers everything with consistency and clear attention to detail. Ghost of Tsushima is it. If you want a Samurai-style open world game in the vein of Assassin’s Creed (minus the bloat), Ghost of Tsushima is it.
Play it stealthily, play it like a power house of a Samurai, or play as either. The world is your oyster and Jin is the man to take you on this adventure.
I would honestly buy a PS5 just to play a sequel.
I’m going to miss this little slice of Japan. Goodbye for now Jin.