Ghost of Tsushima Review
The Best Assassins' Creed game?
Ghost of Tsushima is the latest PS4 exclusive by Sucker Punch Games, who's previous titles include Infamous and the Sly Cooper series. Ghost of Tsushima is an open-world stealth-action Samurai epic, and as much as it's a meme to say, it really does nail the feel of being a wandering Samurai.
The game boasts a beautiful art design, set on the island of Tsushima during the first Mongol invasion of Japan. You play as Jin Sakai, last of the Sakai Samurai clan, on his search to rescue his uncle Lord Shimura and repel the mongol invasion. To do so, players embark on an open-world adventure.
The open world is a joy to explore, with plenty of shrines to discover hidden away on the island behind small jumping puzzles, as well as beautiful locations to enjoy. The island itself is beautiful, with beautiful scenery bolstered by an incredible sound design (from sound effects to music), but the graphics themselves sometimes let the game down. While the game does look beautiful in motion, certain elements could have been polished a bit more. The facial animations aren't the best, and small things like blood splatters on character's faces always being the exact same shape and pattern were mildly annoying, but not enough to detract from the beauty of the game.
The combat itself is very satisfying, possibly my favourite "realistic" take on Samurai sword-fighting of any game. It's like a refined version of the combat mechanics of games such as Assassin's Creed, the Batman games, Shadow of Mordor and the likes. There are various stances to fight the different types of enemies, as well as a variety of "Ghost weapons" for more stealthy approaches.
And it's that option of how you approach the combat that really drew me in initially. You can walk into enemy camps through the front door and initiate a Showdown, allowing you to slice your way through a few enemies before commencing the battle. This head-on approach is more befitting of the honourable Samurai, but this is a stealth-action game after all, and you can also stealthily take out opponents from the shadows using the tools at your disposal.
The stealth elements are honestly quite weak, since the AI suffers from the usual downfalls of stealth games (think Skyrim guards with an arrow sticking out of their helmet). And considering the game is developed by Sucker Punch Games, who are no strangers to morality in video games, I really felt like there was a missed opportunity to have the way you approach combat define the outcome of the story.
Initially I assumed this was the case, and was facing every battle head on, only relying on stealth in the few missions that forced me to do so. But eventually, the dialogue in story cut scenes implied I had been using a whole bunch of cowardly stealth tactics despite my insistence on facing all enemies head on. This, coupled with certain side activities having bonus objectives that involve stealth assassinations and the likes, made it clear that the game fully intends you to play as both Samurai and Ghost, making use of the stealth tactics and weapons the game puts at your disposal.
Personally I would have liked it if the way you approached combat dictated how the people of the island treat you, as well as story outcomes. Even if the choices were as black and white as the original Infamous game, it would have still given me a feeling of my actions and choices affecting the world around me, as well as adding replayability value to do a Ghost-only play through.
The game is heavily influenced by other titles such as The Witcher 3 and Assassin's Creed, though if the combat is an improved version of these games, the climbing and horse riding are worse versions. The climbing is clunky and sometimes unresponsive, like the very first Assassin's games could sometimes be, and the horse riding is pretty bad in general. It looks clunky, has unnecessarily shaky camera, doesn't particularly feel very fast and all in all is one of my least favourite aspects of the game (though the ability to summon your horse and mount it while sprinting in one direction without deviating from your course is something other games with horse riding could take note of).
Another gripe I have with the game is the difficulty. Between the AI being pretty dumb during stealth interactions, and the skills you unlock and armours you come across giving you buffs to melee damage, I often felt overpowered despite playing on the hardest difficulty available. I'm not saying it's TOO easy, and I definitely died... a fair few times, but dying has zero repercussions or penalties. You do not lose progress, you do not lose experience, you do not lose materials or currency, so there is really nothing to fear from dying, unlike other games like Dark Souls and the likes.
And while I agree that not every game needs to be as difficult as a game like Dark Souls, I do feel that if you're going to add difficulty options, you should make sure the Hard difficulty is genuinely hard. Hopefully this can be fixed by adding a Very Hard option, or even a New Game plus mode, in a future patch.
The story, while nothing groundbreaking, is still enjoyable and makes you feel like you're playing a classic Samurai movie (with an added "Kurosawa Mode" for extra cinematic effect). Narratively, it also has some weak points, like character development happening after a big moment involved said characters, such as a character death or character betrayal happening before we've even been properly explained the role those characters had in Jin's life or what relationship he had with them, but these minor gripes aren't enough to sour me on the story.
Which is a good description of the game as a whole: Sure, it has plenty of flaws if you over analyse it, but none of them are big enough flaws to detract from my enjoyment of the game. It has a myriad of side activities and quests to keep you entertained for hours that may sometimes be repetitive, but since the core gameplay and aesthetic is so fun to enjoy, it doesn't feel like a chore.
I can honestly say that, despite it's imperfections, Ghost of Tsushima is my favourite Samurai game, and another great entry to the catalogue of PS4 exclusives.