Sucker Punch — creator of the “Sly Cooper” and “Infamous” series — was oddly quiet in the years prior to the release of “Ghost of Tsushima.”I can’t speak for its fans, but I took this silence as a sign that perhaps the studio wasn’t quite sure what it was trying to deliver to its fanbase. After all, they hadn’t released a new IP (intellectual property) since the first “Infamous” in 2009.
After playing “Ghost of Tsushima” for over 25 hours, I can say that most of these worries were misplaced. This game provides some of the most gorgeous open-world moments to date, combat that reflects the tense moments of being a samurai and a picture-perfect photo mode to keep players entertained even when the story doesn’t quite hit the mark.
“Ghost” is an open-world action-adventure game that follows the protagonist, Jin, on his mission to avenge his fallen samurai. It takes place in feudal Japan in the year 1274. The Mongols have invaded and wiped out every member of Jin’s clan. It's a straightforward story that surrounds itself with mediocre writing and characters that just don’t match up with the quality of the rest of the game.
However, the bland dialogue and one-sided interactions between characters didn’t come close to ruining my time with “Ghost.” In fact, it only stands out because the rest of the game is utterly jaw-dropping.
I’ve never quite experienced an open world that feels so alive and yet isn’t filled with people or objectives. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of shrines to find, items to collect and side missions to accept, but the game doesn’t make it feel like there’s an abundance of these commonplace open-world tasks.
Instead, “Ghost” allows the exploration of the world to unfold in a completely natural manner. When I stumbled upon an outpost, I cleared it. When I found people in need, I helped them. But I never felt the pressure to go out of my way to find some specific item or quest. It’s this immersiveness to the exploration that made Jin feel like my own character even when the story fumbled about.
Sucker Punch also found an interesting way to integrate natural interactions with Jin as he explores. Birds will follow the player and lead them to undiscovered locations, foxes will show the way to unexplored shrines and the wind acts as the player’s companion as it guides them to their next objective. This allows the player to focus less on the actual map for guidance and more on the world around them.
To top all of this off, “Ghost” has implemented the most in-depth photo system of any game before it. It lets the player control time of day, focal distance, Jin’s emotions, different filters, cloud movement, wind speed, background music and much more. I can’t recall how many times I stopped in the middle of a mission to find the perfect angle of a mountainside cliff or the sun setting in the distance.
The swordplay is also an achievement for Sucker Punch to be proud of. The stealth mode is pretty bare bones, but once Jin takes out his katana, the player embodies a true samurai. I had an absolute blast studying my enemies before a fight. Tallying up their numbers, noticing their weapon choices, surveying the land around me, deciding which fighting stance I would use and then proceeding to dismantle my enemies with how I sought fit.
Combat is unforgiving at first. A couple enemies could easily overwhelm Jin in the beginning, and before I knew it, I’d be dead and looking at a loading screen. However, “Ghost” has a huge list of skills for Jin to learn from as the player earns experience points through completing missions. As I continued to enhance Jin’s abilities, fighting got easier and easier. After a couple hours into the game, I was taking on 10 enemies at a time without breaking much of a sweat.
That being said, the major drop in difficulty didn’t ruin my experience. The game kept introducing new enemy types and evolving combat areas to keep things fresh. Plus, I’ll admit, I enjoyed every moment feeling like an unstoppable samurai in the latter half of the story.
My only problem with combat is that the AI isn’t the brightest from time to time. There were multiple moments where I’d stare down an enemy while killing his ally and he’d do nothing about it, acting as if Jin wasn’t there standing directly in front of him with a bloodied sword.
While I wasn’t busy slicing through enemies or exploring the map of Tsushima, I was saving up supplies to customize Jin’s appearance or weapons. The player can change between varying armor, masks, hats and swords while also having the option to change the dye of each equippable item.
This added yet another personal layer to Jin that made him feel more and more like my character. For each new venture, I would put on a new set of clothes or armor that would fit the tone I had created in my mind. Making each long trip unique and always keeping me from fast traveling from location to location.
“Ghost of Tsushima” isn’t perfect, but it’s set the new standard for many open-world games to come. Its environments are breathtaking and interactive, its sword combat is as true to life as it gets and accompanying it all is a photo mode that future AAA titles need to learn from.
Contact Daniel Carter at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter and Instagram @Breeze_Culture.