Open world games are dime a dozen and it really takes effort to craft an open-world game that feels fresh at every turn. GTA V did this with a diverse set of missions, Horizon: Zero Dawn gave you access to new weapons and mechanical foes at every turn and The Elders Scroll V: Skyrim gave exploration in video games a new meaning.
Developer Sucker Punch Productions isn’t new to the open-world genre. The Infamous franchise on the PS3 and PS4 gave you a vast world to explore. The unique twist came in the form of the moral choices you made, affecting the outcome and of course, traversal. With Ghost of Tsushima, the developer has taken a different approach. There is no “new weapon” per se as the katana you start the game with is your companion till the end. You do have the option to upgrade it. However, the game does evolve with its gameplay mechanics throughout the journey, introducing new abilities and toys to your arsenal until your transformational journey from Samurai to Ghost is complete. Ghost of Tsushima is unlike any open-world game I have ever played, especially when you take a look at traversal, the depth of the optional stories and even combat. Ghost of Tsushima is a very enjoyable journey; be it the story, combat or simply exploring the island of Tsushima. Let me explain.
The story of Ghost of Tsushima isn’t one set in history. Rather it draws inspiration from the Mongol invasion of the island of Tsushima in the 1270s. You don the role of Jin Sakai, one of the last surviving Samurai on the island of Tsushima after the Mongol invasion. There are no branching paths, no alternate stories and no moral system at play here. This is the story of Jin who needs to play dirty when things get rough. He is an honourable Samurai who must walk a very different path than he is used to in order to save his homeland from the Mongol invasion. Throughout the story, you will see Jin reflect on his training as a Samurai and how he deviates from it to become the Ghost who ignites fear in the heart of his enemies.
The journey from Samurai to Ghost may sound as simple as the journey from Bruce Wayne to Batman, but the devil lies in the details. The first time Jin steals resources from a camp, he questions what he is doing. The first time he stealthily assassinates someone, he reflects on his teachings of looking a foe in the eye in every battle. It is these moments along the journey of transformation that adds depth to the story.
One thing to note is that the story is divided into three adventures. The main narrative is called Jin's Story, Tales of Tsushima which are the big side quests and finally Mystic Tales which are legends of the island that you must uncover. In addition to these three paths, there are other activities that you can take on. There are small villages and settlements that you can rescue, peasants that need your help, shrines to be found, Fox Dens to be uncovered and hot springs to be experienced. But more on that in the gameplay section of this review.
When it comes to the main story, this is where you will find most of the “cinematic” moments in the game. The Tales of Tsushima have very interesting and deep stories. In one story a lady lied to me that bandits stole her rice and it was only at the end of the quest that I found out that she tricked me into killing bandits and getting her food. In another, I was too late to save a family held by bandits. In a third, a village was destroyed by the time I got there. These small sacrifices in the story help humanize the characters and add depth that I have otherwise only seen in The Witcher III. Not every story has a happy ending and you learn from these experiences.
The main plot of Ghost of Tsushima may seem simple on the surface but it is the deep relationships the characters develop that will keep you hooked till the end. One story has me fighting alongside a companion only for him to turn into a foe at a time I least expected it.
Gameplay in Ghost of Tsushima can be broadly categorized into action (be it stealth or katana based fights) and exploration. There is no HUD or mini-map to speak off and a swipe of the touchpad will pull a gush of wind directing you to your next objective. This helps you stay immersed in the open world itself rather than keeping one eye on a map in the corner. It is a small detail, but one that makes a world of difference.
Let’s start with traversal. It is possible to explore the world of Tsushima without opening the map. You can follow the smoke rising up in the sky or follow the bird that grabs your attention, or find a Fox Den and follow the fox to a shrine, so on and so forth. For players like me, who like to follow directions on a map, you can always set a market by opening the main map and letting the wind take you there when exploring the world. Villagers will also highlight places of interest once you rescue them.
There are some shrines which need you to traverse the environment to get to them. These are linear parkour sections of the game and are a lot of fun. There is no wall running like Prince of Persia and you can't climb every ledge like Assassins Creed. It is a set path that you must follow much like Horizon: Zero Dawn.
Moving over to combat, this is where the game evolves as you progress. You have your trusted katana with you along with a blade for stealth kills and you can upgrade the strength of the katana as you progress. There are 4 different stances that you learn in the game and each stance is effective against different types of enemies. One stance is good for swordsmen, another for those with shields, one for those with spears, so on. In addition to the stances, there are some attacks you can block, some you can parry and some you will have to dodge. That’s the basics of combat when you encounter the Mongols.
However, you are not just a katana-wielding samurai. You are the Ghost of Tsushima! You have throwing knives - Kunai, which can stagger and in some cases dispatch foes, you have smoke bombs in case things get too hectic and you need to make a quick escape, you also have sticky bombs. You can distract enemies with wind chimes for a stealthy takedown and in some cases string together multiple silent takedowns. How you approach a fight is entirely up to you. You can enter a camp and challenge everyone to a fast-paced katana fight or sneak about as the Ghost.
The beauty of the combat is that it gets really hectic, keeping you at the edge of your seat. One wrong move and the enemy has drained 90 percent of your health. The combat is grounded, making each strike count. Every hit from your katana has impact value and every strike has the potential to be deadly. Changing the difficulty doesn’t give enemies more health. It just makes them more aggressive. A headshot from an arrow is instant death. If the foe is wearing a helmet, then a shot to the face is an instant kill. The grounded nature of the combat is what makes it so much fun. Developer Sucker Punch has done an incredible job of making the combat feel fast-paced without making it feel cumbersome or difficult. It's all about patience, reflex time and strategy. There is no “I need to level up to face this fight” or “limited resources I can collect''. This makes the adventure a lot more fun, removing the element of grinding through fights for upgrades.
In addition to your health, you also have “resolve” represented by yellow balls above your health. Resolve can be used to replenish health at any time and also execute certain special moves.
You also have ranged weapons in the form of a half-bow and a long-bow, both of which bring different types of arrows for you to use. From arrows that explode to the ones that set enemies ablaze, there are quite a few options to choose from. The bow is one of your best friends if you want to take on a stealthy approach. Each skill and ability you learn in the game can be upgraded, giving you new tricks at every turn.
With all that I’ve mentioned above, the fact that you have one katana as your main weapon seems pretty trivial now doesn’t it?
One of my favourite encounters in the game is duels. These are one on one samurai katana battles. You could call them boss battles but they are so much more than that. From the majestic settings, these battles take place in, to their cinematic openings and the fast-paced action, these battles give you very little time to breathe and last no more than a few minutes. But each duel feels only a couple of seconds long as you have to swiftly plan your attacks at the speed of light. These duels really test your skills and are all the more fun at higher difficulty when the enemies bring on their full aggression.
Overall, when I started playing the game, I felt the combat would get rather repetitive fast, but with the diversity in arsenal, tactics and enemies on offer, this is one game I’m still playing especially for the duels and some slick combat encounters.
Before I get into the graphics, I have to make a special mention to fast travel. We’ve all heard the “almost no loading times” for next-gen, but Sucker Punch has truly made fast travel feel fast. In some cases, it only takes a couple of seconds to travel from one location to the other in the game. And trust me, you will fast travel a lot. There are numerous locations in the game and not just set points that you can fast travel to making the course of getting to your next objective really swift.
With that out of the way, Ghost of Tsushima is a stunning game and a swansong to the power of the PS4. It has a dynamic weather cycle along with a day-night cycle and it looks breathtaking, especially if you play the game on an HDR TV. Stand on the top of a mountain and you will see different coloured smoke along the horizon. The horizon itself is filled with different terrain, trees and fields all of which have a unique charm to it. The character models are detailed too. Jin’s armour deserves special mention. There is a variety of armour that you can equip, each with its own strength and you can also customize the colour of the armour. You will collect flowers throughout the world which are used as currency to buy different colour schemes. Some colour schemes are found throughout the world as well. My only gripe with this customization system is that it looks like the colour schemes are being pulled from a server in real-time as they take way too long to load on the screen when you are browsing a vendor's catalogue. Because of this, I picked a colour scheme I liked and stuck to it for a really long time before experimenting.
The duels in the game deserve a special mention too. They are up close and in arenas which look too go to be on a 7-year-old console - detailed, dense and full of life. From leaves flying all over the place to a fog covered environment and even a duel at the base of a waterfall, each location looks stunning. And I haven’t even started talking about the black and white mode which has its own charm.
I haven’t watched too many samurai movies but the sound design of Ghost of Tsushima makes me want to watch some, especially when you consider the source of inspiration. It is a sombre and peaceful score and gives you a feeling of zen; only picking up in intensity when you enter combat. Combat is dominated by the clashes of swords and enemies calling out to one another drowning out the background score which is just loud enough to keep your blood pumping.
Even though you can play the game in Japanese from the get-go, I played it in English and enjoyed the voice acting overall - no complaints there. There are some cutscenes I wish I could skip by pressing X but that’s a niggle in an otherwise epic adventure.
I must say I am more addicted to Ghost of Tsushima than I thought I’d be. Every time I put the controller down and decide to call it a day, my hand itches to get back to the game and have one more duel, one more swordfight, take on a gang of Mongols and show them who's boss. Apart from some camera angle hiccups, some random invisible walls and annoying cutscenes I can’t fast forward, this is truly a brilliant open-world game, eliminating some of the grinding mechanics plaguing franchises like Assassins Creed. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order (review) brought with it some great lightsaber duels and I must say, Ghost of Tsushima trumps those duels in every way. A worthy game if you enjoy open-world adventures and my personal game of the year so far.
Tested on: PS4 Pro
Developer: Sucker Punch Productions
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Price: Rs 3,999
We played a review copy of Ghost of Tsushima on a PS4 Pro.
|Release Date:||17 Dec 2018|
Sameer Mitha lives for gaming and technology is his muse. When he isn’t busy playing with gadgets or video games he delves into the world of fantasy novels.
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