Ghost of Tsushima takes place in the 13th century on the island of Tsushima and follows the story of Jin, a young Samurai. The game opens with a Mongolian invasion fleet led by Khotun Khan landing on the beaches of Tsushima. The island samurai, including Jin, attempt to repel the army but are decimated, with Lord Shimura (Jin’s uncle) being taken captive and Jin being badly wounded. Jin is rescued by a thief named Yuna and from there must attempt to repel the army which has taken over most of the island. As the story progresses, Jin must enlist the help of a range of allies in order to rescue his uncle and attempt to free Tsushima from the hands of the Mongolian invaders.
As a samurai, Jin must abide by a strict code of honour when fighting in order to avoid bringing shame to himself and his clan. Jin realises however that he is unable to defeat the invasion by using samurai methods alone so begins to ally himself with those who can help, whether they are honourable or not. Along the way, he learns a range of techniques that do not bode well with the codes of the samurai, such as poisoning his foes or killing them through stealthy assassinations. As the game progresses, Jin must make tough decisions about how he will save the island and must decide whether to honour the code of the samurai or to win battles by any means.
The game’s story is set over 3 acts and the missions take place in the form of tales. Each of the main characters of the game has a tale that tells their story from start to finish, as well as various villagers around Tsushima having tales of their own. In order to gain allies, Jin often has to help characters with their own agendas by helping them through their tales. This mechanic works well as by giving each major character their own stories, the characters feel fully developed which helps the player to care about them. By keeping the cast list relatively small and by giving each main character their own complex reasons for wanting to help Jin, the player feels like they know the characters they are fighting with rather than them being random NPCs.
Ghost of Tsushima is primarily an action hack-and-slash game but also has stealthy elements, although the way in which it is played is very much up to the player. The game is very much about choice and allows players to approach most conflicts in their own ways; you can choose to sneak in and assassinate everyone from the shadows or you can march up to the front gate and call a standoff, in which Jin challenges the strongest camp members to fight. The choice element also extends to the way in which the player chooses to continue the story. There are few times in which the player is forced to go to a location, allowing the freedom to explore the open world and take on tales in any order you wish. There are key tales that help to move the story along, but these can be attempted either straight away or left till the very end, depending on the will of the player.
The combat of Ghost of Tsushima starts off being very straightforward but deepens as the story progresses. Jin has vertical and horizontal attacks linked to triangle and circle and can sidestep with circle and block with R1. These are pretty much the core of combat but as the game progresses the enemy types change and become more challenging and Jin gains more attack stances and powers to even the odds. The game has four main enemy types; swordsman, spearman, shielded enemies, and brutes. Jin is able to learn four different stances, one of which has a greater advantage against a certain type of foe, and these can be quickly swapped in battle with a press of R2 and one of the main four buttons, depending on which is needed. Although this is a good system and allows for much deeper combat than some other hack-and-slash games, I found myself sticking with one stance and adjusting how I fought based on the enemy. This may just be me and how I chose to play but as every enemy can be killed with one stance, I didn’t feel the need to constantly switch during battle. As well as fighting techniques, Jin gains a range of other weapons to use throughout the game such as kunai and smoke bombs which can be used to get Jin out of a tough spot. Jin also has access to a bow meaning he can attack from afar depending on how the player chooses to fight. As mentioned before, the game focusses a lot on choice so Jin is able to use the large range of weapons and abilities depending on how the player chooses to enter a situation. I personally chose to stick with a few of these weapons during fighting as by the end of the game, you have so many abilities available that when you are in the middle of an enemy camp surrounded by ten enemies, it can be a chore remembering/looking for a specific weapon.
The graphics of Ghost of Tsushima are when the game truly shines. I feel myself saying with each new release that this is the ‘most beautiful game I have ever played’ but Ghost of Tsushima truly raises the bar. The environments are absolutely stunning wherever you are on the map. There are areas of forest where every tree is brilliant yellow, and another of deep red or brilliant white. There are fields full of flowers and meadows of long grass which Jin will lean down and run his hand through as you ride among them. The south of the island is full of lush green hills and forests whereas the north is a snowy wilderness full of burned trees and villages thanks to the Mongolian invasion. Each of these landscapes is truly beautiful and when the time of day changes, the same area looks completely different yet still glorious due to some of the best lighting effects I have ever seen. I have never felt so compelled to open photo mode and take some screenshots as I have with this game, the environments are truly wonderful. The sound is equally as impressive both in terms of effects and music. The music fits the scene perfectly and is used to great effect, especially when it changes from silence to a dramatic score when you are spotted in an enemy camp. The sound effects really help to give weight to the actions on screen; horses really sound like they are charging through the map and swords sound as though they make an impact when a shot hits its mark.
Overall, Ghost of Tsushima is a beautiful game with a well-rounded cast of characters and fun, fluid combat. The area in which the game stumbles is with the variety of things there are to do. On paper, it seems as though there are a lot of different tasks that break up the combat, such as composing haikus, duelling mini-bosses, or climbing to reach Inari shrines. In reality, however, once these tasks have been completed a few times, it can feel like a checklist that needs completing in order to gain a new skill. Personally, I love a collectible and fully enjoyed scouring the glorious map for every pickup and task, but this will not appeal to everyone.