It only took a few minutes into Ghost of Tsushima’s running time for Sucker Punch, the game’s developer, to capture my undivided attention with its Tsushima’s incredible opening scenes. It didn’t take long for me, coming from the playing the amazing Gears 5 on Xbox Series X, to once more confirm one of the biggest reasons for Sony’s continued success with its single player and story driven games… its cinematographic excellence.
Naughty Dog Changed The Way That Stories in Games Are Told
While I give credit to Naughty Dog, as they are the best at it, other games tried the cinematic approach before they did. It began with Final Fantasy VII and its CG scenes, and perhaps, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time with its own take of ‘in-game’ cut scenes utilizing that game’s engine.
‘In-game’ engine cut-scenes would eventually take precedence over CG scenes as they were easier to make and modify than CG renderings, and hardware became more powerful. Naughty Dog started its tradition of strong writing and cinematic focus with its Jak and Daxter trilogy, but it wouldn’t be until Uncharted 2 that the studio really took things to the next level. Though it could be argued that games like Resident Evil 4, God of War, and Gears of War paved the way in terms of jaw dropping in-game engine sequences that left gamers feeling like that had experienced a Hollywood caliber action movie, rather than just ‘another’ video game.
The rest of Sony’s studios have been, in a way, competing with one another since they were formed. In essence, Ghost of Tsushima isn’t different from say, Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla. In some ways, it is the inferior open world adventure, but it is its cinematic flair and artistry that elevates it to a higher level in gamers’ perception.
Sony own’s AAA movie studios, it is not a coincidence that its exclusive story driven content (in terms of gaming) is a level above the competition’s efforts on competing systems. Ghost of Tsushima is a beneficiary of this, as its overall audio/visual package is, truly, top of the line stuff.
Ghost of Tsushima, in terms of acting, facial expressions, and overall cinematic presentation is a step (or two) below The Last of Us: Part II, but so is everyone else. In terms of open world games, I can only put two other games above Tsushima’s class comfortably, in regards to presentation. The two games? Red Dead Redemption 2 and Horizon Zero Dawn.
Unique Visual Art Style Elevates Graphical Presentation
At a simple glance, many will argue that Ghost of Tsushima looks better than many third party open world games including Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla and oldie but goodie, The Witcher 3. It doesn’t (at least when compared to Valhalla), but Sucker Punch made a great job in trying to convince me that it does.
A big problem with large open world games in the PS4/Xbox One generation has been the foliage and texture ‘pop in’ issues. Some games (including the aforementioned Valhalla) have had huge issues with this. Most recently, Tales of Arise (Unreal 4 Engine) had massive pop-in issues (even on Xbox Series X) that were jarring and even distracting during my play-through.
Red Dead Redemption 2 continues to lead open world games visually, and Tsushima won’t dethrone it; However, I had as much of a struggle in finding major pop-up issues during normal gameplay in Ghost of Tsushima, as I did in Rockstar’s Old Wild West masterpiece.
Tsushima, like every other open world game, has issues with foliage and texture pop-in but it is smartly concealed by clever cuts and optimizations. Basically, unless you look for these ‘pop-in’ instances you won’t find them by normal play.
Ghost of Tsushima’s rendition of Tsushima Japan is colorful and alive, all thanks to Sucker Punch’s spectacular use of dynamic lighting, screen space reflections for the environment, moving particles, and foliage. In this regard, Tsushima, even on base PS4, can look better than most open world games not named Horizon Zero Dawn and Red Dead Redemption 2.
Tsushima falters in environmental texture quality when considering ground and snow tessellation. In these areas (along with water bodies) the game looks a bit out dated, and behind Ubisoft’s recent Assassin’s Creed efforts. Jin Sakai’s (our protagonist) animations and reactions to his environment are also lacking in contrast to other open world game protagonists’ animations and environment reactions.
In contrast to Red Dead Redemption, and even Horizon Zero Dawn, I feel that GoT falls short in many aspects. At the same time, GoT is probably one of the top 7 best looking open world games that I have ever played. However, being that this is an open world game, I have to compare it to its peers.
Tsushima does have one of the best moving foliage systems that I have ever seen. There is foliage everywhere, and the wind plays a huge role visually (and gameplay wise). Leaves fly around the environment at all times, and it is a gorgeous effect to see. The moonlight hits the grass during night traversal in a stunning way that is also quite a sight to behold. Yet, Japan lacks the majestic far away vistas of Norway and England, that had me stopping every now and then to sight see in Valhalla.
Skin shading on NPCs looks okay in Tsushima, and obviously the main cast looks great; however, they appear a tier or two under Red Dead Redemption 2’s own cast. The artists at Sucker Punch did a good job, however, in their intricate attention to detail…everywhere.
Ghost of Tsushima Doesn’t Break New Ground But its Combat is Award Winning Worthy
Tsushima’s take on Samurai-era Japan is impressive, but for the most part, GoT plays just like every other open world game around. There a fetch quests and plenty of ‘hidden’ stuff that you have to find in order to upgrade charm slots, gain HP, acquire rare weapon upgrading materials, and plenty of collectible in game items to nab.
The game has its own brand of EXP gain system (which is accomplished by completing mainline and side quests) which essentially turns Ghost of Tsushima into an Open-World Action RPG. The more questing and fighting that you do, the stronger and more skilled that Jin will become. This is through either by skill upgrades or by weapon upgrades in sword smithing shops.
Gaining new skills and applying them in combat situations is surprisingly intuitive and fun. Unlike other games (like AC: Valhalla) where I found myself, for the most part, not utilizing my full gamut of skills in order to topple bosses and enemies, Tsushima makes it easy to access these skills and almost a necessity to use them, since fights are surprisingly tough for this type of game.
You can’t simply waltz into an enemy encampment and mash the attack buttons and expect to succeed in GoT. Instead, careful timing of various enemies’ (Japanese, and Mongol alike) strikes are necessary to achieve victory. But enemies come in different sizes and fighting styles. Some mongols are sword fighters, others wield bigger and heavier striking weapons such as axes, and others (Japanese enemies) fight much like a Samurai.
Getting down the timing of each enemy type is an exercise of repetitive play and memory. The game is undoubtedly is fun, I think GoT has a deeper (but simpler) fighting system than AC: Valhalla, and that’s saying a lot because I greatly enjoyed Valhalla’s combat.
‘Deeper, but simpler’ might sound like a contradiction, but it is not. Valhalla is much more complex in terms of skills that can be learned and in its massive ‘sphere grid’ like method for character progression. However, despite that, you can excel in that game by mashing buttons if your character is powerful enough and you have decent weapons (with upgrades) equipped.
That is not the case in Ghost of Tsushima. Tsushima forces you to utilize every skill and stance learned depending on the enemy standing across you. There are four stances that can be learned (mainly by killing a certain amount of enemy leaders in enemy encampments). Some stances are effective against Spear using enemies, others against Sword wielding ones, and so on.
You can kill enemies with unfavorable stances to their respective attack style, but it certainly easier to have the proper stance ‘equipped’ depending the situation that you are faced with.
Then there are the boss fights, where absolute perfect timing and learning the attack patterns of your opponent are needed in order to win. It is here (in these battles) where I found the game to be at its hardest.
GoT plays like every other open-world game around with plenty of repetitive quests and tasks to be performed, but its rewarding combat makes this repetitive process much more manageable and engaging.
It is All About the Wind
Very cleverly, Tsushima uses its wonderful wind and moving foliage mechanic to shake things up in terms of open-world traversal. I rarely found myself looking at the game’s map in order to make my way to the next object (unless I was picking an objective, of course) as swiping my finger across the touch pad (in the PS4 controller) caused the wind, and consequently the game’s foliage, to move in a direction that pointed to my chosen objective.
I liked this mechanic, and for some reason the wind, and moving foliage reminded me a lot of Breath of the Wild. This is one of the more clever mechanics that have been incorporated into open world games. While other games have used “wind” cleverly before (ex. The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker), I found Tsushima’s take on the mechanic to be both: helpful and visually striking.
Ghost of Tsushima Doesn’t Escape the Curse of Open World Game Fatigue
If you only play Ghost of Tsushima for its storyline you will find that the game is fairly short for the genre, as it clocks at about the 30 hour mark. However, even by then I was sort of burned out by the game’s ‘menial’ tasks involving enemy camp raiding and material gathering for my weapons and armor upgrades.
Tsushima is more challenging in these areas than your typical open world game, and I found stealth killings to be much more difficult here than I did in Valhalla. This helped to mitigate the tediousness of the long hours of fighting and material collecting, but the game got a bit tedious after the first 20 hours, which is common within most of the games in the open world genre.
Sony’s offerings, open-world (or otherwise) usually feature compelling storylines, and Ghost of Tsushima is not the exception to the rule. Jin’s quest against the invading Mongols (and their leader Khotun Khan) is quite captivating, and it helped me to get through some of the open-world ‘fatigue’ issues that I faced during the last third of the game.
Not the Greatest Story in Sony’s Repertoire But it Does the Job
Sucker Punch delivers a game based on the first Mongol invasion of Japan, but it adds it own fictional characters and events to make the narrative a much more compelling experience than simply reenacting that real historical event. Tsushima’s storyline is greatly enhanced by its cinematic presentation.
The game’s voice acting is, for the most part, excellent. I don’t think it is on par with Naughty Dog’s efforts on the PS4, but it is above many other open-world games’ voice work, and it does help to make Jin a believable protagonist.
Khan is a dislikable enemy, and the game introduces plenty of allies and some other minor villains along the way.
Sucker Punch was very effective at recreating the Samurai (Feudal) era in terms of the look and feel of the game. GoT pushes the narrative that Samurai were both honorable and loyal protectors of Japan, but also caring individuals who did their best to help and protect the peasant class.
A strong point in the narrative is Jin’s initial reluctance to ‘bend’ the Samurai code (of fighting face first against an opposing threat) in order to turn into a killer worthy of “Ninja” or assassin status because of these “less than honorable” tactics were more effective against the Mongol Army.
All in all, I enjoyed the game’s storyline and Jin’s quest. In my opinion, GoT’s tale isn’t as awe inspiring as Horizon Zero Dawn’s or as intricate Red Dead Redemption 2’s in terms of character development, but it is another Sony single player triumph.
Sony is known for its film studios, and its game division continues to push cinematic games forward. The game’s presentation helps to elevate what in reality is simple story of revenge and rebellion against an invading force.
Ghost of Tsushima is a Must Buy for Samurai Fans
To be honest, I had more fun playing Valhalla than I did Tsushima, in terms of the overall open world experience. Quite simply, there is much more stuff to do in Ubisoft’s latest AC entry than there is to do here. That said, GoT has some of the best (if not the best) fighting that you can find within the open world genre, and the Japanese setting is pretty and unique.
If you are tired of open world games, Ghost of Tsushima won’t change your mind about getting back into them again. The game suffers from the same ailments that have plagued most open-world games since their inception, with repetitive tasks, and a tedious material gathering system (for weapon/armor upgrades).
Conversely, gamers looking for an open world experience with fine combat, and thrilling storyline based on a historical Mongol invasion of Japan during its feudal times (1274) will find much to like, and perhaps even love, in Ghost of Tsushima.
With 8 million copies sold to date, I expect a stunning sequel to appear sometime in the near future on the PlayStation 5. Ghost of Tsushima (as a franchise) is here to stay.
Ghost of Tsushima plays like every other open-world Action-RPG around. Raiding Bandit and Enemy camps gets tiresome after 20 hours, and item and material gathering can become a tedious task early in the play-through.
Our protagonist can ride a horse and engages in some of the most satisfying combat that the open world genre has ever seen, but he can’t go underwater, or climb every surface, hi-jack boats, etc. Jin is very limited to what he can and can’t do in terms of world exploration when compared to games like Breath of the Wild and AC: Valhalla. But I must stress this again: The game’s combat is pure, unadulterated brilliance.
Other open worlds games look better, but I can count them in one hand. Ghost of Tsushima’s artwork is fantastic, and the attention to detail is top notch. The game pushed the PS4 hardware to the max, with only Horizon Zero Dawn, RDR2, Death Stranding, and AC: Valhalla delivering better visuals.
The game’s moving foliage and cleverly hidden pop-up issues make it one of the most eye pleasing experiences that you can play today. The game’s lighting is top of the line stuff. NPC models, and character animation is lacking when compared to its contemporary open-world rivals, though.
Sony Studios usually do a stellar job in terms of voice acting and musical score. Ghost of Tsushima is no different from other Sony AAA exclusives in that regard. A powerful musical score is accompanied by a strong performance in terms of voice acting by the voice cast.
Ghost of Tsushima does a great job in capturing your attention from the start by introducing a menacing force (Mongols) and a dislikable villain. From there, the story will move at a relatively brisk pace for an open world game. Jin’s quest to liberate his homeland is compelling, but not on the level of Horizon Zero Dawn, in my opinion.
The game has a 30-50 hour runtime depending on your commitment towards finding every upgrade and side quest available. After finishing the game, I do not feel compelled to play GoT it again. This is fine, Tsushima is meant to be story driven experience, and story driven experiences don’t tend to have big replay values.
I am glad that I finally played Ghost of Tsushima. The game provides a nice take on Samurai era Japan, and a decent story with potential for an amazing sequel, to boot. The game’s combat will make it a worthy experience even for those of you that are a bit burned out by open world games.
After Horizon Zero Dawn, I find that GoT is the best open world exclusive game that can be played on the PlayStation 4. A must buy for PlayStation owners.
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