If you thought Sucker Punch Productions’ move from creating Sly Cooper to making Infamous was brave, just wait until you play GHOST OF TSUSHIMA. Progressing from Second Son’s modern Seattle setting with its obnoxious, rebellious protagonist to Ghost of Tsushima’s ancient Japanese backdrop and its honor-driven main character, was a very bold direction to go in. It could have spelled disaster for this Sony developer, breaking the combo of so many fantastic first-party PlayStation exclusives.
Fortunately, Ghost of Tsushima suffers no such fate, fitting together multiple polished elements that make for a journey worth experiencing. This is the Game Revolution review.
Ghost of Tsushima Review | A new enemy
Controlling Jin Sakai, a Samurai warrior, the player has the primary task of driving away Mongol invaders. This hostile force uses tactics that Jin and his Samurai brethren haven’t seen before and are unable to defend against. It’s soon made clear that the Samurai’s tradition of maintaining one’s honor and respecting the enemy in battle is not going to save Tsushima, which causes Jin to venture down a different path.
While I expected to be told the story of a legendary warrior who goes around beating everything before ultimately coming out on top, I wasn’t expecting the additional conflict of honor versus dishonor to be so powerful. It’s done really well and makes for some emotional moments that hit surprisingly hard.
There aren’t many twists or turns in the plot, which in a way plays into the game’s favor, as there is a sense of inevitability in Jin’s actions and what they will ultimately cost him.
Ghost of Tsushima Review | Legendary aesthetic
I spent 30 hours with Ghost of Tsushima before writing this review. It took me 25 hours to beat the main campaign with a few key side missions, which are surprisingly great and provide a good chunk of backstory and lore, before finishing off my playthrough with five hours of exploring and making use of the feature-rich Photo Mode.
The island of Tsushima is presented beautifully. It is honestly breathtaking at times, with a vibrancy and high contrast that truly makes you feel part of an ancient Japanese legend. The weather effects add to the drama, with thunder and lightning being the biggest highlight as it crashes down. Environments are varied, but regardless of whether it’s sunny or snowy, it’s always a treat for the eyes and the PS4’s Share Button.
This is especially the case when playing on PS4 Pro, which enjoys “Better Frame-Rate” and “Higher Resolution” modes. While I’m partial to smoother gameplay, I found myself settling on the Higher Resolution option. Despite being locked to 30 FPS, the stutter-free gameplay made it easy to enjoy alongside the boosted resolution.
In addition to the Share Button, Sucker Punch has once again made great use of the DualShock 4’s Touchpad. The developer has basically mapped four additional prompts to the touchpad which activate by swiping in a specific direction. To call upon the wind for guidance, for example, you simply swipe up. It’s a small thing, but it’s appreciated.
Ghost of Tsushima Review | Remain focused
Sucker Punch has also done an amazing job of limiting distractions in Ghost of Tsushima‘s open world. HUD elements are unobtrusive, with a minimalistic approach that provides essential information without pulling you out of the experience. The highlight here is the wind, which guides you to the next objective. There’s no waypoint, you just follow the breeze.
While it can sometimes be tricky to know when to maneuver around hills or water, the wind mechanic usually works well to keep you moving in the correct direction, while still being able to look around and appreciate the rich visuals, rather than being locked in and focused on a quest marker.
The optional Japanese voice acting further adds to the immersion, which I urge every player to try (with English subtitles). It’s absolutely the recommended way to play, further immersing you into the world. Couple this with the epic soundtrack which really shines during the larger battles and you really do feel like part of the action.
While Sucker Punch has made an effort to remove distractions, there are some animation hiccups that can be jarring. NPCs can randomly fall over and continue to fall over until they eventually stumble into the correct spot. This happened only a handful of times during my playthrough, but it’s there. Enemy AI can also pull off some funky animations in narrower areas, but again the issue is rare.
Ghost of Tsushima Review | Be brave… or don’t
Ghost of Tsushima allows you to approach most missions in two different ways. There’s the honorable path of heading straight for your enemy and fighting them in a fair duel, and then there’s the not-so-honorable path of carrying out assassinations from the shadows.
There’s no morality meter or anything like that, which I think is a good thing. Instead of a video game mechanic forcing you to choose a “best path,” you can instead focus on what you enjoy most and leveling up abilities that complement that playstyle.
While your character won’t grow horns or have his sword swapped out for a red lightsaber when you commit too many dishonorable acts, you’re still made to feel guilty about using poison and other shady tactics through the dialogue and the overarching themes explored in the story.
Sometimes it can seem impossible to win fights through standard combat, especially on Hard, forcing a more stealthy approach. It’s interesting to have the player consciously make the choice to give up a difficult, yet honorable, win just get the mission done by any means necessary.
Ghost of Tsushima Review | Paper beats rock
Mission structure is quite basic, as you wipe out group of enemies after group of enemies, sometimes backed up by friendlies. Thankfully, what would be repetitive gameplay is made more exciting through the combat system and the rate at which you unlock new abilities.
Jin has four different stances to master, each of which is tailored to countering a specific type of enemy. With groups being made up of many different enemy types, the player has to be constantly switching between stances in a kind of frenetic game of rock, paper, scissors. It works really well, giving Jin the ability to cut through multiple tough opponents with well-timed counters, all the while keeping an eye out for incoming long-range attacks. It ends up looking like a sort of dance, which is super satisfying to pull off without any flaws.
Maintain that flawless assault and you’ll earn the Ghost Stance. Once unlocked through the story, this allows you to immediately one-hit-kill three enemies with a stylish flash of red. It’s as wonderful as it sounds and can turn the tide in particularly tricky encounters.
Ghost of Tsushima Review | Advanced techniques
Resolve acts as “MP” which is spent on healing and abilities. These abilities come in useful when trying to handle a group of enemies or a single tough opponent. Deciding how and when to spend that Resolve can often mean the difference between winning and losing fights.
What initially seems like simple combat actually has a surprising layer of complexity that the player is gradually introduced to. As you level up and spend Technique Points on new moves and tools, you become better equipped at handling multiple foes. You also improve your stealth with a grappling hook that allows you to quickly ascend above the enemy. You can then scout and form a plan. Both playstyles evolve over time, which keeps the gameplay feeling fresh.
What’s more, you don’t need to worry about being the “right level” for a new area, with no forced grinding or anything tedious like that. You can choose to follow golden birds that helpfully lead you to health boosts, minor missions, and other goodies, but you can also easily ignore them. If you just want to roll through the main story, you can absolutely just go for it.
Oh, and you can collect items while riding on horseback, which further cuts away any animation padding and keeps you moving!
Ghost of Tsushima Review | An extended stay
After you’ve spent a good 20+ hours finishing the main story, there will still be plenty of side content to check out. The Mythic Tales are the highlights here, allowing you to learn powerful abilities and earn awesome armor rewards. Then there are the missions tied to key characters, which award you with valuable resources and earn you more Technique Points to spend on new moves and equipment. Finally, there are the more repetitive missions, which have you killing bad guys to save homes and villages, as you slowly work to wipe out the Mongol forces from the island.
There is a lot to do here and I think Ghost of Tsushima earns its $60 through the main story alone. However, for those who need a serious hour count to justify the purchase, there are plenty of enemy camps to wipe out and collectibles to find that will easily push you to 50+ hours and beyond.
Ghost of Tsushima Review | The victory is yours
Ghost of Tsushima is a worthy addition to the roster of must-play PS4 exclusives that have kept players loyal to the console. Though I play primarily on PC, I’m always eager to boot up my PS4 Pro for the latest exclusive to witness astonishing visuals, satisfying gameplay, and a compelling story that is only available on the Sony system. It’s games like this that sell the hardware.
Shifting the focus to ancient history was always going to be a challenge, especially with competition from the likes of Assassin’s Creed and its epic scale, but I think Sucker Punch has delivered a more refined, focused experience that offers enough content without the risk of overwhelming its audience. And as there are no microtransactions infesting its mechanics and influencing its balance, Ghost of Tsushima is honorable in its approach and deserves to be played.
Ghost of Tsushima was reviewed on PS4 Pro with code provided by the publisher.