There are some games I look forward to for years or months and know I’m going to play for a week straight when they launch. But there are other games that are more of a coin flip as to whether I’ll cover them at all. While I always thought Ghost of Tsushima looked somewhat interesting, I had skipped Sekiro and Nioh and didn’t know if I’d get around to this, which seemed somewhat similar.
Past that, while I have liked the Infamous series from Sucker Punch, it’s not exactly one of my favorite PlayStation originals, so hearing them shifting to a samurai game didn’t seem super interesting to me initially.
Well, I was wrong.
After a full day of play, Ghost of Tsushima is surpassing every expectation I might have had for it, and is rapidly turning into one of my favorite games of the year, if not perhaps one of my favorite PlayStation originals this generation, though I’ll need to make it to the end to declare that for sure.
Sony has done it again, given a studio the freedom to move on from a past series and go in a wildly different direction. Like Guerrilla Games moving from Killzone to Horizon Zero Dawn, Sucker Punch going from Infamous to Ghost of Tsushima seems to have paid off similarly.
This is, without question, one of the most beautiful games I’ve ever played. I genuinely think it might even be the most beautiful, and it has some steep competition this past generation. It is rare that getting from point A to point B in Tsushima won’t have you be greeted with at least one jaw-dropping vista so you’re inspired to stop and take use of the game’s excellent photo mode. I know that the game has a black and white “Kurosawa mode” to look like an old samurai film, and yet with how this game uses color, playing it like that is almost a crime.
But I knew this game would be beautiful going in, as you can tell that much from the trailers. What I was hoping for was that there was more to it than that and I am happy to report that yes, there is.
Combat is stellar in Ghost of Tsushima. I am not an enormous fan of the ultra-hard, miss a block and you die, philosophy of combat made famous by Dark Souls but inspired games like Nioh, which is part of the reason I skipped them. And yet Tsushima here has blended the best of both worlds and created a combat system that is simultaneously accessible up front, difficult to truly master and something that truly exemplifies samurai swordplay so it’s not just a hack-n-slash arcade-y system. If the game is beautiful, its fights are works of art too.
I have only scratched the surface of the open world so far, and I keep being distracted by sidequests and fox dens and random encounters on the road. I am pleased that despite all its strengths, Tsushima is not afraid to still be a bit video game-y, letting me do simple things like harvest bamboo in one button press while flying by on my horse, not making me get off and go through a carefully rendered bamboo-cutting animation like Red Dead 2 would have made me. In general, trading a bit of realism for the sake of gameplay makes Tsushima at least feel better than realism-simulators like Red Dead or The Last of Us, namely that you and your horse don’t control like boats, which is pleasant.
What I keep coming back to in my mind when playing Tsushima is Insomniac’s Spider-Man. Not that combat or story or setting or anything is similar to that game, and yet when playing Spider-Man, I kept thinking, “damn, this is 100% how I want a Spider-Man game to look, play and feel.” And I have that exact same feeling about Tsushima. This is exactly how I want a wandering samurai game to look, play and feel.
Do I have anything negative to say about Tsushima? Mm, sometimes when I’m moving my character animations get a little janky and Jin seems to vibrate weirdly. And to a certain extent, some of these missions are starting to blend together as nearly all are taking out 1-2 clusters of similar bad guys in similar ways in similar areas. This game also loves “trail people in secret” missions which are never very fun. But it all pales in comparison to the overall success of the game in these early hours, and I can’t wait to play more.
If you were thinking about skipping Tsushima like I was, don’t. It’s a gorgeous, weirdly peaceful game about cutting bad guys into pieces, and I think you will probably enjoy it.
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