Ghost of Tsushima

At the end of August, my MSI laptop had 5 dead keys on the keyboard. No idea how, or why, just dead. 6 weeks in the shop to get it both replaced and working – finding the part was hard enough, and the ribbon was wrong, then thermal pad issues. I decided to pick up Ghost of Tsushim on PS4 given the rather high marks. I was not disappointed.

First the less than good news, it’s an icon-filled map of activities. Some more traditional (clear a camp, find a thing), others less so (write a haiku, cut bamboo). The good news in this is that you can (and should) play the game without concern for any of it. It has some cosmetic purpose, and whatever power increments you do get, are exponentially scaled. So you get like 75% of the benefits 30% of the way in. By just playing the game you’ll come across all you need (and there’s a golden bird that pops up to bring you to some too). Ubisoft this is not.

The better news is the combat mechanics. The start of the game focuses a lot on stealth and archery – for good reason. They are efficient from start until end, and a 3 person chain assassination never gets old. Sadly, the enemy AI is not able to figure out rooftops. And standoffs sound and look cool (super cool), but the risk/reward factor is out of whack. As you improve both your passive skills and your awareness of the game (and enemies become more numerous), it becomes better to wade into the thick of things. The end of act 2 in particular has a massive battle that feels like an martial arts movie in choreography. The choice of parry or dodge impacts your counter-attack. Your stance impacts your effectiveness against opponents, think a rock-paper-scissors type of thing. There’s a hidden complexity behind it all that allows for masterpieces of combat to show up. My eldest daughter was able to pick up the “dance” after a few tries, impressive to watch.

The other game mechanics are simple enough. Climbing is straight out of Uncharted, including rope throws. Horse riding just works. Friendly NPCs always move at your speed – why is this not the case everywhere nowdays? Gear upgrades are based on materials found across the game, though in sparse quantities you’ll unlikely max everything until near the very end.

Continuing on the good news is the quest mechanic – or Tales. There are 4 kinds – the main quest, the supporting characters, the legendary ones, adn minor quests. Even the minor ones are voice acted and have some interesting bits. The legendary ones are essentially chasing skills and armor of legend, told through a really neat story mechanic. The mountain one in particular is really well executed. There are a half dozen supporting characters, each with their own arcs. About a dozen quests each and they explore each person’s failures and redemption. They are amazing. The main quest is solid in it’s own right, but doesn’t hit it’s stride until after the 2nd act. The main bad guy is a decent villain – ruthless and intelligent. The final mission…jeeeeeebus is that solid. Feels like the game was pitched with that 1 quest in mind.

Now for the best part, the presentation. The game looks and sounds like a dream.

Words really cannot do this game justice. PS4 has done an absolute stellar job at world building this generation and this is without question my favorite one of the many great examples. You can even turn on Kurosawa mode, which changes the display to a grainy black & white view for a crazy feeling of the old movies. I found myself stopping for more than a few times just to enjoy the visual feast. Also a great reason to complete the haikus, which force you to stop and smell the roses.

My daughter and I completed the game, all map icons, most cosmetic collectibles (not flowers, records, artifacts, or banners) in about 50 hours of play. A solid 10 of those were just exploring the map. I played with Japanese voice over and English subtitles. An absolutely amazing game from start to end.

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