Since the early days of the Assassins Creed franchise, audiences have longed for a playable experience set in Japan. Thanks to its long, feudal history and mythologies of Samurai and Ninja, it appears the perfect location. While Ubisoft are yet to take their Creed over to Asia-pacific, Sucker Punch Productions have jumped the gun creating something comparable, but wholly unique.
After the team’s first foray into open-world design in 2014 with Infamous: First Light they spent the following six years developing and perfecting the PlayStation exclusive Ghost of Tsushima, which released on July 17 this year. Since its release, it as surpassed 1.9 million digital downloads, making it PlayStation’s fastest selling new IP on the PS Store. This feat speaks volumes about the stealth-action slash-em-up set in 13th century Japan, as it was clearly a recipe fans of the genre and Japanophiles alike were eagerly awaiting.
An Historically Accurate Fantasy
Although Tsushima’s narrative is entirely fictional, it is totally grounded in reality. Game director Nate Fox has said, “we’re trying hard to transport people to 1274 Japan. We’re inspired by history, but we’re not building it back stone by stone.” The Mongolian invasion of 1274 certainly did begin on the island of Tsushima, and the architecture, costume, flora and fauna are all wholly evocative of the era. Yet the team retain a storytelling license, separating the narrative from the reality of the invasion.
The player-protagonist, Jin Sakai, a seasoned Samurai is the head of the Sakai clan. However, as the ruthless Khotun Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan and general of the Mongol Empire rocks up on the shores of Tsushima, Jin and his forces are outmatched. Resulting in his uncle Lord Shimura’s capture and Jin mortally wounded. Nursed back to health by a local thief, but no hope of repelling the invasion alone, allowing you to scour the island to recruit allies, improve Jin’s fighting techniques and, ultimately, amass enough power to attempt repelling the Mongols once again.
A Breath-taking Open World
Exploring this open world on foot or horseback is one of the main draws of Ghost’s gameplay, with Sucker Punch injecting a nuanced, yet somewhat classic, approach to open world design. This is a world without waypoints, arrows or mini-maps, encouraging the player to explore the world without guidance in order to discover its beauty and mysteries organically. And, by removing such mechanics, it ensures the player wholly enjoys the stunning world that the team has crafted—equipped with rolling hills, incredible blowing fauna, stunning lighting through various weathers. However, you don’t need to worry about getting lost. Sucker Punch retained the genealogy of the waypoint system with their subtle Guiding Wind system, which will see the wind blow in the rough direction of your current objective—ensuring that you don’t get too lost in their stunning world.
When encountering Mongols, or other not-so-friendly NPCs in the wilds of Tsushima, the game provides the two classic approaches: stealth or direct confrontation. There are a handful of options for striking from the shadows—utilising tools from firecrackers and smoke bombs to Kunai—but the moment that you draw your tachi, things begin to heat up with the possibility of chaining fatal strikes.
If you instead choose to directly confront your enemies in the light you are graced with an iconic stand-off, much like a Western Mexican standoff, where you wait for your enemy to attack and attempt to strike them down in one fell swoop. These satisfying slow-motion moments can even be chained to see you take down a whole troop in one perfectly timed combo.
Instead of a traditional level system or stat progression, Tsushima doubles down on learning new skills—both for Jin and for the player. Meaning that most of the progress you will make with the games systems will be a result of learning and perfecting the skills at your disposal, allowing for a satisfying learning curve. That said, you can still upgrade gear and receive charms from side-quests, but these features sit secondary when compared to the clashing of swords.
Striking from the Shadows
The announcement of Ghost of Tsushima back in 2017 certainly came as a bit of a surprise from Sucker Punch Productions, but the sales figures speak for themselves, already marking the project as a global success.
Since its release fans and critics alike have praised the games incredible graphical fidelity and aesthetic prowess, both in recreating 13th century Japan accurately, and beautifying it. That said, some critics have expressed some more mixed reviews of the games systems, expressing concerns regarding enemy AI, the stealth mechanics and the lack of a diverse array of side-content to fill the gorgeous open world.
But regardless of its hiccups, Ghost of Tsushima has already solidified itself as one of the PS4s most successful titles, and perhaps one of its last great hits before the release of next-gen consoles.
Yet it isn’t all from Sucker Punch. Recently Darren Bridges, senior game designer at Sucker Punch, announced a new multiplayer mode coming to the title under the name Ghost of Tsushima: Legends. Here we can expect to see a two-to-four player cooperative story and survival mode, which will see players take control of one of four distinct classes. The classes being Samurai, Hunter, Ronin and Assassin. Careering through Ghost’s beautiful world with friends will surely be a unique experience, especially since it’s most comparable recent game, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, was also released without a multiplayer mode.
Although no date has yet been given, Sucker Punch have said Legends will release in “fall this year”, meaning players still have some time to dive into Ghosts of Tsushima, experience its glorious open-world and learn its systems before then.