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Posted on Sep 18th 2020 at 08:00:00 AM by (slackur)
Posted under Ghost of Tsushima

All pics taken from the official site

I don't play many open world games.  My weekly gaming time is usually spent in multiplayer or in one-hour sessions during bike workouts.  Thus a vast, open gaming experience (that often includes tons of mini-quests and various collectibles stretching for dozens of hours) is just not for me in this particular phase of life.  There have been exceptions; I think Horizon: Zero Dawn is one of the best games of the current generation.  Even when I decide to sit down with an open world game it takes a lot for me to be able to see it to the end.  Tsushima has been out for almost two months, and although I've played it pretty much since release, I just now finished it.  This means such a game must have really been worth it, and I do definitely recommend Ghost of Tsushima, though with some caveats.

First, the good; this is undeniably one of the most beautiful games I have played.  The gorgeous environments, the weather effects, the colors, the art and world design, are all incredible.  There is a reason an actual Tsushima tourism site partnered with the game publisher; while the game takes place in the 13th century and takes many liberties about the actual island, just googling the real life location that inspired the game is breathtaking.  The distinct environments range from swampy lowlands to snowy mountain peaks, from dense forests to sunny beaches, and I never tired of exploring every section of Tsushima.  While I didn't always find some bonus or trinket, just seeing the sites was reward enough. 

The sound design, while not as immediately as impressive, still has a drawing power with a fantastic and thematically appropriate score as well as great sound effects.  The clanging of swords, the rumbles of thunder, the tender and somber notes from in-game musicians, all complement the world wonderfully. 

Thankfully these qualities are also complemented by excellent gameplay.  The swordplay feels great with natural progression in respective stances for different enemies, fun-to-use "Ghost" weapons and abilities, and a decent natural character progression.  The exploration aspect is pretty well done with some decent rewards, and a neat "Tale" element to sidequests that can involve minstrels spinning legendary stories about special items or techniques to find, or rumors by townspeople or freed hostages leading to further events.  There is a great organic feel to the way the game unfolds, at least for the first two-thirds or so.

Which is an easy lead to my gripes, of which there are only a few and nothing too negative.  The progression system feels smooth and features great hooks to keep playing, up until the last third or so of the game.  I was waiting for something to further unfold to spend all of my accumulated goods, but all I could do was sell for more of the currency I never ran out of.  Doing all of the side quests and exploration meant I maxed out my character surprisingly early, and it meant most of the encounters and combat no longer yielded anything of interest except to get to the next large story beat.  The combat remained fun, but the last several hours felt less rewarding when everything had long been unlocked.  It frankly felt like the progression was not quite balanced to last the whole game, which is a minor quibble but still present. 

Other signs of a lack of polish included some very repetitive actions only having a single animation.  As beautiful as the graphics are, seeing half a dozen samurai robotically and simultaneously dismount their horses as if part of a synchronized swimming team was a little jarring, as was how everyone grabs and rubs the same arm identically every time they are rescued (and you rescue quite a few people through the course of the game.)  Speaking of graphics, although the character designs look great, I don't think there was a single outfit I used that didn't have some very noticeable clipping.  Then there were the run-in-place characters waiting for you to move, the NPC I saw flailing inside a boulder, the poor direction during required stealth segments, important scripted story moments kinda losing impact as the character floated up stairs, the obvious fade-to-black moment when no animation was done to show an action... I wouldn't be so critical if this were not a AAA flagship title Sony is pushing so highly.  I have to stress, there was nothing that stopped my progress or kept me from completing anything, just mainly issues that probably should have been ironed-out before release because they were very visible.

As for story, I will warn that in this paragraph are some spoilers so feel free to skip this text block if you are avoiding such.  I was extremely impressed with how well the story was handled; though fictional, with anachronistic elements including weapons and technology, the backdrop is the very real invasion of the island of Tsushima by Mongols intending on using it as a staging ground for attacking the mainland of Japan.  This tinge of historical accuracy and the appreciation of Asian culture in general are strong highlights, as are well written and interesting characters.  Protagonist Jin Sakai's inner conflict of bending and breaking tradition in order to defeat his ruthless enemies is revisited throughout, including flashbacks and a remarkably well-designed finale.  It would have been an easy, lazy escape to give a one-note "this is wrong but I have to do it" intro and ignore the rest for the sake of a 'fun' game, but Tsushima's greatest strength is that it revisits this conflict again and again.  This is especially and intelligently highlighted when Jin uses poison to overtake an enemy stronghold, and inadvertently teaches his enemies how to use such native poison against Jin and his people afterward.  There is a very real, even important dilemma the game examines about how far a person can go before becoming indistinguishable from the enemy, and at what cost should come victory.  The best part of Tsushima is how it handles this theme without disrespecting either side it presents; Jin eventually embraces that which he believes he has to become, and considers it worth the sacrifice for his people; his uncle and father-figure never becomes unsympathetic, pointing to the legitimate crimes Jin commits and argues for the civilized values that helped his people overcome their past trials and distinguishes them from their invaders.  Even the game's villain doesn't quite step into the mustache-twirling bad guy, though the time he is given is less about character development and more about displaying his intelligence, charismatic manipulation, and intent of historical conquest.  I actually got into a bit of a friendly argument with a buddy about the moral quandaries by the end of the game, so I'd say it did something right about presenting some food-for-thought.

Overall, I do highly recommend playing through Ghost of Tsushima.  The minor negatives are far outweighed by how good everything else is, most importantly the story and how fun it is to play.  And oh my, it is gorgeous.  The PS4 has had some incredible exclusives to brag about, and this is definitely one of them.

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I loved Ghost of Tsushima, but it does fall in to familiar open world trappings. Like the recent Avengers game the story carries the gameplay. If you removed the story and changed the name to Assassin's creed Japan no one would notice. I  hope the sequel takes more risks with the gameplay to differentiate itself from the mold.

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