Ghost of Tsushima is an open-world, action-adventure that focuses on a varied selection of different sword stances that are used when dealing with the various enemies you encounter as each stance unlocked is effective against a different type of enemy. There is also stealth when required but, in all honesty, the sword combat is just too good to go be all back-stabby when you can be all Samurai swordmaster. The story takes place in 1274 on the island of the Tsushima, off the coast of mainland Japan, where you take on the role of Jin Sakai, one of the last remaining samurai left alive on the island after a brutal invasion from Khotun Khan and his Mongol forces. After being defeated by Khotun, Jin realizes that he will need to cast off the honorable ways of his samurai heritage and fight back using stealth and unconventional tactics, creating the new legend of the Ghost!
The combat is one of the best parts of the game as it makes you feel like proper samurai from the beginning. Combat takes the form of interpreting the enemies’ attacks and learning when to parry and when to dodge. Parry at the right time and you can land a devasting attack on the enemy or straight-killing them samurai film style. Dodging also opens the attacking enemy to a heavy attack that you can use to stun them and land a combo for massive damage. The deciding factor on which to use is if you have the correct stance selected and what range of the attack is as spearmen can just try and stab you, but the more experienced ones can spin it around themselves making a single dodge a bit pointless. By killing a certain enemy type, the heavily armored leaders, you start to earn points towards unlocking a different stance that is effective against one of the different enemy types. Along with the stances, you can earn technique points by increasing your legend level that can be used to learn different moves for the stances like more devastating combos and more powerful attacks. You increase your legend level by completing story missions for a major boost or side quests that give a smaller increase but come with some additional items that can be used to level up your equipment and gear.
The length of the side quests is also quite substantial as it doesn’t always turn into follow target here and ends with a fight to close it off, even if some of them do end off like that. If you get invested in the characters that hand them out, they can become a lot more entertaining, and you want to complete them as they are all a piece of the character’s history and story that are revealed as you progress. Some of the other side missions are just elaborate ways to show off the gorgeous visuals of the scenery and encourages you to go looking for the better gear and items that are stashed away. There is also a small crafting element where you can improve your weapons and armor to increase the damage output and reduce damage taken. One of the early outfits can also be upgraded to help in collecting some of the other collectibles scattered throughout the game.
With the game being open world, you can expect a whole bunch of side quests and other mini-games like liberating camps from the Mongols to a wide variety of collectibles that add either useful charms and help expand your legend or just pure vanity items like headbands. The collectibles are more than just a reason to pad out the game as they offer decent rewards that are used to improve your character and can make parts of the game easier or make you feel like a complete badass. The bamboo strikes add additional resolve orbs that can be used to unleash devastating attacks, heal you in pinch, or be used to revive you if you have unlocked the necessary skill. Inari shrines, which can be found by following around foxes and cab be pet afterward, provide you with more charm slots on your weapons. The charms themselves can be found by visiting Shinto shrines that provide some very useful buffs to weapons and skills that can be life-saving in the worst kind of scenarios. The best must be the hot springs that can be used to increase your health as they give you an option to reflect on various in-game moments.
The other remaining collectibles just provide some cosmetic items like headbands from doing haikus or different sword kits, used to change your katana and tanto’s appearance and sheath, that can be found at pillars of honor. There are a few others scattered throughout the game that can just add a few hours of gameplay.
The biggest addition is the new region of Iki island that adds a host of new side quests and mini-games, like animal shrines and archery challenges, along with some returning from the island of Tsushima. You unlock Iki island after the start of Act 2 in the game but starting the trip to the island is a bit of a spoiler as canonically it takes place after the main game and could reveal certain story elements before you have progressed to that point in it. And unless you have quite a bit of upgraded skills, armor and have mastered the various enemy types and combat, you could be in for a rough ride as it quickly throws some of the tougher enemy types at you in droves.
The expansion also adds in a new enemy type, the shaman, that can make the easiest of enemies become total berserker tanks and give even the most seasoned of veterans a hard time if not quickly dispatched. There also seems to be a trend happening with these first-party titles, as with Horizon Zero Dawn’s Frozen Wilds expansion, a new technique is added that benefits your mount but unlike HZD, this can only be unlocked by completing one of the opening missions of the expansion and can then be used through the rest of the game.
If possible, the PS5 version is the recommended way to play as it adds a host of new features that greatly improve the experience other than the new fancy 4K resolutions. Another great addition is the use of the Dual Sense’s haptic feedback and adaptive triggers to really make you feel like a controller samurai. The game already had impressive load times on the PS4 but with the added SSD, fast traveling becomes exactly that… fast. On occasion, I would fast travel to another location to exit the map screen and immediately think I just hit cancel and exited the map instead of having arrived at my destination within a second. I would only realize that I was where I wanted to be after opening the map again and seeing the player icon hovering over the location.
Along with the few expected improvements, it also adds proper Japanese lip-syncing to the character models if you choose to play the game using the Japanese Dialogue, which is highly recommended as it does make it feel a bit more authentic. Be warned, however, if you are not an avid watcher of subtitled anime or foreign language films, the subtitles can be a bit difficult to follow in the action sequences. The Japanese voice actor for the main character, Jin Sakai, is even helmed by the legendary Kazuya Nakai of One Piece fame being none other than Roronoa Zoro. If you close your eyes during cutscenes, you can see Zoro having gotten lost and wandered into another world and is now saving the island of Tsushima because why not?
Overall, the DC of the game adds even more content to an already lengthy game, easily adding another 10 to 15 hours on an already 60+ hours playtime. Even if the game suffers from the dreaded open-world fatigue around the end as you scramble to get everything done, I felt that there was enough variety and enjoyment in completing them that the fatigue didn’t really become an issue. On top of this, the game also has a co-op multiplayer aspect but isn’t covered in this review. With what has become the norm now, a patch was released a few months after release for the standard edition that included a New Game+ mode that comes bundled in the DC. This mode adds a new difficulty + mode to each of the standard ones with another level of upgrades for your gear. It also adds in a new merchant where you can spend a new in-game currency, Ghost Flowers, to purchase new cosmetic items.
If, like me, you didn’t get a chance to play the original Ghost of Tsushima on last-gen when it came out, now is as good a chance as any to jump in with the Director’s Cut of the game released on PS4 and PS5. The game was originally released in July of 2020 and quickly became a massive hit for Sucker Punch and Sony. The Director’s Cut replaces the standard edition that was available on the PlayStation Store but if you already own that version on PS4, you can upgrade to the DC version for a bit extra which adds all the extras that come with the new version on the same platform. There’s also an option to upgrade from the PS4 to the PS5 version if you already own the DC.