Late to the party - Ghost of Tsushima
Updated: Aug 24, 2021
I mostly played on the Xbox for the last generation - to the point that I'm only now experiencing a lot of the first-party Sony 'classics' of the PS4 era. During the last console generation, Sony's console gained a reputation for being home to the very best exclusive games that could be played - cinematic masterpieces that pushed technical and narrative boundaries for the industry as a whole. In the main, I've found that reputation to be well deserved.
In recent months, I've torn through most of those exclusives - and I've enjoyed them all for a variety of different reasons. Ghost of Tsushima has been sat on my shelf for quite a while. Finishing off Bloodborne left me looking at my pile of shame wondering what should be started next - and this one seemed like the logical one to go for. Different enough to the game I'd played immediately before it, critically lauded - I went into it quietly confident that it would be another classic for me to absorb.
To say that it's a disappointment is perhaps an unfairly negative appraisal so far - but for me, it hasn't lived up to the hype. That's not to say that it's bad, per se - it's far from being bad. It's just... for the first time I'm playing a Sony exclusive that isn't living up to the hype that seems to surround it. Before I proceed much further, I want to wrap this whole thing up in a caveat: I haven't yet finished Ghost of Tsushima. I will, but I wanted to get these thoughts down now - while they're fresh, and partly to see if my perception of it changes as I progress through the story. If it does, I'll either update this piece or write another one - I'm always happy to admit when I've got something hopelessly wrong!
Positives, then? To start? Seems fair, right? OK - here goes.
It's incredibly pretty - as I've come to expect for Sony exclusive games. They all have top-notch visual presentation; this one is no different. It's one of the most cinematic games I've ever played. If Red Dead Redemption 2 is a homage to Sergio Leone in videogame form, then this is the genre's homage to Akira Kurosawa - and in that regard it's wonderful. The framing of cinematics and cutscenes, and the gameplay moments leading to sword duels could all have been lifted straight from the big screen, as could the colour saturation and the structure of the game. Instead of side quests, we have "Tales" - each of which is bookended with a title card similar to a part of a movie, or an episode in a long-running TV show.
Gameplay-wise was where I was left slightly less impressed, to be honest. The combat system (involving stances and parries) is new and interesting enough, and the standoffs that require you to time a sword strike to pull of a gory one-hit kill are satisfying in a way that never seems to get old. Once you get beyond the pretty graphics and the combat though, the game feels so derivative of several other big franchises that it becomes impossible to ignore the similarities - and it's in those comparisons that Ghost of Tsushima comes off the worst.
Take the mission structure, for instance. Missions will generally involve going to a location, and talking to an NPC. There will then be a 'walk and talk' session that would put an Aaron Sorkin script to shame as you travel to another destination - the NPC voicing all the exposition you need to understand where you're going, why, and what you're going to do when you get there. On arrival, you may fight some Mongol invaders - or you may end up looking around a scene of carnage until you find tracks that you'll follow to a fight with the people who did it. The aggressors dead, justice restored, your Samurai can ride on to the next quest - which, conveniently, is only ever a couple of hundred metres away. Less conveniently, when you've travelled that short distance you're likely to be confronted by something else to do that's broadly identical in structure to what you just did.
In the absolute worst of these missions, you'll be tasked with tailing an NPC. If you've ever played any of the older Assassin's Creed games , you'll be familiar with this mechanic. It involves sneaking along in pursuit of another character - either from cover to cover, along rooftops, or by hiding in the long grass - for a period of time until a conversation is completed, or a destination is reached. This was one of THE most hated mechanics in the Assassin's Creed games - so unpopular that it was phased out after Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag. That game launched in 2013. Quite why on earth anyone thought that bringing it back was a good idea is beyond me; it's as frustrating and tedious here as it was there.
As I said earlier, it's not so much bad as... dated. The way this game is structured feels much more rigid and staccato than more recent entries in the open-world genre - for examples, you only need to look as far as the more recent Assassin's Creed games (Origins and Odyssey both did this better), or The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Hell, The Witcher 3 did some of these things better - and that game came out years before Ghost of Tsushima did.
I'll be sticking with it for now - but it's far and away the least interesting Sony exclusive from the last generation that I've played yet. I'm hopeful my opinion will change by the time I reach the end, but currently... I'm a little underwhelmed.
Have you played Ghost of Tsushima? What did you think of it? Are there things I haven't seen yet that are going to change my mind before the end of the campaign? Hit me up on Twitter and let me know!