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    dkirschner's Ghost of Tsushima (PS4)

    [June 24, 2024 06:43:10 AM]
    I went into this with almost zero knowledge of what it was. Within 10 minutes, after opening the map for the first time, I was thinking, “Oh no, I do not want to play another Assassin’s Creed game right now.” I played Odyssey a year-and-a-half ago and am haunted by question marks on a map and a ridiculously long (nearly 100 hours!) main-plus playtime. Ghost of Tsushima absolutely has Assassin’s Creed / Witcher 3 DNA, but it also innovates in some interesting areas. After finishing Odyssey, I wished for a “mere” 40-hour Assassin’s Creed game. Well, Ghost of Tsushima was basically that, but I realize that it’s not just the length of Odyssey that I disliked, but that the open-world formula is stale, even when it’s set in as beautiful a place as Tsushima.

    So, I’ll talk first about the game’s biggest success. Sucker Punch created a cohesive feel to this game. Everything about it flows like the wind. When you are standing on a hill, looking out over a field of trees and brightly colored flowers, and the wind whips at your back, and you feel calm and peaceful and meditative, that feeling permeates the entire experience. The wind, the wind! How many games have tried to do something different in place of a traditional minimap with quest markers? I can think of none better than Ghost of Tsushima. The wind guides you to your destination, whatever you have set as a waypoint on your map. Flick the touchpad up and the breeze blows, indicating the direction toward your goal. I only looked at the map to set waypoints and to fast travel; otherwise, the wind immersed me in the journey.

    Speaking of fast travel, it’s somewhat counterintuitive that they immediately let you fast travel through one of the most beautiful open worlds I’ve ever seen. Most games, for progression reasons, but also (I always imagine) to force you to look at the environment they’ve created, restrict your movement and fast travel until you earn it. Ghost of Tsushima says nope, everything about this game is going to flow, so players are immediately going to get a horse, be able to move as fast as they ever will be, and will be able to fast travel to any location they have previously visited. I appreciated this so, so much.

    Another way the game flows is in your ability to go in and out of active quests, or “tales.” It reminded me of something I loved about MMORPGs, when you could run around collecting quests, then do a giant loop completing them all, then return to the questgiver area and turn them all in at once. You don’t “collect” quests like that here, but you can always just walk away and pursue something else of interest if you are in the middle of one, even a main story tale, and then return to it. This encourages exploring the environment. Often, I would be doing a tale, and I’d hear the bark of a fox, stop, find it, follow it to its shrine and pray; or hear the chirp of a golden bird, follow it to a new area of interest; pass by a torii gate to a mountain temple and detour to scale the cliffs, earn a charm, and take in the view from the top; then return to what I was doing. The game doesn’t punish you for exploring when you want to.

    It’s neat how integrated the map question marks are in your exploration. There are multiple ways to be alerted to, and to find, those areas of interest. You can walk around and explore; you can complete an action that removes fog of war and discover new question marks from the map; villagers will alert you to tales and places of interest; the golden birds will randomly swoop down and chirp and guide you to somewhere you’ve never been; the fireflies will guide you to collectibles in town; the sound of crickets chirping in graveyards leads you to them; etc. And there are visual symbols for many such places, too: yellow glowing trees for fox dens; steam rising from hot springs for baths; tall banner flags for duels; torii gates for mountain shrines, etc. This bundle of modalities for finding areas of interest sometimes results in silly moments, though. You’ll obviously be going to a specific place, have it tracked on the map, and a golden bird will swoop down and “guide” you to it. For example, one time I was swimming out to an island—the only thing I could have possibly been headed toward—and the bird swooped down from over the ocean and started flying toward the island. Did it think I didn’t see it?! Obviously, I was going to the island! There were also times when the golden birds would lead me somewhere where I couldn’t figure out what it was trying to show me. Or when the golden birds would lead me somewhere, and I didn’t want to do whatever was there, so I’d leave, and then the golden birds would keep trying to bring me back there. Minor annoyance in an outstanding navigation system!

    Many of the places you find on Tsushima yield peaceful, meditative moments. You can sit on a rock and compose a haiku, for example, and meditate on “perspective” or “loss” or whatever. Instead of forcing you to walk everywhere, inviting you to sit and meditate is how the game encourages you to appreciate the beauty of Tsushima. They worked it into the story, into the setting; it flows.

    Finally, the combat flows. It is exquisite, of the “easy to learn; hard to master” variety. It took a while to get comfortable with because it helps if you are observant and calm, not easy for an action game. In many games, you can button mash, but Ghost of Tsushima rewards precision. For example, if an enemy is doing an unblockable attack (indicated by a red flash), you need to press circle just once to sidestep (then counter-attack!). If you press it twice, you’ll roll too far away to counter. There are a lot of combat toys to play with, from various types of bombs, arrows, knives, darts, things that distract enemies, stances that counter different enemy types, and so on. I will say that the stances seemed unnecessary, unless I was fighting a boss-type character. Enemies come in four flavors: sword guy, shield guy, spear guy, arrow guy…I feel like there was a fifth. And there are some easier and harder versions of each. The stances give you some special attack power against whichever enemy type, but once you learn to parry and dodge, you can kill enemies of all types just as quickly.

    I must mention two fantastic elements of combat: duels and standoffs. It’s a samurai game, so of course you can duel. These are cinematic! They are always boss (or mini-boss) fights. They were difficult at first, but became much easier by the end, so much so that I killed the last two bosses without dying. There is one annoying thing about the duels though: your health doesn’t refill beforehand. You don’t always know when you’re going to duel, so it’s not like you can just heal up in preparation. And once you start a duel, as far as I could figure, there is no way to quit (unless you saved it beforehand?); you just have to keep trying. A few duels began with me at almost zero health and with no resolve (resource used to heal and use special attacks). Those ones resulted in me having to perfect the fight, at least until I could generate enough resolve to heal myself. On the plus side, I got really good at the combat. I imagine this was done on purpose to increase the player’s resilience or perseverance or something related to samurai values. The other awesome combat mechanic is the standoff. When you approach a group of enemies, instead of charging in or going stealth mode, you can challenge them. You hold triangle and release it when the enemy attacks for an instant kill. Later, enemies start feinting, and I lost my fair share of standoffs from being too trigger-happy. You can upgrade an ability such that once you win the initial standoff, you can one-shot the next two or three more enemies who come charging at you. I really enjoyed entering combat with a standoff instead of sneaking around. The stealth in this game is passable, and there’s really nothing else to say about it!

    The main downside of Ghost of Tushima for me is that the pacing is weird. I mean, it’s not a downside per se, but made me single-mindedly pursue completion by early in the second act. In the first act, I pretty much completed all the side quests and explored every “?” that I saw (though by no means did I explore the whole map). At the end of the first act, therefore, I had unlocked most of the sword techniques, all but one stance, and upgraded all my weapons most of the way. One thing that really helped with that latter achievement was the charm that doubles the amount of resources that you find. Once I found that charm, I was in Upgrade City. So, by the second act, I didn’t have much more to upgrade. The side quests aren’t all that compelling. The larger arcs follow your main companions’ personal stories, and the smaller quests are just “go here, kill Mongols.” They are often set up like they might be in the Witcher 3, like people are being dragged to their deaths in a murky lake. Whereas in the Witcher, you’d discover some cool monsters with compelling intrigue, here it is always bandits or Mongols. Always. You might think there will be something supernatural going on (the villagers are all superstitious), but there isn’t. It’s always bandits or Mongols! The main story tales are the main attraction, so by the beginning of the second (of three) act, I just plowed through those and finished the game. In the second act, I was still doing incidental question marks, but by the third, I ignored everything else. The “blue” tales yield special weapons and armor, but they generally took a while, and I realized that whatever armor I got from the main story was better than all the special quest armor anyway.

    So, that’s the Ghost. It’s got everything you expect in an open-world game, with a tight theme and nice flourishes, like the wind guide. The main story is interesting, and you effectively are put in the shoes of a 13th-century samurai who struggles with tradition, honor, and family. If the story’s presentation were as great as the presentation of the open world itself, it would be even better. But, even though I enjoyed the story, I found the characters forgettable, probably because the voice acting and animations are pretty stilted. I said the story was interesting, not exciting (save for the massive act-ending battles). Some levity (besides the one sake trader) would be nice. If you are into open-world games, I’d recommend this one as a gem that goes at a slower pace than you might be used to; it’s often meditative. People who are into samurai stuff will no doubt enjoy it. For me though, I think I appreciated it thematically and in terms of a lot of design stuff more so than I loved the experience. Like, it was cool, but I don’t want to play more of it (and, indeed, I opted out of the DLC island).
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    dkirschner's Ghost of Tsushima (PS4)

    Current Status: Finished playing

    GameLog started on: Friday 14 June, 2024

    GameLog closed on: Thursday 20 June, 2024

    dkirschner's opinion and rating for this game

    Assassin's Creed vibes so far. --------- Slick, and does some cool things with its open world, but still has all features of typical open-world games.

    Rating (out of 5):starstarstarstarstar

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    1 : Ghost of Tsushima (PS4) by jp (rating: 5)


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