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14th Jul 2020

REVIEW: Ghosts Of Tsushima is one of the most fun games of 2020

Lynda Keogh

Some blockbuster videogames have adopted the same mentality as some blockbuster movies; taking on a serious tone that will almost definitely put a dent in the amount of fun you’re going to have.. But Ghosts of Tsushima is different.

Sure, The Last Of Us Part II is an absolute masterpiece, but nobody playing it could claim to be having a good time. Thankfully, despite its finicky flaws, Ghosts Of Tsushima is here to remind you what it is like to just be entertained while playing a game, and it will make you feel like an invincible samurai along the way.

Set in the late 13th century, you play as one of the last surviving samurai on the island on Tsushima, following a huge attack by the Mongol army as they make their way to the Japanese mainland. With the majority of the island’s defences wiped out, you are forced to take on some sneakier modes of attack, basically becoming a one-man army as you attempt to reclaim your home. However, these go against the strict and noble samurai laws, with your fellow survivors soon growing as afraid of you as they are of the Mongol invaders.

It is a nifty little setup to explain why your already well-trained fighter has to basically start at the beginning of a new training journey, learning how to quietly assassinate some of your enemies, picking them off one by one until there are few enough left to face them all out in the open.

Initially, the island and all of the things to do are massively overwhelming, as you follow foxes, birds, and even the wind to new fortresses, hot springs, pillars of honour, shrines, sword workouts, lighthouses, and haiku writings. You’ve to collect banners, records, artefacts, and singing crickets, not to mention three types of wood, metal, clothing, and goods for your upgrades. And then those upgrades can be spent on your body armour, your mask, your hat, your swords, your bows and your other weapons, as well as new stances, tactics, and forms of exploration and deflection and evasion.

It all seems WAY too much, with the large map overflowing with primary story missions and secondary personal missions, and those first few hours are more than a little daunting, as the gameplay isn’t so much drip-fed to you as it is basically dumped all in one go for you to figure out as best you can. Once you overcome those first few hours though, and the longer-term entertainment value does reveal itself, everything kind of clicks into place. You can tell your open-world adventure is a success when even after you’ve finished the primary story mission, you’ll want to hang around on Tsushima to finish those leftover side missions.

The island of Tsushima itself is lush and beautiful, with new awe-inspiring landscapes to be found all around, while the option to turn on a Kurosawa-mode basically turns the game into a classic samurai movie, all accompanied by a truly gorgeous soundtrack by famed Japanese composers, and sometimes it is very easy to get lost in the presentation of it all.

But then you’ll notice that some of the NPCs are entirely non-expressive during conversation, with some not even moving their mouths while talking. Or you’ll find yourself fighting a Mongol but your vision is suddenly entirely obscured by a tree or a wall between you and the game camera. Or you’ll jump off your horse which will then pin you to the wall, leaving you glitching in place until you hit the horse with your sword, causing it to run away. There is a that final layer of finesse to some of the details that is missing, but it isn’t enough to dent the overall entertainment value of the game.

The exploration never gets boring and the missions are varied enough to keep your attention, but the primary source of entertainment does come down to the combat systems within the game. When you have perfectly taken out a number of the periphery guards without anyone noticing, and then wade into the middle of their compound to hack and slash your way through their numbers, each sword swipe is hugely satisfying. If you kill enough of the men in a violent enough way, some of the others in the compound will simply wimp out and run away for their lives, and there are few games in existence that make you feel as bad-ass as Ghosts Of Tsushima does in those moments.

Ghosts Of Tsushima is available exclusively on the PS4 from Friday 17 July, and you can check out the latest trailer for the game right here:

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