Gut Check: Ghost of Tsushima

I went into Ghost of Tsushima knowing very little about what the game was outside of it being an open world action-adventure game set during a Mongol invasion of Japan during the 1270’s. A cool premise to be sure, but a cool premise alone wasn’t able to change the fact that I wasn’t having much fun with the game itself.

I really wanted to like Ghost of Tsushima. From its initial pitch to the various trailers and snippets of news that led up to its release, I was under the impression that this would be something I could sink a lot of time into. By all accounts, there was a lot of the game to experience, but the general consensus was that very little of it was worth the time investment. But I wanted to experience it for myself because I was very much in the mood for a big and bombastic action game. Instead I got Ghost of Tsushima, a sigh in video game form.

You might look at screenshots or trailers for the game and think, “wow, that’s a beautiful game,” and you wouldn’t be wrong. Riding through a field of flowers and over the rolling hills of cherry blossom trees is objectively beautiful in Ghost of Tsushima. The art direction is fantastic and deserves to be applauded without a doubt. But once you start moving around and interacting with the world, that’s when you see the cracks start to show.

Standing in stark contrast to the beauty of the world were the rough and jagged animations in Ghost of Tsushima. Nothing seems to flow together in a natural way, ultimately making navigating the world look and feel clunkier than you’d like. Multiple times I found myself getting caught up on walls, being slid across the ground by roving NPCs, and unnaturally snapping into static animations while trying to climb or duck under obstacles.

But janky animation isn’t the end of the world. The real issues crop up in the playing of the game itself, particularly when using the camera. Now there are bad cameras that fail to adjust to a player’s position, or a broken one that just doesn’t follow the action when you need it to, but I’ve never had a camera in an open world game vehemently disregard my inputs in the brazen way that the one in Ghost of Tsushima does. The camera often tries to force a cinematic angle that isn’t particularly helpful when you’re barreling down the road on your horse and just want to see what’s ahead of you. While annoying, it isn’t the end of the world.

However, the camera exhibits borderline game-breaking behavior during combat encounters, when you’re desperately trying to create space between you and the ever charging hordes of enemies. The camera will often rotate into awkward angles if you happen to back into an object, making the concept of keeping your enemies on screen more of a chore than it needs to be. This could all be alleviated to some extend with a competent lock-on mechanic, but Ghost of Tsushima lacks a functional targeting system.

You are regularly surrounded by groups of enemies, something that other games might use as an opportunity to let you hit a button or click a stick so you can individually lock-on to an opponent. Ghost of Tsushima opts for something slightly different and objectively worse. You have a sort of soft lock-on where you gently nudge the camera to focus on an enemy, and that will “lock-on” to them. Except it doesn’t work and you’ll just end up swinging wildly at nothing until some dick with a spear stabs you through your sternum. I hate this camera with a passion, and it’s one of the main reasons I don’t like Ghost of Tsushima.

I can’t really talk about too much of what to expect from the later hours of Ghost of Tsushima considering I’ve only played maybe two hours of it, but I feel like I’ve already hit my limit with it. A lot of people have said the the opening hour or so is by far the weakest portion of the game, but that fact is usually followed up with the revelation that very little of the game’s content is interesting or unique. While I don’t have first hand experience to speak on it definitively, based on what I’ve played thus far, neither the gameplay, missions, nor story have been particularly engaging or worth returning to.

Early in the game almost every action you take is interrupted by a cut-scene that goes on way too long, or a flashback training sequence that also overstays its welcome. The story seems fine so far, but it has had no emotional weight or impact on me at all, which ultimately seems to be the overarching theme with Ghost of Tsushima. It doesn’t really excel at anything, and more often than not it just feels deflating and disappointing.

That being said, it’s a lot of fun to get into sword fights with people in Ghost of Tsushima. The combat is deliberate in a way that can feel incredibly rewarding when executed correctly, and utterly deflating when you mistime something. It would be a lot better if it had a traditional lock-on mechanic, but as it stands it’s rewarding when you aren’t overcome with frustration from the incompetent camera. There’s also a “standoff” mechanic which, while not revolutionary, is certainly interesting. It’s basically the “anti-stealth” mechanic, where you march right up to a group of bad guys and challenge them to a duel. What happens next is you basically have to time a button release to one-hit kill your opponent, but I still thought it was pretty cool the few times I did it.

I can’t really speak to the stealth aspects of the game though, because you’re severely limited in the early hours of the game with what you can actually do. It seemed okay I suppose, but it wasn’t anything worth gushing over. Coincidentally that’s exactly how I feel about the everything in Ghost of Tsushima.

But that’s Ghost of Tsushima in a nutshell. It’s an okay game that has some pretty rough edges. It’s one of those games that I couldn’t recommend anyone rush out and buy at full price, but on a big enough discount I might. Maybe Ghost of Tsushima just makes a really miserable first impression and needs more time to really be appreciated. But I just don’t think I have that kind of patience in me for a game that just feels sloppy.

1 thought on “Gut Check: Ghost of Tsushima

  1. Pingback: Game of the Year 2020: Bottom 5 – The Bonus World

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