Ghost of Tsushima has been put in a unique position. Sony is closing down the PS4 console generation with a new IP, just like they did with the PS3. Just taking a glance at Sony’s first party line-up over the course of the PS4’s life cycle will show you that there was a heavy emphasis on single-player open-world games. Sucker Punch actually laid the first brick with inFamous: Second Son in March 2014, four months after the PS4 launched in North America. The studio has had time to learn over the course of an entire console generation, observing their fellow PlayStation Studios partners and outside developers. Sucker Punch has the opportunity to place the capstone on the legacy of PS4’s open-world exclusives.
Last week, Sucker Punch had the opportunity to reveal detailed gameplay for Ghost of Tsushima in a State of Play. I took some notes while I watched this 18-minute presentation and a little bit of time to chew on what Ghost of Tsushima appears to be. If you’d like to watch the State of Play for yourself, you can watch it on YouTube. The State of Play is broken into five chunks: The World, The Samurai, The Ghost, Customization, and Presentation. Each of these gave a taste of what makes the game unique.
“Exploration has been at the heart of our open-world design since the very beginning. But you can’t have exploration if you don’t have curiosity. So we’ve continually asked ourselves how can we let the island guide you in the most thematic and immersive ways possible?” – Jason Connell
Jason Connell opened up the presentation by discussing the island of Tsushima and how Sucker Punch is trying to entice players to explore. The opening shot is with Jin, the main character, on a cliff looking over a part of the island. I saw yellow and white forests, smoke stakes, and a beached (or docked) boat. These contrasts in color and materials catch my eye, but I’m curious to see what will drive me to explore those areas once a controller is in my hand. What will the game teach me about exploration to encourage me to continually do it?
The mechanic that Sucker Punch came up with to help player’s navigate the island is genius. Place a pin on the map and then a “Guiding Wind” will appear and blow in the direction of your pin. You can summon the gust of wind at any time to point you in the right direction. As someone who loves a clean HUD, this is such a nuanced and noninvasive tool for navigation. The wind isn’t just a collection of white lines either. The wind interacts with the world, pushing grass and leaves along as well blowing Jin’s cloak. It is sort of like the inverse of the wind while sailing in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. I hope there is a way to add an on-screen marker for those that want one, but the Guiding Wind is an elegant solution for immersive navigation.
Beyond that, open-world staples are here: Different animals will lead you to certain places nearby, smoke stacks indicate people in danger, fast travel is unlocked as you explore. There are items that the player may pick up like bamboo, linen, dye flowers, and “supplies.” I assume these are for crafting armor, which has its own mechanics. Armor has advantages that can be tailored to the play style of the player, while dye lets the player tailor the colors of the armor to their liking. Combined with Charms and Skill Points, the gameplay seems to have a heavy emphasis on player choice.
That’s further emphasized with the gameplay styles between playing as an honorable Samurai or the dishonorable Ghost. Nate Fox talks about precision and energy management. It sounds like an action game with parry timing and utilizing certain techniques against certain foes. There are different attack stances, which may or may not impact gameplay in significant ways. There is some sort of stamina meter while in combat, but its finer details are still unknown. As for playing as the Ghost, this style seems far more stealth and fear motivated. Frankly, it reminds me of Splinter Cell or the Arkham Batman games. Shadows, higher perches, smoke bombs, tools for distracting enemies. All the tools I saw on display were to give the player that feeling of power over the enemies.
Between these two styles, I am curious if there is some sort of karma system in the game. Before this presentation, I would have though not. The description of the game and the trailers portray it as a tale of revenge that drives a decent man to betraying everything he was taught. It seems pretty cut and dry in that regard:
As one of the last surviving samurai, you rise from the ashes to fight back. But honorable tactics won’t lead you to victory. You must move beyond your samurai traditions to forge a new way of fighting—the way of the Ghost—as you wage an unconventional war for the freedom of Japan. – Sucker Punch
But when watching the gameplay styles, it looks like maybe you don’t have to move beyond those samurai traditions after all, at least when playing. That could be a point of disconnect between the narrative and gameplay if there is not a karma system. Sucker Punch’s last franchise, inFamous, used karma as a key pillar in its storytelling and gameplay, so it does make sense for them to continue that practice in Ghost of Tsushima. The marketing so far just does not communicate that. It will be interesting to see how this element shakes out.
Some of my favorite features showcased are the superficial modes that alter Ghost of Tsushima’s presentation. It’s no secret that I love the idea of playing this game with the Japanese voice over and English subtitles. It just feels (maybe sounds is more appropriate) right. The photo mode appears to give users fine grain controls, even allowing users to change the elements floating in the wind or the music in the scene. Sucker Punch looks like they’ve taken the years of feedback for other PS4 games’ photo modes (including their own) and are making a full-featured tool. The coolest surprise was cinema mode. This gives Ghost of Tsushima a black and white, grainy, moody appearance that mirrors classic samurai films. I can only imagine how gorgeous it will look on my 4K OLED TV with HDR. Combined with the Japanese voice track and you’ll have pretty authentic appearance. I get pumped up just thinking about it.
The end of a console generation is often the best time for the system. Developers squeeze every ounce of power out of the console as a studio’s game design philosophy is explored. The PS4 is particularly fun to be a part of with both The Last of Us Part II and Ghost of Tsushima. Having both an established franchise with a long-awaited sequel and a brand new IP give the PS4 both sides of the console-exclusive coin. If both games end up being strong PlayStation games, the energy going into the PS5 will be even more powerful. July 17 is just two months away. I feel like it will be here before we know it.