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In the late 13th century, the Mongol empire has laid waste to entire nations along their campaign to conquer the East. Tsushima Island is all that stands between mainland Japan and a massive Mongol invasion fleet led by the ruthless and cunning general, Khotun Khan. As the island burns in the wake of the first wave of the Mongol assault, samurai warrior Jin Sakai stands as one of the last surviving members of his clan. He is resolved do whatever it takes, at any cost, to protect his people and reclaim his home. He must set aside the traditions that have shaped him as a warrior to forge a new path, the path of the Ghost, and wage an unconventional war for the freedom of Tsushima.
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Ghost of Tsushima has a distinctive aesthetic, after all, but it’s only skin-deep. The core game underneath that alluring exterior is a pastiche of open-world game design standards from five years ago; it lacks a real personality of its own. Ghost of Tsushima offers a lovely world to explore, and there’s value in that, but it should have been so much more than a checklist of activities to accomplish.
It's desperately frustrating, because I maintain that Ghost of Tsushima is still, largely, quite fun. The problem is it's an easy, breezy, lite beer kind of fun - the kind that Sucker Punch is known for, after all - and the blanket genericism of it just doesn't sit well against such a po-faced tone. It's another game fallen victim to the palatability blender, coming out the other side as a slightly formless smudge of every genre, without a mastery of any. Going back to Ghost of Tsushima's roots, as an American game inspired by the comics and the movies of Japan, in a way it's quite apt. It's what happens when you want to pay homage, but don't want to add anything new of your own. It's Hollywood.
Ghost of Tsushima is pretty as heck – sporadic capturing left me with almost 50 GB worth of screenshots and short video clips to sift through – but, at its core, it’s just another open-world game. I found myself audibly sighing every time I crested a hill towards a mystery objective only to find another fox to follow or another haiku to compose. These diversions, while unique at first glance, proved to just be busy work as time wore on. I was so strong by the end of the game – filling up every skill tree is easy if you ignore the main story and just explore for a bit – that I didn’t even bother using stealth tactics for the last third. I don’t think I even died after the first few hours. There’s so little to get excited about in Tsushima once the initial wonder of the wind physics and lush environments wears off that the only thing that kept me going was my own innate desire to fill out the entire map. And that can only hold someone’s interest for so long.
Ghost of Tsushima is a joy to play and a joy to behold. Sucker Punch has crafted one of the most memorable open world games of this generation, buoyed by an immensely satisfying combat system and an engaging, dramatic story. Unlike many of its open world peers, it's a refined and focused experience -- gripping and immaculately presented at its best. A fitting first-party swansong for the PS4.
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