Ghost of Tsushima’s open world, combat, and customization

The Ghost of Tsushima is one of Sony’s major titles that we still don’t know a whole lot about. Sure, we get the whole samurai era theming and we saw a little bit of gameplay at past E3 events, but Sony just hasn’t given out many details. That’s why this month’s State of Play was all about the title, jam packed with 18 minutes of gameplay from this digital trip back to feudal Japan.

Exploring the world of Tsushima

The first part of the presentation focused on the game’s open world design. Graphically, it looks like they are taking a few cues from Breath of the Wild. They are using height in order to let the player see points of interest off in the distance, guiding them there out of natural curiosity. Things like smokestacks, odd shaped trees, animals behaving oddly, and more can all be signs of an important location waiting to be discovered. For example, a pillar of rising black smoke might indicate that a town is being pillaged and needs help, whereas a pillar of rising clean white smoke might just be a campsite. Following a bird or a fox might lead you to one of the game’s many hidden locations. In general, keeping an eye on your surroundings will reward you with new destinations.

There is a navigation system, though, and it is called Guiding Wind. When you place a waypoint on the map, the wind will blow in that direction. Aside from seeing leaves and other environment elements fluttering in that direction, your character, Jin’s, cape will also flow in that direction as well, pushed by the wind. You can also see periodic gusts blow across the landscape and, if you want, you can summon a gust yourself just to get your bearings.

Guiding Wind can be used to take you to many different places. You can use it to explore currently unexplored areas of the map. You can use it to go directly to your next big story destination. You can even use it to search for high value items and collectibles. Sometimes you’ll stumble across abandoned buildings or camps that you can salvage for resources or shrines that you can pray at to upgrade your character. After you visit any location once, you’ll be able to visit there again via fast travel.

There are many modes of transportation in Ghost of Tsushima. Aside from plain old foot travel, you can summon a horse to traverse flat land and pre-beaten paths quickly. You can gather items on horseback without getting off, and can fight from horseback as well, as screen indicators will point out where enemies are, if you pass nearby.

Aside from horse riding there is a lot of vertical movement too. You’ll be able to climb cliffs and scale dangerous outcroppings. You’ll be able to use a grappling hook to swing across gaps and pull yourself up to high places. You’ll also be able to swim and interact with water it seems. You’ll traverse many different lands in many different weathers, from fields of flowers near a hidden away shrine, to muddy marshes covered in half dead plants, to snow covered peaks.

Combat – Samurai or Ghost?

Sucker Punch studios did their best to recreate the feel of old Kurosawa samurai movies. Jin can challenge enemies to standoffs when he comes within eyesight. This will put him and his opponent within striking distance of each other via a short cinematic. Jin and his opponent will stare each other down, and if you strike at the right moment Jin can take out his enemies in a single slash. He can defeat entire hordes of enemies this way, provided your timing is on point.

Not every enemy will consent to this one-on-one showdown style of combat. For more chaotic situations, Jin can use his bow to take out enemies from a distance. He can also take a defensive stance, parrying or dodging enemy attacks to open them up to a one-hit kill. Jin can also slash through enemy projectiles like arrows and slings, and if worse comes to worse, he can just hack at his opponent’s until they die, like a standard action game. While this might be somewhat barbaric in style, it’s an especially useful tactic if Jin is surrounded by tightly grouped enemies.

Stance changing appears to be a major mechanic of Ghost of Tsushima the aforementioned defensive stance, called Stone Stance was very useful for protecting Jin from multiple enemies. However, he can switch to new stances to deal increased damage to different enemy types. We see him change to “water stance” in a segment of gameplay, which seems to focus on mobility and taking out enemies with lighter weapons like bows and swords.

Every so often Jin will get combat related missions, tasking him with fighting in a certain way. For example, during the gameplay segment we were shown, Jin was rewarded for killing enemies with his bow instead of his sword. It also appears as if Jin can equip several different types of weapons and armor, though only the sword and bow were detailed.

Stealth

Going blade first into battle is one way to face your enemies. Another way is to use every dirty trick in the book to take them down. It just so happens that there are some notorious dirty tricksters in feudal Japan, the Ninja! Jin just so happens to be one of them as well, the titular “ghost” of Tsushima.

As you might expect, all the standard stealth game tricks are available to you. Jin can throw rocks and make noise with firecrackers as a distraction to lure enemies from their post. Then, by sneaking up behind them, he can take them out instantly and silently. Instead of using quick short bows in combat, he can use heavy longbows to snipe enemies from afar. If you really need a ranged weapon in close combat, Jin can quickly throw shuriken or kunai.

Getting the drop on enemies will allow you to take out multiple at once. We see Jin get the “drop” on a group of guards, by sneaking across the rooftops to attack them. They all died without a longer “battle” being triggered. Of course, if Jin does botch his stealth he will have to deal with enemies in a more traditional way, but he can always use smoke bombs to give himself cover to escape, or hide his attacks to make them more lethal.

Then there is the game’s fear mechanic. Some enemies will be intimidated by Jin as he wholesale slaughters their companions under the cover of night. They will run away, drop their weapons, and some will cower in fear at your feet. These enemies can be left alone or, if you wish, slaughtered in a single stroke.

Jin can also use the opponent’s weapons against them. Aside from picking up weapons on the field, we see him ignite a black powder cache in order to destroy a docked enemy ship and the shipyard that surrounded it.

Customization

Sucker Punch again confirmed that Jin will be able to equip several different types of armor that will give him boosts to different abilities. Want to sneak around, keep your armor light and silent. Want to face the enemy like a juggernaut? Clad yourself in a full metal suit of Samurai armor. You can also collect dye flowers to personalize your armor with different colors and patterns.

Jin can also equip charms that give him special abilities. We saw a charm that heals Jin over time out of battle, a charm that poisons enemies that attack Jin, a charm that makes smoke bombs restore your health, and more. Jin can also spend technique points to increase his latent abilities as well. This will further personalize your gameplay style in the direction of either stealth or combat.

And of course, no game is worth its salt these days without a photo mode. The one in Ghost of Tsushima is borderline obsessive. Aside from hiding the UI and manipulating the camera freely, you can apply several filters, adjust the depth of field, pose Jin in any way you want, control the wind direction and speed, alter the particles that flow through the wind, alter the background music if you are into making movies, and more. There are certainly going to be some players that flood their Instagram pages with photos of this game.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly for the really hardcore weebs out there, Ghost of Tsushima comes with a full Japanese voice track, which can be turned on immediately before the game even starts. If you want to take that second step into Kurosawa style realism, you can turn on a samurai movie mode which will turn the whole game black and white and give it a film grainy texture.

Ghost of Tsushima launches on July 17 for PlayStation 4. Check out the full State of Play below: