Most of the great games rest on the shoulders of their predecessors. Ghost of Tsushima shamelessly borrows many of its most powerful characteristics from other open world adventures and skillfully executes them. The game owes a huge debt to the Assassin’s Creed games; In many ways, Ghost of Tsushima feels like an entry into this franchise set in Japan – something fans have longed for. But it’s unfair to paint Sucker Punch’s immense samurai epic as an impersonator. Drawing on Japanese art, history and culture, as well as the tradition of samurai cinema that followed, Ghost of Tsushima finds an entirely original tone in the game’s landscape. Through a particularly vast adventure , players are treated to a story about conflicting ideals of honor and revenge, and in which tense katana duels and quiet moments of reflection claim equal focus. Structurally, Ghost of Tsushima is an adventure narrated in three acts, each almost entirely dedicated to a geographic section of a massive island. Straddling your trusty horse (whose name you choose from the start), you gallop between Mongol-occupied forts, idyllic Buddhist temples, and remote mountain-top shrines, gradually ticking off completed locations as you go. As your sworn warrior grows in power and acquires new weapons and tools. From convenient fast travel options to clever job type delineations, you always know what you’re working on and how to move forward. The side missions and distractions are plentiful, and the total engagement with most of the content is a 50+ hour project. As the survivor of a doomed samurai charge to repel a Mongol invasion, Jin Sakai is a conflicted and tortured hero. Trained to be the best of his samurai caste, the tension between his family duty and the need for justice is at the heart of the story. A small group of richly drawn allies surround him – each faulty in their own way – who come to terms with their bellicose natures. The intertwined stories that unfold are very unflinching or humorous, opting instead for a somber contemplation on the horrors of war. They portray a mother’s grief for her murdered grandchildren, the burden of survivor guilt and loss of innocence as we perceive the failures of our heroes. As a player, moments of true victory are rare – try to save a man’s family, only to find his wife and child are already dead. The game is a meditation on suffering, and I was surprised by Sucker Punch’s uncompromising adherence to this vision. Rather than lightly countering this form, Ghost of Tsushima finds relief in the beauty of nature. Tsushima Island is an exaggerated, pictorial take on feudal Japan, where softly curving cherry trees blow endless blossoms over windswept fields of pampas grass. Set a new goal marker and the breeze changes direction to take you to your destination. Birds and foxes emerge to guide you to hot springs and hidden sanctuaries. Particularly impressive weather effects set the mood, from ghostly forests covered in fog to thunderstorms that herald moments of conflict. Scattered rugs invite you to sit back and create poetry with a dedicated haiku mechanic. The artistic presentation, alongside one of the best scores in recent memory, makes it a world worth fighting to save, which makes its desecration particularly perverse. The invading Mongolian army and its stoic commander, Khotun Khan, emerge as formidable antagonists, skillfully subverting Japanese defenses by taking advantage of the guiding code of the samurai. The Khan’s tactics and brutality are particularly heinous, and you’ll be almost as eager as the protagonist to bring him down. His minions may not have the same narrative depth, but their varied weapons, attack patterns, and appearances make instant encounters exciting and challenging, even late in the game. When encountering the enemy, players balance two competing styles of play. The former is a particularly smooth and rewarding melee combat system, focused on using the katana in a variety of positions. Battles are deadly and precise, and the emphasis on defensive parry is a fun challenge. With a dedicated stance for each primary enemy type, combat demands observation of your enemy and a quick reaction time. Sophisticated animation work brings cinematic quality to fast-paced battles. The second approach to combat takes Jin down the dubious path of infiltration and assassination. Over time, several tools improve the options here, allowing players to either play with the enemy or terrorize them on the run. Both approaches are deeply satisfactory; you don’t face the consequences of being sneaky instead of straightforward, so it’s not about choosing one or the other. You choose your tactics based on what appeals to you most about a given encounter. Both styles of play are supported by a robust set of upgrades, many of which offer significant new options. I love how the progression loads the things you really want for your character in the first half of the game, like parrying hits and deflecting arrows. However, it also means that you spend points on things you are not particularly interested in later on. On the plus side, the game reserves some of its coolest new powers, ability-infused armor sets, and cosmetic options for the end of the game, so I stayed committed to progression even after my main shaft. improvements has been largely completed. The “tales” that take you from one meeting to the next are for the most part pleasant and certainly abundant. Each of the main storytelling missions feels distinct, often featuring full-scale battles and honorable one-on-one duels. The dedicated and multi-part tales for each of your allies are also worthwhile, telling personal and pathetic tales of loss. A third variety of minor tales about the citizens of Tsushima is pale in comparison; they become repetitive, but they are mostly there for players who just want more time in this beautiful world. My only noticeable frustration was with sometimes unclear goals or targets focused on tracking or investigation, leading to times of unsuccessful bypassing an area until I stumbled upon the next marker. Beyond these structured missions, deep map exploration leads to many enjoyable discoveries, from health hot springs to hard-to-reach shrines that provide new charms to enhance your abilities. I enjoyed the many hidden caves and hiding places the map had in store, and I liked the opportunity to make a relatively simple platform. However, the crossing and climbing challenges often make very static paths, with little freedom to chart your own course, and I have found these sequences a bit simplistic at times. Ghost of Tsushima captures the mystique, fierce violence, and barely contained emotional angst of great samurai films. The inspiration line is clearly focused; Sucker Punch included a beautiful “Kurosawa Mode”, which defines a black and white, film grain processed audio effect that doubles as the classic cinematic vibe. It’s worth activating, if only for a few missions. But even beyond that cool feature, it’s a game that nails the aesthetic it aims for, firmly establishing itself as the medium’s defining samurai saga.