• Josh Hardy

Ghost of Tsushima - A Junior Design Delve

I am also currently playing Ghost of Tsushima. I thought for some practice I would try to try observe some of the games design from my Junior POV.

The games core elements are:

  • Narrative

  • Combat

  • Open world adventure

The narrative is what drives the rest of the game. The environment is filled with environmental storytelling, the games story dictated the combat (you are a samurai that is sacrificing honour to save his country. Use your samurai sword for fighting - honourable, sneaking and assassinating people -dishonourable - for the overt objective of saving Tsushima and Japan)

Parts of the story want to use the story of the Ghost to frighten the Mongols, so you are forced to sneak in some missions and use dishonourable means to kill people, just to highten the fear of ‘the ghost’. But this isnt one of those, once youre spotted its game over. The enemy AI has a bar that goes up the longer you are visible to them so it warns the player and gives them a chance to hide again. This stops it becoming annoying for those that are undoubtedly forced to play a different style that they enjoy/are used to. (This is often seen as bad design but I think Sucker Punch train players for this point well enough and use level design to make it better).

The open world accentuates the games narrative by letting the player explore and do other Samurai activities. They can find places to create Haiku’s, hot springs to bathe in, shrines to prey at, bamboo stands to practice with your sword,challenges to overcome (traversal for shinto shrines and combat to liberate villages). Players can see the impact Mongols are having on the environment and the extra gameplay sprinkled in help make the player embody a samurai protecting the people, not just following a linear story.

The combat is refined and quick. There are multiple enemy types - mainly seperated into 4 categories: swordsmen, shieldmen, spearmen and brutes (although these can also have variations based on whether they are Mongols, bandits, Ronin or Leaders). The player can unlock new fighting stances to make fighting certain enemies easier although its not impossible to kill them in a different stance. Each stance also has different moves that can be unlocked and the player can switch between them easily allowing for a precise and flowing combat feel. The different enemies and stances allow the player to think about combat rather than hack and slash everything - precise and elegant, like a Samurai. You can also unlock the ghost stance which is an overrdrive that lets you one hit enemies for a period. You can also unlock new mythic abilities that use up your resolve* and perform unique but deadly strikes that can be used in different circumstances. Weapon upgrades allow you to increase damage as the enemies start to get stronger in each act of the story/new segment of the map.

* ‘Resolve’ is used to balance the games combat. Resolve acts similarly to stamina but it is a little different. Aside from sounding/being thematically better, it is used only when using mythic abilities and healing yourself. The player has no stamina meter when it comes to combat (although they do have hidden stamina when it comes to sprinting) so they can attack relentlessly but need to avoid damage as best they can so they dont use it all up and die. Players are rewarded with resolve for parrying and killing and for other general combat successes.

There are also duels which act as mini boss battles. The bosses attack move sets are usually the same as their weaker counterparts (they are usually one of the types of enemies above but stronger). There are a few exceptions and these are enemies that possess a mythic skill that the player obtains once defeating them. You can also unlock extra ghost skills to increase your assassination abilities and increase your legend as the ghost.

The game also provides a grappling hook mechanic that is introduced early on. This stops the player progressing to a specific area until the grapple is obtained and is used in some areas to stay above ground and travel unnoticed. Its also used to traversal other areas that are too high to climb and to swing between trees. I really enjoy the mechanic but I havent used it much and it feels like it was added purely for the single mission in the story which makes it feel like a pointless feature but the small other uses almost make up for it.

Each village or outpost is surrounded by long grass and buildings to hide in/on. This allows players to play practically the entire game - aside from a few story specific missions - however they choose to: Stealthily, guns (well, swords) blazing, or a mixture of both.

The player does have an inventory system - kinda. They have resources they can collect and use to upgrade their gear but thats it. There are a set number of outfits you can obtain and these have perks that suit certain playstyles or activities. These can be obtained through main or side quests but cannot be bought or sold. Weaponwise, you can unlock ‘ghost’ weapons which are tools such as smoke bombs or kunai which give you a little edge in battle - like a Witchers signs - and the sword and dagger are a set that stay with you through the game - although you can obtain different cosmetics for them. This forces the player to get good with the sword and makes it their main weapon - like a samurai. The bows are also very useful, capable of one shotting most enemies if you hit them in the head and use the correct bow - long bow penetrates armour but the halfbow does not. The bow also has other arrow types such as a fire arrow and the player can also use poisoned blowdarts. The bow can be used to blow up barrels and disrupt hornets nests to attack enemies in stealth.

The player when first entering enemy territory can choose to ‘Standoff’ which is essentially a Samurai fast-draw duel (attacking from draw is a real technique too known as Iaijutsu) calling out to them to a challenge as an honourable samurai would and timing your blade to strike them down in one. This offers players the chance to act with honour and initiate combat whilst potentially wiping out half the enemies in a few button presses with some awesome slo-mo.

I think the designers wanted players to feel as if they were a real samurai. The player has an island to save and protect and giving them the free will to choose where they go helps them feel like they are voluntarily going around helping people. The story forces the player to counter the characters principles and use stealth and most of the time gives the player choices in how to act/fight. This allows players the freedom to choose the honourable or dishonourable path.

Most of the design choices seem to try and fulfil the idea of being a Samurai but also giving the player choice. Whether its in dialogue, honour, combat style, saving peasants or whatever it is, the game offers an abundance of choice and caters to the player being a Samurai. There are a large number of minor choices in the game that also increase replayability but these tend to have no impact on story or much on dialogue but from the players view the choices keep them involved. Whether or not there is a hidden alignment system I guess I still have to find out for the ending but thus far the choices you make in terms of combat/honour have no impact on the story. It would be cool if they uknowingly did.

I personally think Sucker Punch have done a great job. The story is engaging, the combat is unique and meaningful. The open world is gorgeous filled with activities and heroic duels and amazing environmental storytelling. The main areas/camps/villages are unique and identifiable - some smaller ones arent but these aren’t really important. The fox following can become a little dull but they havent force-fed content into the game to extend its playtime.

Without wanting to waffle anymore, I just wanted to say well done and thankyou to Sucker Punch for making an engaging, unique and beautiful game!


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