Sucker Punch’s long-awaited Ghost of Tushima has been out for two weeks now and I absolutely love it. So much so, in fact, that I was too busy playing the game that I did not bother to write anything about it, except for the occasional tweet. And there is so much I want to write about!
For starters, let’s have a look at combat and enemy classes.
When you are first dropped into the game, you will find that combat is key.
Unfortunately, Ghost of Tsushima‘s hero Jin Sakai is a young samurai and though tutored by his uncle and famed to be an expert swordsman, in the beginning he seems rather ill-equipped when dealing with the various enemy classes. Which is where the combat stances come into play.
Enemies and Enemy Classes
In the beginning, Jin will encounter Mongol patrols and bandits alike. They carry swords, sometimes two, sword and shield, lances, bows or are brutes swinging huge axes. While archers attack from afar, both swordsmen, shield-men and lance-bearers will egage you in melee combat. They will not wait their turn to get a go at you either, so you really have to fight with strategy and caution. Just like Jin’s uncle tells him to. And that is even more true later in the game, when Jin has progressed to mastering both his main weapons and the combat stances.
Also, there are differences in terms of skill and, later in the game, other obstacles that make the encounters more difficult, which I thought awesome. If you fall, Mongols will give poor Jin a good kicking before they end him, while other enemies will put him out of his misery instantly. Those enemies are infinitely more skilled at swordplay than Mongols and bandits, too.
The Combat Stances of the Samurai
There are five different stances. Four are designed to counter specific enemy classes, one to terrify all of them. The first four are Stone Stance, Water Stance, Wind Stance and Moon Stance. That’s right, unlike games like The Technomancer, where you switch stances to adapt to your chosen weapon, in Ghost of Tsushima you switch stances to adapt to the enemy. The fifth stance you will unlock as you progress and that one, called Ghost Stance, is maybe the coolest of all.
Except for the last one, you will be able to develop each stance and add more moves to aid you. To do so, triumph in combat to earn technique points. I confess I sometimes have to check in the menu to recall each of the moves for every stance. Anyway, parrying and dodging are always a good idea when you are in way over your head. One tip: you can break seemingly unblockable thrusts by attacking with a puncturing thrust yourself while the red cross signalling the unblockable attack forms. Just have to time it right and that helps immensely during duels.
Stone Stance is the first one you learn and it will serve you well against swordsmen. Timing your parries right is key, to my mind, and remembering that you can mix fast attacks and heavy attacks. Once you have mastered evasion, fighting swordsmen will become a walk in the park. Almost.
Staggering your enemy is always a good idea, but keep in mind that, if you are surrounded, you might want to take the moment after staggering one foe to tackle another closing in on you. Always keep moving and, especially in the second and third act, don’t let yourself get surrounded. The enemy is really out to get you. Or, rather, your head.
Water Stance is employed against shield-bearers and it really makes dealing with them very easy. Later on in the game you will come to fear them a little more, but the strategy of attenpting to stagger them so they throw up their shield remains the best way of ending them quickly.
One of the more impressive stances is the Wind Stance which is the best way to deal with lance-bearers. Using a long weapon, they are at an advantage. But, using Wind Stance, Jin can unleash some pretty devastating moves that will also damage other enemy classes.
Brutes are traditionally huge and rely on, well, brute force, but these Mongol brutes may also carry explosives, which are especially damaging to Jin. Moon Stance’s main attack consists of a fierce kick to the chest that will have them stagger back quite effectively. Also, the same kick will send any other enemy class flying, too.
How to learn the Stances
Now, how to learn and develop the stances? That one is, actually, both easy and hard. Hard, because you have to observe or kill Mongol leaders (usually found in camps and pretty hard to kill), and easy, because you get two points to advance towards obtaining the Stance when you oberserve one and the same Mongol leader first and kill him second… I realized that only during my second playthrough, but that helped me develop these Stances much, much faster than the first time around.
Useful tools during combat
Jin is one man facing an army and most of the time he is badly outnumbered. In the beginning, I therefore resorted to stealth to avoid open conflict until I had learned more techniques and stances. As I grew more confident, I learned that the best way to defeating the enemy is by using every tool in the tool-box.
So, apart from his katana and tanto – a shorter blade – Jin will unlock a half-bow for short distances and a long-bow for – well – longer distances and also greater damage. While I almost never used those during the first playthrough, my second one has me using those as much as possible and it does make life so much easier.
Using the bow, you can take down enemies from a distance, silence look-outs and even set things – and enemies – on fire. So, my recommendation is to use them well. Maybe I will try one playthrough using only the bows… They are very effective against archers, of course, and nowadays I usually try to take out the archers with my bow first. Or else with my Kunai.
Kunai – smallish daggers thrown by hand – as well as sticky bombs and smoke bombs can be used to surprise the enemy in melee combat. Kunai will stagger enemies and kill already wounded ones. I confess I fell in love with the Kunai back when I first started playing the excellent indie stealth game Aragami, where you play as a wraith, ninja-style. BTW, if you like Ghost of Tsushima, that may be a game for you, too.
Sticky bombs stick to your enemy and explode on him, damaging him as well as everyone around, including yourself, so remember to keep your distance or you will be stunned! Once deployed, move in for the kill as quickly as you can.
Smoke bombs help you confuse your enemy. Drop them at your feet and emerge to slaughter them without encountering any resistance.
Ah, the duels of Ghost of Tushima, both cherished and dreaded… Duels are basically boss fights, some harder, some easier to win. You will be facing swordsmen and – women or shield-men in single combat, and, most of the time, you will only be allowed to use the katana (Stone Stance) and every ounce of skill and special moves you have acquired up to that point.
Set in absolutely stunning arenas, no boss-fight is like the other. There are a row of duels you have to fight during one mission that are similar to one another, but the settings sure make up for lack of diversity in your enemies’ fighting style.
The very first duel I fought was against a “demon” and I was woefully unprepared. But I triumphed, in the end, and even now every duel is a challenge as I challenge myself, too, to become a better fighter. Unfortunately, I am still pretty bad at parrying properly…
Special Moves, Skills, Weapons and Armor
As you travel the island, you will encounter a wandering musician – “Going where I am needed, as do you, Lord Sakai” – who tells tales of the legendary defenders of Tsushima. Follow his stories to unlock the long-bow, special armor and skills. There are also two story missions that will teach you special combat techniques that are life-savers.
The fastest way to get you into good, fighting shape
Being on my third playthrough right now – this time on Hard difficulty – I have found that planning your progression through the game strategically helps you become better at dealing with enemies faster. So this is the path I would recommend you take after being able to explore the map.
First, you need better armor. So go find Lady Masako ad complete her first companion quest. Second, you need a ranged weapon. Which will be provided by Sensei Ishikawa during his first companion quest. Third, find onsen and bamboo strikes to strengthen your resolve and boost your health bar up.
Then, you should take every opportunity to get into scraps, in order to gain Technique points. During said scraps, identify the targets most dangerous to you – in my case usually brutes, lance-bearers and leaders – and take them out fast, using any dirty trick you know. Which, in my case, means staggering them with thrown kunai and setting them on fire by shooting an arrow into hanging fire baskets or using flaming arrows.
The essential Samurai Techniques to unlock as soon as you can along the Deflection-tree are Unyielding Sword Parry and Deflect Arrows. Along the Evasion-tree, unlock Dodging Slash and Shoulder Charge first. The Dodging Slash is awesome as it brings you behind the enemy, ready to cut at him with fast strikes. The Shoulder Charge is another way to throw potentially danegrous opponents off balance. I use this against shield-men.
The esssential Ghost tactics to get you started are Concentration along the Archery-branch, as that will give you more time to aim, which can be a life saver, and Safe Landing along the Assassination-branch. If you need to get away in a hurry, you want to be able to jump off heights without damaging your health or – worse – dying.
Once you are on this level, acquiring more Technique points should be easier.
Fight as the Ghost or as Samurai
As mentioned, Jin is one man against an army of invaders. Especially in the beginning he is very vulnerable. Thankfully, he gets taught a few lessons on stealth by Yuna, a crafty thief. Moving through high grass, striking from the shadows, using poison and the high ground are not traditional samurai tactics. But they help Jin to survive and achieve his goal of freeing the island of Tsushima as well as Japan’s mainland from the Mongol invasion.
On my second playthrough I felt confident enough to model Jin’s fighting style after that propagated by his uncle, Lord Shimura. Whenever you encounter enemy numbers, the Stand off-prompt will appear on screen. Activate it and Jin will challenge the enemy’s best fighter, then take on the rest. Openly challenging the enemy certainly is more difficult than thinning the numbers stealthily, before attacking in the open.
I am actually curious, whether or not my change in tactics will influence the progession of the game. During my first playthrough I played as Ghost, mostly. The second one sees me challenging most foes openly, unless I know the odds are very much against me.
Later on in the game, you will have a choice, actually, whether to kill every enemy on the field or let some of them live to tell of your legend. I usually choose the latter.
Now, atrying to do things differently during this second playthrough I am looking forward to the crucial point of the game which will come as Act II ends. I wonder, if I can change Jin’s fate after all.
Until then, keep on playing!