Tips For Playing Ghost Of Tsushima

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Screenshot: Sucker Punch / Kotaku
Screenshot: Sucker Punch / Kotaku

Ghost of Tsushima, out today for PlayStation 4, is a lot of game. As Jin Sakai, one of Tsushima’s last surviving samurai, you’re singularly tasked with the goal of repelling an entire Mongol fleet. No sweat, right?

The truth is it actually is no sweat, once you learn the ropes. The following compendium will help you turn Jin into a one-man, Khan-killing army.

Screenshot: Sucker Punch / Kotaku

Exploration and Navigation

Whether you’re constantly distracted by pop-up objectives or simply can’t resist pausing to take in the sights, it’s easy to get off the beaten path while exploring Tsushima. These tips should help you get where you need to go.

Watch for the yellow birds.

Tsushima has a pest problem: Specifically, the island is overrun by yellow birds. Though annoying, they’ll guide you to various undiscovered secrets on the island. If you can’t see them, you can usually hear them. (They sound like a busted iPhone 5’s “chill” alarm.) Yellow birds won’t always take you to something worthwhile, but they’ll never take you that far from your destination. And every so often, they’ll take you to the three most fruitful discoverable objectives, which are…

These three locations of interest.

Hot Springs: Taking a soak in Tsushima’s rejuvenating baths will grant you a small, permanent boost to your health. You’ll also be treated to a brief cutscene in which Jin strips down, both literally and emotionally, in a moment of introspection. Usually, you have to choose between a serious topic of rumination (something like “my legacy”) or a silly one (“favourite foods,” “the touch of a lover”). A word of wisdom: Go with the latter. These moments of levity go a long way toward humanising Jin, a relatively dull main character.

Bamboo Strikes: Finding these will kick off a rudimentary, yet oddly compelling, mini-game. Each one you complete will increase your resolve metre, allowing you more leeway to heal and use the game’s most powerful moves as you please. They’re scarce, but here’s a hint: There’s one per prefecture. Once you’ve found the Tsutsu Bamboo Strike, for instance, don’t bother looking for one in nearby Kishi Village. (Yeah, yeah, there’s a freebie for you.)

Fox Dens: If you see a fox, first, say “Awww.” Then follow it. These kind creatures will guide you to Inari Shrines. Finding these will increase how many charms — accessories that grant minor gameplay bonuses — you can equip at once. After you find enough fox dens to open up all five bonus charm slots, you’ll notice that you still have about 20 or so to find. Keep looking for them. Once you find a good number of fox dens, you’ll earn two powerful charms. Every five fox dens you find after that will increase their efficacy.

Also, this never gets old:

Screenshot: Sucker Punch / Kotaku

The vibration in the traveller’s cloak doesn’t register height.

One early outfit, the Traveller’s Attire, may look like something out of the Rag & Bone fall collection, but it’s more practical than your eyes would have you think. On the neverending quest of “finding stuff,” it’ll become a wardrobe staple. Whenever you come within spitting distance of a collectible, this tastefully distressed garb will cause your controller to rumble. The only catch is that it doesn’t measure such things in vertical terms. If you’re hunting for an object based on the Traveller’s Attire, be sure to check the second and occasional third floors of buildings, too.

You can use Photo Mode to scout.

Save for the ultrawide cutscenes, you can pop into Photo Mode at any point in the game by hitting right on the d-pad. This serves two purposes. For one thing, you can use it to take snapshots that are so jaw-dropping it’s within bounds to use the clichéd phrase “jaw-dropping” to describe them. Exhibit A:

Screenshot: Sucker Punch / Kotaku

Exhibit B:

Screenshot: Sucker Punch / Kotaku

Exhibit you-get-the-point:

Screenshot: Sucker / Punch

For another, Photo Mode is also secretly the game’s best navigation tool. By using your controller’s triggers, you can shift the view up or down by a significant amount. Switch to the Focal Length setting, and you’ll be able to zoom in from — and this is no exaggeration — a kilometre away. Use this how you will, but I found it helpful as a tool for finding paths over Tsushima’s various steep cliff faces. Far better to spend a few seconds in Photo Mode than to wander back and forth seeking a string of footholds.

It’s also helpful for surveying locations from far away, and is most applicable when you have a high vantage point. Let’s say you open your map and see a question mark outcropping across the cliffs of Hiyoshi Bay. Maybe it’s something worth the trek, like a new sword kit. Maybe it’s yet another haiku, which, really, you can just come back to later. Before venturing all the way around the cove, use Photo Mode to zoom in and see what it is.

While you’re at it, switch Jin’s expression to “kissing.” This has no gameplay benefit. It’s just funny.

Screenshot: Sucker Punch / Kotaku

Cliff-dive to shave seconds off your travel time.

The profoundly impatient (guilty as charged) will love this. Everyone else will recognise its foolishness. For those tall cliffs that are maddeningly in between you and your destination, feel free to leap to your death. When you land, use the Iron Will skill to revive yourself, plus a quick-heal to make sure you don’t get taken out by an angry bear. All told, it’ll cost you three resolve points, but does that really compare to time, life’s only irreplaceable resource?

(Note: This doesn’t work for the extremely high falls that cause you to reload on impact.)

Use secondary locations as fast travel objectives.

It’s the oldest trick in the book: Use adjacent minor locations — fox dens, bamboo strikes, pillars of honour — as waystations for your intended destinations. As it’s worked in every Far Cry and Elder Scrolls, it works in Ghost, too. Since you can’t fast travel to a Mongol outpost until you’ve cleared it, liberally using this method can save you from having to backtrack extensively. Of course, you could just clear outposts as you pass them. But sometimes you’re underleveled, or in the middle of another objective, or too tired because you’ve been playing Ghost of Tsushima for eight hours straight and just want to go to bed already, jeez.

Talk to everyone with a “…”.

In Tsushima’s temples, villages, and other public spaces, you’ll meet Tsushima citizens with ellipses dangling in speech bubbles. Talk to every single one of them to learn details about secret locations and undiscovered side-quests. The info they give you isn’t limited to Tsushima’s three main zones, either. Late in the game, for instance, I struggled to find a Mongol outpost in the frozen northern wastes of Kamiagata. While mopping up some leftover locations in Izuhara, the southern island, I came across a peasant with an ellipsis over her head. Lo and behold, she gave me the exact location of that pesky Kamiagata outpost.

Your companions will match your speed.

Many missions in Ghost of Tsushima require you to accompany someone somewhere. If that sounds too similar to a notoriously arduous quest format from a certain 2007 action game (and its far better 2009 follow-up), don’t worry. Click the left thumbstick to sprint or gallop, and your companion will match your speed — even if they’re technically the one leading you. There’s only one caveat: When your pals start talking about story stuff, you’ll both slow down to walking speed.

Complete mythic quests as soon as you can.

Quests in Ghost of Tsushima are broken up into three types. Jin’s Story, the gold icon, are narrative missions that push the game’s plot forward. The white tales of Tsushima icons are traditional, optional side-quests. (The most memorable ones generally have a character’s face sketched into the description field.) Blue icons, mythic quests, are completely optional but always worth the time. Each one rewards you with something game-changing — a weapon, a set of armour, a ridiculously powerful combat skill — and a more significant legend boost than you’d get from a normal Tale of Tsushima. Do these as soon as you’re able.

Screenshot: Sucker Punch / Kotaku

Upgrading Gear and Levelling Up

Ghost of Tsushima presents a staggering amount of level-up options, pretty much from the get-go. It can be a bit overwhelming. For specifics skills to get and gear to upgrade, we’ve compiled this helpful guide:

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For those seeking some broader advice, the following should help.

Items correspond to specific upgrades.

Resources used for upgrades are broken down into three broad categories. Wood (bamboo, yew, and wax) helps with bow improvements. Metals (iron, steel, and gold) are used to improve your two blades. Cloth (linen, leather, and silk) is used for armour upgrades. There’s no overlap between categories. You won’t use wax wood to fortify a set of Samurai Clan armour; you won’t use linen to sharpen your katana. Once this clicks, the upgrading system starts to make much more sense.

Need supplies? Find a trapper.

All armour and weapons upgrades also require supplies, a common resource that always seems to be in short supply. Early on, you might not need a surplus, but high-tier weapon and armour upgrades call for 750 supplies (or more!) a piece. In a pinch, find a trapper and trade some iron and linen. Each individual piece of iron or linen sells for 15 supplies a pop. Hand over 20 or 30 of each and you’ll be back in business.

Or you could just equip the Charm of Inari.

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Observe leaders before killing them.

There are four sword stances in Ghost of Tsushima: Stone, Water, Wind, and Moon. Each one deals bonus damage to a specific enemy class — respectively, swords, shields, spears, and brutes — and it’s essential to use them all. But you’ll start the game with just the Stone stance unlocked. To earn new stances, you’ll have to either kill a number of Mongol leaders or quietly observe them (by approaching undetected and maintaining line-of-sight for a few seconds).

Here’s the thing: You can observe leaders before killing them to earn two stance points a pop. Do this at every Mongol base you come across that gives you the “observe” option, and you’ll be able to open up the superpowered Moon stance before finishing the first act. In other words, yes, Ghost of Tsushima rewards you for playing stealthily while shaming you for such tactics in cutscenes. It’s confusing. Roll with it.

Always complete the optional objectives.

When conquering Mongol outposts, you’ll have multiple objectives. The first is always clear as day: “Defeat the Mongols.” The others are more arcane, and generally involve defeating a certain number of enemies with a certain weapon or in a certain way. It’s always worth it to complete these optional objectives. Successfully defeating all of the Mongols in an outpost will give you a minor legend boost. Completing the optionals, too, will turn that into a moderate one, and might be the difference between earning a technique point or not.

Prioritise major Mongol outposts.

Not all Mongol outposts are created equal. Once you get a grip on how combat works, gun for the biggest ones first, identifiable by their unseemly tent-shaped icons. Some of these will reward you with a whole technique point on top of whatever legend boost you receive from clearing the place. As a bonus, you’ll defog a larger chunk of the map than you would from a standard crossroads outpost. There are four to find in Izuhara, three in Toyotama, and just two in Kamiagata (by which point you’ll be buff enough to not stress the extra points).

Screenshot: Sucker Punch / Kotaku

Fighting and Open Combat

Combat in Ghost of Tsushima is both familiar (at least for players of action games) and unorthodox. You’ll grasp the core concept in no time. Advanced skills might not come so easily. This advice should speed up the process.

Slow down time by switching stances.

Effectively taking out enemies in Ghost of Tsushima calls for mastery over all four sword stances. Even in the early goings, you’ll need to switch between them at the drop of a hat if you want to survive large waves of Mongol troops. But the stance-swapping menu also has a hidden, presumably unintended secondary use. In the thick of it, you can pull the right trigger to slow down time for a few seconds, like so:

Gif: Sucker Punch / Kotaku

Always end an enemy’s suffering.

Whatever your moral opinion on the matter, it’s always worth it to end an enemy’s suffering. If you defeat an enemy without killing them outright — something that seemingly happens at random — they’ll drop to the ground, helpless, at which point you can complete a prompt to “end” their “suffering.” It’s always worth it. Doing so will restore an entire chunk of your resolve bar. (One cruel strategy? Leave these poor souls alone until you need the resolve boost.)

You can, and should, switch up your gear mid-battle.

Ghost of Tsushima boasts some seriously fast load times. It’s not only noticeable when you try to fast travel from Kashine to Kin, but when you try to boot up a menu, too — a marked difference from many other big-budget games (looking at you, Borderlands 3). These blink-of-an-eye load times are most helpful in the heat of combat.

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Let’s say you’re snooping around a Mongol base in some Ronin Attire, which offers stealth benefits. The second you’re discovered, open up the menu and throw on something with some heft. When the moment calls for a volley of arrows, quickly switch to Tadayori’s Armour (a prize you’ll get from an optional mythic quest, “The Legend of Tadayori”). There’s pretty much no consequence to opening up the gear menu in the middle of a battle, swapping your outfits and charms, and returning to the fray. You could make the case that it’s dishonorable. But as you’ll learn from Ghost of Tsushima, there’s no tangible repercussion to shirking your honour.

Melee damage and stagger damage aren’t the same thing.

Melee damage deplete an enemy’s health bar (the red one). Stagger damage depletes their stagger bar (the white one), which serves as a shield; you’ll have to break it before you can dish out real damage. Equip the proper gear and charms accordingly.

Unlock the Wind Stance before you try to storm Castle Kaneda.

No spoilers. Just trust me on this one.

Switch up stances in duels.

Ghost of Tsushima’s boss-style duels are as maddening as they are gratifying. Winning might require a few frustrating attempts of dying and reloading and memorising attack patterns. But victory is always a rush. More often than not, you’ll be up against a fellow sword-wielder. Use Stone stance to break their stagger metre, then quickly switch to Water stance. Unleashing the full Surging Strikes combo allows you to get five quick hits before they regain their bearings.

Also, if you have it, the Heavenly Strike can save your skin. Time it exactly as an enemy queues an unblockable attack — those indicated by a red glint — and you’ll stop them in their tracks while also reducing their stagger bar by half. Just make sure to keep one resolve point in the bank at all times in case you need to heal.

Take out archers first.

In big battles, zero in on the archers and take them out as soon as you can. The only thing worse than preparing a combo just to get interrupted by a loose arrow is preparing a combo just to get interrupted by four loose arrows and then immediately dying. It’s true that you can unlock a skill that deflects arrows whenever you’re blocking. This works flawlessly for normal arrows. It doesn’t do a thing for flaming arrows. (Sorry to say, but yes, flaming arrows are a thing in this game.)

Enemies are colour-coded by difficulty.

Ghost of Tsushima won’t tell you this, but you can tell how tough a foe is by looking at the colour of their clothing. In order, from frailest to fiercest: brown, red, blue, yellow, and green.

The standoff changes as the game progresses.

Unique to Ghost of Tsushima is a combat mechanic, the “standoff,” in which you brazenly challenge an enemy to a one-on-one duel. It’s a fascinating, if somewhat simple, system: Hold down the triangle button and release it at the right time to kill your opponent in one clean hit. Early on, it’s just about the coolest thing — one of those rare game mechanics that adequately captures how it must feel to be a walking demigod. Once you make it to Toyotama, though, the standoff starts to lose some lustre. That’s not to say it’s suddenly less awesome. It just stops becoming a guaranteed kill. Enemies switch things up by feinting twice, not feinting at all, mixing up the timing of their feints, or even approaching you through forest overgrowth that blocks your camera. (OK, maybe that last one’s not on them.)

Screenshot: Sucker Punch / Kotaku

Sneaking and Stabbing

Sucker Punch didn’t reinvent the wheel vis-à-vis stealth in Ghost of Tsushima. If you’ve played any Assassin’s Creed, you know how it works. Still, there are some tricks of the trade that’ll help you avoid detection.

Chain assassination isn’t the same as regular assassination.

Other players might pick up on this immediately. I sure didn’t. For whatever reason, chain assassinations don’t use the same button input as regular assassinations. You’ll have to hit the triangle button to silently take out multiple foes in a row, rather than the square button. I didn’t internalize this until the third act. Don’t be like me (in this one, small way).

When hostages are involved, use stealth.

Some objectives call on you to rescue Tsushima citizens held hostage by Mongol troops. In such circumstances, stealth is the ideal approach, no exception. Go in swords blazing, and enemies will rush the nearest captives. Once they get there, you have five seconds, tops, to stop them from going to town on the innocents. If they do, you’ll fail the mission. It’s far less stressful to just quietly take out everyone from the shadows.

The “you’ve been spotted” prompt doesn’t mean what you think it means.

Stealth in Ghost of Tsushima is dictated, as with many games, by a detection metre. Every enemy has one. When it pops up, the screen will shudder, your controller will vibrate, and you’ll hear an audio cue. Years of playing video games might have you think this means you’ve been spotted. Not so. If you let their white detection metre fill they’ll get curious and run over to investigate, but they won’t actually “see” you and turn aggressive until their second metre goes full yellow. At that point, the jig is up and you’re definitely exposed. But if no other foes are near and you can sack them before they blow their horn for reinforcements, you might be able to return to stealth.

Go high.

Mongol troops were apparently never taught the golden rule of guarding outposts: Look up. When you’re first scouting and sneaking through an outpost, stick to the rooftops (and tent-tops).

Screenshot: Sucker Punch / Kotaku

Odds and Ends

That’s not all! Here are a few small things you should take note of.

You can change the combat difficulty at any point.

Easy, medium, hard — whatever works for you, know that you can switch it on the fly without having to reload an area.

Remember to turn off the controller audio.

It’s under your audio settings. Unless you like wind noises coming through that tiny DualShock speaker — no judgement!

You don’t get predator hides from deer.

Don’t kill the deer. You won’t get any loot, and a loading screen will shame you for it (if your game doesn’t load so fast that you can’t read it).

Watch what button you hit next to your horse.

Maybe I’m just not far enough removed from The Last of Us Part 2, but, with PS4 games, I instinctually hit triangle to mount my horse. In Ghost, however, that button is reserved for heavy attacks. (There’s no way to remap controls in Ghost of Tsushima.) This will piss off your horse, who will then ignore you for about 15 seconds.

Fair.

Get lost.

The beauty of Ghost of Tsushima isn’t in the combat system. It’s not in the sneaking, or the min-maxing, or the baked-in compulsion to check off everything on the map. It’s certainly not in the main story. It’s in the world writ large — in every breezy field of pampas grass, every azure hot spring overlooking a rocky outcropping, every sunlit forest stuck in a perpetual state of early-October.

It’s in every moment spent curled up next to your horse for a post-mission nap. It’s in every bottle of bad sake enjoyed with a secondary character on a moonlit night. More than any other game in recent memory, Ghost of Tsushima is best enjoyed when you’re focused on the journey, not the destination. Let yourself get lost along your way.

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