Ghost of Tsushima and how important polish can be for games

After talking about exclusive games last week I decided to go back to one of my recent favorite exclusives, Ghost of Tsushima, and play through it again. Especially since I hadn’t tried out the Director’s Cut version of the game yet. And while revisiting it, I was reminded just how important polish is to a game and how much it can enhance an experience. By polish I’m talking about minor elements of a game that are generally included just to enrich the experience and show just how much time and care was put into a game. Nintendo is famously known for the amount of polish they put into a lot of their games! And in the case of Ghost of Tsushima, that polish manages to take an otherwise normal open world game and turn it into one of the best games in the genre.

For those who haven’t heard of the game, Ghost of Tsushima is an open world action adventure game with stealth elements developed by Sucker Punch and published by Sony. The game centers around the island of Tsushima, an island off the coast of Japan just between it and South Korea, during the Mongol invasion. You play as Jin Sakai, a samurai who managed to live through the battle on Komoda beach where the Mongols first arrived and where just about every other samurai lost their lives. The story mostly focuses on Jin’s journey to save his uncle, gather allies, fight the Mongols off Tsushima, and his struggle with his code of honor as he realizes the traditional way of the samurai may not be enough to defeat the invaders. Ghost of Tsushima is actually one of the few games that I can’t decide if the story or the game play is better. Both go hand in hand perfectly, never getting in the way of one another and always giving the player plenty of freedom with how they want to play. There’s also the fact that the story is just great! Something that goes a long way. I enjoyed it from start to finish without getting tired of any of the characters. Which is rather impressive for an open world game! A lot of times I feel like open world games can get dragged down by having too much focus on the story. Always making the player stop all their fun adventuring and exploring to go through a story section. But I never got that feeling with Ghost of Tsushima. The game’s story always flowed extremely well with the game play. Whenever it was time for a story focused moment I was generally ready and happy to take a break from exploring for a bit to experience it. This is a great example of polish already as Sucker Punch managed to find that perfect balance between the story and game play. But to avoid spoilers and such let’s move away from the story and focus some more on the game play!

As I was saying before, Ghost of Tsushima isn’t exactly a ground breaking open world game. It has outposts to take over, collectibles to find, and lots of places to explore. But due to how much polish was put into every aspect of the game, Ghost of Tsushima manages to out shine a lot of it’s competitors! While the game isn’t the kind of open world that let’s you go anywhere right off the bat, you are still given a lot of freedom to explore once you get passed the game’s opening. The game does give you a couple of quests to point you in certain directions if you want to go follow those, but at the same time nothing is holding you back from exploring. And the designers of the game, and specifically it’s world, really want you to experience and explore everything Tsushima has to offer! The amount of thought they put into simple things we take for granted when it comes to open world games and their design is insane. The first big one I noticed was the fact that the game doesn’t really have any on screen markers or arrows to point you a certain way. Most games would have a compass or arrow at the top of the screen letting you know you’re going the right direction of your targeted destination. But Sucker Punch realized something I don’t think a lot of people noticed about this kind of system. When you place a marked down on a game’s map and then start to follow that on screen marker, the rest of the game’s world might as well not exist. Your eyes are drawn to that arrow pointing you in the right direction and you follow it until you reach it. It’s pretty hard to take in the world around you when you are so fixated on that. This is something I never really thought about until playing Ghost of Tsushima as the game doesn’t have this kind of system! Wanting players to take in the world and never feel like they are too guided down a path, the designers removed on screen arrows and markers completely. Instead, when you decide on a destination on the game’s map, the wind will simply blow in that direction.

Here’s an example of how most open world games look with their markers on screen compared to Ghost of Tsushima and it’s lack of them.

This blew my mind when I realized what it did and how it worked! The designers managed to figure out a way to direct players through the massive island of Tsushima while also making sure they’d still be able to take in their surroundings, making it much more likely that a player will follow whatever catches their eye as they travel. But at the same time, for the players that really want to go in that one direction they set, the wind is ever present so all those players need to do is simply follow it. And to make it even easier to follow the wind if you really want to, you are given the Traveler’s Attire very early on in the game. The clothing helps reveal more of the map as you explore so it’s ideal for when you’re walking around. However, the real ingenious part about the Traveler’s Attire is the fact that is has a cape. A cape that always moves with the wind. So if you ever want to make sure you’re still following the path you set for yourself, all you need to do is take two seconds to watch which way your cape is blowing and you’ll be back on track. And that’s the level of polish I’m talking about that really elevates Ghost of Tsushima! It might seem like a minor thing when I’m just telling you about it, but when you actually sit down and play the game, it makes a huge difference! Especially when you compare it to other open world games. You spend way less time opening the map to see if you’re going the right way and no on screen arrow is needed so you can fully immerse yourself in the world. And given just how gorgeous the world of Ghost of Tsushima is, that is always a good thing.

No seriously, this game is beautiful.

But Sucker Punch did more than just that to polish the game! Take for instance what I was talking about when it came to the game’s story and how it flows with the exploring. That also extends to other activities around the game’s world too. I never felt like side quests ever over stayed their welcome. They are always short enough that I finished them without getting the feeling that they were dragging, but they are also long enough that they never feel like a waste of time. There’s also plenty of variety when it comes to said side quests. Some relate to important side characters and their personal stories, others simply involve something random that Jin will often stumble upon, and others are based around legends from around the island told to you from a traveling musician. Those last ones are particularly interesting as they will often give Jin a unique ability or item to use. But despite there being so many kinds of side quests out there, I never really felt overwhelmed by them. Each one is always scattered around the map so there is often some traveling to be had getting to them, and it never feels like the game is forcing you to go from one to another, even if one side quest will instantly unlock another one right after finishing it. Having this flow between exploring and questing is more important than you’d think. It means you never get too tired of either and that you always are invested when a character’s story is ready to continue. I never got that feeling of, “Ugh, this character again” when I’d see a side quest for any of the characters appear. Something that is a pretty surprising since this game has quite a few side characters to it! Each with pretty long quest lines as well.

This kind of mentality to having quests not over stay their welcome is also shared by a lot of the other activities you’ll find while exploring. Activities like writing haiku, following foxes around, stopping a Mongol patrol, relaxing in a hot spring, and chopping bamboo to help your sword skills never take too long to finish meaning whenever you stumble across one, it’s hard not to want to detour away from the path you were on and finish it. And to me, that is exactly what you want to do with your side activities in open world games like Ghost of Tsushima. You want to make sure the player is always moving, never staying in one place too long and always out discovering new things. Sucker Punch seemed to realize this as well when it came to planning these activities out. In a lot of open world games, there are times when I’ll find a particular side activity and think, “I’ll just come back to that later” but this never happened with Ghost of Tsushima! The activities took just long enough that whenever I found one I would always do it right then and there since I knew I wouldn’t be stopped for long. Which is exactly what you want when it comes to a game with so much exploring in it.

Although, there are two exceptions to this. The Mongol outposts and the shrines do generally take much more time than the other activities. But they do have an excuse as they come with much bigger rewards than the other activities as well. Still! All of this comes together to make sure the player is always moving and always enjoying their experience throughout the game. There never feels like a dull moment in Ghost of Tsushima. …Besides following foot prints to track people which happens every few quests, but nobody is perfect right?

There is honestly way more polish than just these things in the game, but if I try and talk about every single one this post will take ages to complete. And besides, this way there are some left for you to discover if you decided to give the game a try! Which you most certainly should as the game is amazing, if you couldn’t already tell that from all my gushing. Ghost of Tsushima is a great example of how some extra thought and effort can go an extremely long way when it comes to games. Despite this, polish seems to be something that’s becoming more and more rare to find in modern games as most are generally pushed out with tons of bugs and glitches just to make deadlines. And if there wasn’t time to fix things like that, then polishing the game’s design certainly isn’t going to get any focus! But given how well Ghost of Tsushima was received, and how much money it’s made, I hope developers follow in Sucker Punch’s example and realize just how important polish can be.

But those are just my thoughts! What are some of yours? What games come to mind when you think of polish? Do you think polish is really that important to games overall? I’d love to hear your thoughts so don’t be shy!

And thank you for taking the time to read the post! If you enjoyed it feel free to leave a Like or share the blog with a friend. You can also follow the blog on WordPress or on Twitter if you want to stay up to date on new posts. Also if there’s a topic you’d like me to discuss sometime, go ahead and tell me in the comments! Any interaction is appreciated, even just viewing this post, so thanks again for stopping by.

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