At the beginning of the year, if we had told you that Sucker Punch's Japanese action-adventure game Ghost of Tsushima was a heavy contender for Game of the Year, you probably wouldn't have believed us. That's not because we as fans of videogames had little faith in the Sony Interactive Entertainment studio, or because we believed the title itself wasn't going to be up to Sony's high standards - it was simply due to the quantity of high calibre titles slated for 2020.
Before this whole pandemic blew up, we had Cyberpunk 2077 set for April, The Last of Us: Part II coming in May, and Doom Eternal and Animal Crossing: New Horizons launching in March, and we haven't even started on the holiday / next-gen releases. But, all of these massive names didn't stop Sucker Punch from making one of the more engaging and unique games of the year, because that is precisely what Ghost of Tsushima is.
Set in the late 13th century, Ghost of Tsushima looks at a fictional depiction of the Mongol invasion of Japan, starting with Khotun Khan's assault on the island of Tsushima. Following the story of Jin Sakai, Ghost of Tsushima explores the moral grey area between the ways of the samurai and doing what is necessary to protect the people of Tsushima from the brutal Mongols. Trapped between his samurai honour and the overwhelming force of Khan's army, Jin Sakai looks to creative, less respectful methods to unearth the Mongol grip on his homeland. But, success comes at a cost and while the people may be grateful for his actions, the Shogun demands repercussions.
Featuring a diverse and entertaining storyline, Ghost of Tsushima brings a style of narrative based around the interactions between characters. While the main war against Khan is the meat of the game, completing the side quests and learning more about the motivations behind your closest allies becomes an equally exciting aspect. You learn that the people closest to Jin are in fact just as flawed, and while a lot of them aren't burdened by the weight of a warrior's honour, they are each just as conflicted.
To add to that, the expansive world of Tsushima is a joy to behold from its icy peaks to its golden shores. The varying array of biomes from rolling hills to lush bamboo forests keep the island feeling fresh, which is something bolstered by the interesting activities you can complete scattered all over Tsushima. Whether you take a moment to write a calming haiku or instead look to solve a Mythic Tale, facing a challenging foe along the way, there is always something unique to do.
The best part about Ghost of Tsushima though is its combat, which redefines sword fighting melee, by making each decision have a weight to it. You can't just expect to slaughter everyone in sight like a brawler, you have to be methodical, studying your opponent for the perfect time to strike. By then adding stealth and ranged combat to this system, you get a fully fleshed out wealth of combat options, where no one area is less exciting than others.
Pulling all of these seemingly simple aspects together to such a high-quality makes Ghost of Tsushima one of the most refined experiences you can play on PlayStation. Sucker Punch has delivered in this title a beautiful and respectful portrayal of an iconic moment in history, and in fact it went above and beyond here as its stellar art style makes you wish for a simpler time, where one could focus on their own emotions and simply bask in nature as the day moved along.
The combat and the art style however, were not the only exceptional parts to Ghost of Tsushima as Daisuke Tsuji's performance as Jin Sakai is one of the stronger ones we were lucky enough to witness all year. It may not garner enough credit to claim a Game of the Year award, but considering the opposition he faces this year, a nomination is something Tsuji should be damn proud of.
Either way you look at it, Ghost of Tsushima is one of the most surprising games of the last generation (PS4 / Xbox One era). For a title that had little expectation in comparison with other SIE titles, with less hype than most you would consider for a Game of the Year nod, Ghost of Tsushima deserves the respect it received but also so much more, which is precisely why we have it ranked as our number three game this year.