Ghost of Tsushima is an action-adventure video game played from a third-person perspective. The player has a variety of gameplay options to reach objectives they are given. They can engage in a direct confrontation with enemies using their katana, called a standoff, which can result in a series of fatal strikes against a number of different enemies. In combat, Jin adopts different combat stances when facing different types of enemies: stone stance for hostile swordsmen; water stance for shielded enemies; wind stance for spearmen; and moon stance for brutes. Eventually the player unlocks ghost stance, which makes Jin invincible and allows him to kill enemies with a single hit for a limited period of time. To activate ghost stance, players must kill a number of enemies without taking any damage or assassinate a Mongol leader. The player needs to stagger enemies or land a successful parry to break their defense before attacking to deplete their health. The player has access to bows, which can fire multiple types of arrows. At certain points in the game, Jin must duel against non-playable characters (NPCs) who act as bosses with unique offensive tactics and attack animations. The game's highest difficulty is a more realistic mode in which the player and enemies do large amounts of damage to each other, with all non-boss fights ending in one or two successful attacks.
Alternatively, using stealth allows the player to evade enemies and strike them silently. As the player progresses in the game they can unlock chained assassination, which allows Jin to strike several enemies consecutively. To this end, Jin has a large arsenal of ghost weapons. These include firecrackers and wind chime bells to create distractions, smoke bombs to disorient alerted foes, kunai for striking multiple enemies, and explosives to kill groups of enemies. Players will eventually unlock a blowgun that allows them to shoot poison darts and causes victims to hallucinate and attack their peers. When the player restores Jin's health or uses special combat techniques, they deplete their "resolve", which is gained by performing feats of finesse such as assassinating or parrying an enemy.
One of the core objectives of the developers was to have strong and well-developed characters. Unlike the Infamous games, Ghost of Tsushima does not have a character karma system. Its absence allowed the team to tell a more cohesive story which better reflected Jin's transformation from a honorable samurai to a legendary warrior who must sacrifice everything he knows about honor and tradition in order to save Tsushima. Instead of the player being presented with binary choices as in Infamous, the world and characters react dynamically to Jin's choices in the story, either disapproving of his actions or encouraging them. The team believed that the story would be relatable, as they considered Jin's journey of relinquishing who he was to "become something new" a universal message that would resonate with modern-day players. Despite this, the player can still switch between the ghost style and samurai style seamlessly, as Jin's roots as a samurai do not change despite his transformation to become the ghost. While the game does not have a karma mechanic, the weather in Tsushima Island becomes more stormy when the player uses ghost techniques more frequently. The game's antagonist, Khotun Khan, does not undergo any transformative change. While he is a ruthless invader, he has a "bureaucratic aspect" as he attempts to conquer Tsushima Island with minimal bloodshed. Patrick Gallagher joined the cast in 2017 and prepared for the role as Khotun Khan by watching The Godfather and drawing on his experience portraying Attila the Hun in Night at the Museum.
While Fox said that the game was "entirely grounded in reality", the team took the liberty to create a fictional narrative. The initial real-world Mongol invasion was foiled by a hurricane, and the team acknowledged this with Jin's katana which is engraved with storm wind designs. 13 Assassins from Takashi Miike and films directed by Akira Kurosawa such as Seven Samurai, Sanjuro, Yojimbo, Red Beard, and Ran, served as major sources of inspiration for the team. The ending of Sanjuro directly inspired the game's "standoff" gameplay feature, in which a warrior must wait for their counterpart to make their first move and then kill them with one strike. The team tried to replicate the samurai code depicted in Seven Samurai in the game. Additionally, the team reached out to the Kurosawa Estate in order to use the director's name for their black-and-white gameplay mode. The comic book series Usagi Yojimbo, which features a soft-mannered rabbit samurai solving various problems for ordinary citizens, also influenced the team. Fox read this comic series when he was working on the Sly Cooper games. The last name of the game's protagonist was a tribute to Stan Sakai, the creator of Usagi Yojimbo. A number of video games also inspired the development team: many of the game's items were inspired by Tenchu, while the option to play as both the ghost and an honorable samurai was influenced by Onimusha: Warlords. Karateka and Red Dead Redemption were also cited as sources of inspiration.
Ghost of Tsushima was designed to be a challenging game. Jin is frequently outnumbered by his enemies, and basic enemies can kill Jin fairly quickly. The team hoped that through the game's difficult combat, players would grow more appreciative of minor incremental growth. Fox stated that the three pillars of the game's combat were "mud, blood, and steel". The team wanted the game to be grounded, visceral and challenging. Fox added that they strove to keep swordfights deadly so that each combat encounter would be reminiscent of those seen in samurai movies. The combat system was reportedly the most difficult feature to implement in Ghost of Tsushima, as the team had to build multiple versions of it and modified its design frequently during the game's development. Early playtesters complained that the enemies were "sword sponge" (i.e., they absorbed a large amount of damage before they died), breaking immersion. The team responded to this criticism by adding "hit points" and "armor points", but ultimately decided that all enemies would be defeated within a certain number of hits. Health of enemies would not change regardless of the selected difficulty. Instead, enemies would adopt more defensive tactics such as parrying and blocking at higher difficulties. Early prototypes of this design was described as overkill, as enemies would deflect all attacks. As a result, the stagger system, which allowed players to break their enemies' defenses while remaining offensive, was introduced. The team allowed combat to take longer in the game's 1v1 duels, as players likely expected them to be boss fights and these encounters could not end too quickly. The ghost weapons were designed to be "exceedingly lethal" and generally more effective than the samurai weapons. This further complemented the story and Jin's emotional dilemma between maintaining samurai honor and saving the island through dishonorable means. While players may enjoy playing the ghost path, the narrative would remind them that these techniques are dishonorable and loathed. Fox compared the Mongol enemies to packs of wolves which attacked the players from all sides. He further likened the game's combat to a dance, in which the player must seamlessly "weave between Mongol swords" as multiple enemies attack simultaneously.
Jin's armors were heavily inspired by the armor designs of the Kamakura and Heian periods. These armors were designed to be bulky and colorful, radiating "a sense of regality" while contrasting with the darker and more agile ghost outfit. The team intentionally avoided the traditional assassin design in which characters are dressed in all-black fully-cloth clothing for the ghost outfit in order to make it appear more realistic. Parts of some outfits, such as capes and tassels, respond to the wind, further connecting the player and Jin to the game's world. Peasant recruits wear leftover armor and have a more ragtag appearance than typical samurai characters. Peasants frequently wear clothes with geometric patterns that reflect their origins. For instance, people living on Northern Tsushima wear clothes with snowflake patterns. The game's antagonist, Khotan Khan, has two armors, one of which is completely void of color and angular in shape to further signify his oppression and brutality.
Brad Meyer served as the game's audio lead. To record the sound of swordfighting, the team used sword blanks previously used in recording sessions for God of War, which was developed by Santa Monica Studio, another Sony developer. According to Meyer, the team spent a lot of time "scraping them against each other, clanging them together, swinging them, suspending them from the ceiling and spinning them around" in order to record interesting sounds. The team also used them to cut through fruits, vegetables, and cloth to create the sound of a sword cutting through a human body. Combat sounds are deemphasized when the player is exploring and not engaged in combat. Jin's wind chimes were recorded using a Japanese fūrin. The black-naped oriole was chosen as the game's guide bird because it can be found in Japan and Meyer had the opportunity to record its sound during a vacation in Sri Lanka in 2018. The audio and music system was initially based on that of Infamous Second Son, in which combat music will gradually intensify over three different states. However, due to additional gameplay elements found in Ghost of Tsushima such as ghost stance and standoff, the team was required to create additional states for the combat music. 041b061a72