The developers made it clear from early on that you won’t be given quest waypoints and markers in quite the same way as most open world games. While you’ll still get a helping hand in the form of the compass-like Guiding Winds if you want it, Ghost of Tsushima encourages you to thoroughly explore the world for yourself in order to find things, which is much more like real life and can be a lot more rewarding.
In most open world games, exploration tends to go something like this: you’ll have a chat with a passing minor character and learn about a place that’s worth exploring, or a monster that needs slaying. At this point, you’ll get a helpful little nudge to get you to where you’re supposed to go as quickly as possible. Skyrim will pop a handy quest marker on your HUD so that you can travel straight towards the object of your search, right down to the room or even the chest that it’s hidden in. In the Final Fantasy VII remake, you can complete a sidequest and immediately teleport back to the quest-giver to collect your reward. It’s faster and a lot more convenient than trekking back along the same winding paths that you’ve travelled along multiple times already.
But in Ghost of Tsushima, while other characters can and will give you hints as to which way to turn, there are also tons of details solely in the environment which will indicate that there’s something around to check out. When you climb to the top of a hill, say, and look around, you might spot something in the distance that catches your eye – the distant pagoda roof of a temple, for instance, or a thin spire of smoke – and from there it’s up to you to go there and investigate it for yourself, learning the more direct routes through an area by actually paying attention to them.
Or maybe the signals aren’t quite so obvious. You might come across a fox or a bird behaving unusually, and you could choose to follow it and see if it’s going to lead you anywhere. But in order to spot it in the first place, you’re going to have to slow down and really take in your surroundings, and in a game as visually stunning as Ghost of Tsushima, that’s something we’re really excited to do.
It’s not just hidden locations and treasure that you’ll find if you take the slow route through a game. Often you’ll find bucketloads of lore liberally scattered around the environment, which you can be fairly sure the majority of players will skip past or miss completely, but which could completely change the way you view the world. How many people have honestly read every book in Skyrim cover to cover, or battled their way through every post-game dungeon in Final Fantasy XV to uncover precious details of Eos’ ancient history? How often do you stop to read the notes taped to the front of a fridge or pinned up on a corkboard if there isn’t an “interact” button prompting you to do so?
There are so many tiny details in video game worlds that exist to remind the careful observer that their character isn’t the sole inhabitant, and that other people exist in the same world with lives just as rich and meaningful as that of the hero. Wandering the slums in the Final Fantasy VII remake and paying attention to the ordinary residents will give you an insight into the community’s opinion of you, but you’ll also get to hear about their relationship troubles and financial woes changing in real-time as your hero antics have an impact on the bigger picture. Walking between landmarks in Skyrim might lead you to encounter a passing Orc hoping for a fun little fight to the death, or a woolly mammoth frozen in a glacier, neither of which will ever be marked on your map.
Of course, Ghost of Tsushima isn’t the first game to do this. The option is almost always there to take things slowly, but it’s not always joined by a major incentive. Dark Souls forces you to really pay attention to your surroundings if you want to know where you should be heading next, while Morrowind requires you to actually read in-game signposts and ask for directions or you’ll never find the place you want to get to. But it’s something that we’d love to see more of in the future, as it’s an excuse to get even more immersed in amazing video game worlds.
And you can be sure that the slow route through Ghost of Tsushima will be absolutely worth every moment, as the island of Tsushima promises to be packed full of tiny details that you just won’t see if you blitz through at top speed. So take a moment to slow down, embrace your inner samurai, and see what sort of secrets you can find in 1274 Japan.
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