Ghost of Tsushima Legends is a Quick, Multiplayer Hit Within a Slow Burn

It's also a good reminder that I suck shit at this game.

Ghost of Tsushima: Legends adds something I never thought I’d see in the single-player open-world game. Its two-player cooperative missions tell a pretty fun, pulpy story of demons infecting the game’s titular island — similar to past Sucker Punch side project, the vampire infused Infamous: Festival of Blood. And much like that old standalone, it’s a damn good time, currently culminating in a four-player survival mode with multiple classes, loot, upgrade trees, and cosmetics.

Legends feels fairly disjointed from the main game, though. You can enter it from the semi-historical campaign. You just have to speak to a new NPC (who narrates the mode and bleeds ink from his eyes). Otherwise you can start from the main menu. Once inside, though, you pick one of four new classes, separate from the Jin Sakai of the campaign. All the archetypes you would expect are there: bow lady, sword guy, the healer, and Reaper from Overwatch. Each brings unique abilities — such as the aforementioned masked Assassin, who goes invisible and stabs demons in sequence. And those skills combo awfully well with Ghost of Tsushima combat. Especially with a little teamwork.

The Ronin (the healer class, which is what I started with), for instance, can summon a ghost puppy. The spirit animal harasses enemies, occasionally pinning them in place, which is the perfect opening for your Hunter to pop them full of ectoplasmic holes. Or the Samurai can hold down your fort with a life-steal aura, during which an Assassin can get up high and land an aerial kill. One player going loud doesn’t knock the rest out of stealth, see. So the game’s dual options for approaching encounters feel much more natural when teammates weave between them together.

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The story missions are short, though. You can wrap up all nine in, like, just over two hours on the default difficulty. Doing so drops randomized loot you can equip to your character, and helps unlock more classes to flip between. Right now everyone — I mean literally every player but one I matched with in an entire evening — plays Assassin. I get it. I respect both stabbing and being stabbed. But did you know that swords are basically really long knives? Someone please try the Samurai.

I’m not sure how much Legends has to offer beyond the quick hit of story. Survival missions are fun, but a little repetitive, and right now the only incentive is better loot to do more and harder levels. The future relies on the upcoming raid: a four-player mission that, based on the in-game achievements, sounds a lot like something I’d play in Destiny 2. Even without that endgame content, this update is completely free. I can’t complain too much. At the very least, it got me checking out the Ghost of Tsushima single-player again.

I’m enjoying that, too, though I’m still incredibly bad at it. Ghost of Tsushima makes the fatal mistake of being a mechanically very dense game… without any way to practice. You never really appreciate your loved ones until they’re gone, you know? Like Hanbei the Undying. The (not actually) immortal punching bag from Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice was a genius addition to a game where nailing perfect parry timing is key. Ghost of Tsushima also wants me to parry. Except I suck shit at it and don’t have any place to practice. Much of my return to Tsushima has been watching Jin eat iron with his ribcage…

ghost of tsushima legends

The rest of it, however, has been discovering that the primary story ramps up well after the much-too-long initial area. I lost interest in Ghost of Tsushima largely because the plot pulled at threads it had no interest in pursuing. Jin is a samurai: a member of the ruling class. Him rising to liberate the peasants of his home was about too noblesse oblige for my tastes. Now that I’m off the first landmass, however, characters are starting to poke and prod at the systems. In a way the first 10 hours felt like an extended tutorial, even if they didn’t actually make me good at the game.

Ghost of Tsushima is such an oddball AAA game. It felt overshadowed by this year’s Prestige™ Sony exclusive, The Last of Us Part II, added a completely different style of game mode nearly out of nowhere, and sports a seemingly unintentional slow pace that got it lost in the shuffle.

It constantly feels just on the cusp of clicking with me. Signs of life with a free update here, interesting wrinkles in the plot there, new missions to let me practice (kind of): it all keeps dragging me back somehow. But it’s never for long enough to improve enough. And I’ve seen people out there be absolutely brutal at this game.

The parry windows aren’t as tight as in Sekiro. Neither is there a good way to learn them, short of slopping my way through bandit camps. As I muscle through one clumsy encounter after another, however, I’m still unlocking the tools of a more skilled player. I can sticky bomb my way through big brutes. I summon up smoke to respectfully stab fools. And I need to, if I want to survive. I’m not good enough with the other stuff. But since I don’t have to get good at the other stuff, I never do.

If I’m ever going to play that raid, though, I need to get my fundamentals down. If I’m ever going to see how those crumbs of cool story land, I need to get into a groove. Not because the encounters are too difficult (that’s what sticky bombs are for). But because I don’t think I can take the sloppy sensation again.

God, I miss Hanbei.