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Take It Easy Mode is a bi-weekly column on the unsung hero of video games, the Easy setting, for casual and new gamers, parents, and people who generally find higher difficulty modes frustrating.
If you've been reading this column since the beginning, you know that I'm a fan of Assassin's Creed. When a new game released that people dubbed as being "the closest thing we're going to get to an Assassin's Creed game set in Japan," you can bet I sat up and took notice. That game is Ghost of Tsushima, from Sucker Punch, and I'm here to say it's excellent.
The game is set in Japan in the late 1200s, during the Mongol invasion of the island of Tsushima. At the beginning of the game, the samurai fight the Mongols and are decimated; Jin Sakai, the main character, is the last samurai left, and he's intent on saving his uncle (also a samurai) from the Mongols and protecting his homeland. That's where the game starts, and there are a few things you need to do immediately to make Easy Mode even more laid back.
First, obviously, you need to set the difficulty to Easy when prompted (according to the game, this level offers "minimal challenge"). Once you have control over the character and gameplay, go into the game settings and click on the Accessibility menu. Toggle on Simplified Controls — this makes it much easier to execute Bamboo Strikes in the game. These require a complicated sequences of button presses, but this option removes the timer from the equation. Next, you'll want to turn on Aim Assist, which does exactly what it sounds like — it snaps to enemies when you're using a bow and arrow (more on that later).
Projectile Indicator tells you when an attacker is firing at you from offscreen (very useful, especially when you're fighting multiple enemies). I also turned on Lower Intensity, which gives you a little more time to react when enemies spot you. Finally, this isn't related to Easy Mode, but you can turn off blood during combat in the display settings, if that's your thing (it is most definitely my thing).
The gameplay feels similar to other RPGs, and while it's an open world that allows you to do whatever you want for the most part, I do recommend accomplishing the first tasks of the recruitment quests early. Each of these gives you an ability or tool that's important for the rest of the game, from assassination to a bow and arrow.
You can choose to fight enemies head-on or sneak around them, similar to Assassin's Creed. I did a mix of both, though the more I leveled up the Stand-off ability, the more I just fought enemies as I encountered them. This tool lets you fight and kill up to three enemies before the rest run at you. As groups of Mongols tend to be four to five people, once you've maxed this out, it really is useful.
In terms of weapons, while I'm usually a bow and arrow devotee, I really didn't like them in Ghosts of Tsushima. The half bow you get after you master archery is really underpowered; it takes quite a few arrows to kill someone. Not only that, but the way the fighting mechanism works in this game, you have to actually aim above your target to hit them, especially if they're further away. It makes sense, as this is the way it works in real life, but if you're depending on Aim Assist to help you out, well, it doesn't really — it snaps to the enemy's chest when you need to be aiming much higher.
You can obtain more powerful bows, but that doesn't solve another problem: ammunition. I found that arrow drops were somewhat rare for the first 10-15 hours of the game, and I ended up having to buy ammunition too often. You can certainly find arrows laying around in some places, but you can't carry many (even if you level up your carrying capacity). In the end, I stopped using the bow and arrow because of these issues, at least, until I'd leveled them up significantly and ammo drops became more plentiful.
You also can unlock all kinds of other tools — smoke bombs, throwing knives, and more, but really, who has the patience or memory to tell these apart and use them properly? The button sequences here got way too complicated for me, honestly. I can barely press one button during a hard battle, let alone remember how to switch between a bunch of weapons when I'm under pressure. I would have much preferred simpler, but more powerful, weaponry.
The melee fighting is pretty simple — you can button mash for sure — but the game really wants you to unlock and learn different stances to fight enemies with shields versus spears and such. It's to the point where the game will pause fights and prompt you to switch. If you are a complete dud at quick button combos like I am, this can make for a frustrating experience. Fortunately, I've found both the shield and spear stance pretty versatile, and just usually stick with one of those.
Another thing that makes melee frustrating? There's no lock on. Often in this game, you're fighting multiple targets at once, and this makes things unnecessarily difficult because you can't just cut down one enemy at a time. Supposedly it was a deliberate choice on the part of the game developers, but in practice it makes the gameplay feel really sloppy at times.
None of this is meant to dissuade you from playing Ghost of Tsushima — this is an excellent game, and if you choose to stick with the basics, you'll still be able to do really well. Like many other RPGs, the first five to 10 hours are the hardest; once you level up a bit, things get much, much easier.
The game is also just gorgeous. The visuals are absolutely striking; more often than not, being in this game feels like being in a painting. It's an homage to Kurosawa, though it's worth remembering (and been pointed out by better, more knowledgeable writers than me) that the game way oversimplifies and mythologizes samurai culture.
The storyline of the game is a bit depressing, so given these times, it's one I'm dipping in and out of rather than playing fully through without stopping. If you have a PS4 or a PS5 on pre-order, I highly recommend picking this one up, as you'll spend hours exploring the island of Tsushima and petting foxes, and with the recent New Game+ and multiplayer update, you'll get even more out of it than before.