Ghost of Tsushima’s upgraded camera helps, but is it really necessary?

When it launched in 2020, Ghost of Tsushima drew repeated comparisons to Assassin’s Creed, as both compliment and criticism. It rang mostly as a compliment to me — I’m a sucker for period pieces, even if I know nothing about the time or the setting. And an open-world adventure always rings big value bells with me. But by the time I rejoined the gaming conversation after a summer sabbatical, I was already hip deep in the sports programming that usually commands my attention. Ghost of Tsushima lingered as my FOMO highlight for 2020.

One comparison, though, gave me pause, as I got ready to dive into that world for the first time this week with Ghost of Tsushima: Director’s Cut. Reddit threads from shortly after launch called it “Assassin’s Creed, with a worse camera,” more or less. The lack of a target lock threw off many who used Ubisoft’s lock-on camera for managing fights against multiple enemies.

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Ghost of Tsushima review: You’ve played this before

Sucker Punch Productions later explained that the lack of a target lock, and the awareness that goes along with it, more suited the Mongols’ presence as a swarming, constantly deadly threat. Players would have to make affirmative inputs and precise choices rather than spam the buttons. But the absence of a lock-on was off-putting enough that Sucker Punch created one for Director’s Cut — as well as in a patch to the original game — highlighting it as a fan request fulfilled.

The good news: Target lock works great. I don’t recommend the “switch on kill” option, as it disoriented me unless the enemy it swapped to was already in my peripheral vision. But for those accustomed to target-locked melee combat, this fits the bill.

https://youtube.com/watch?v=sc4_dXjkCl8%3Frel%3D0

So that implies bad news, too? Not bad, exactly, but having been exposed to both setups, I think I prefer the vanilla camera. I’ve been a habitual camera-adjuster in third-person adventures going back to Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. I’m always repositioning the camera with my right thumb. With Ghost of Tsushima’s new target lock, though, that instinct had me swapping targets instead of maintaining my awareness of the crowd around me. I now understand the sense of danger Sucker Punch was going for with the original camera, and why it’s more appropriate for this kind of game, where enemies block attacks more effectively, and where encounters can end more quickly thanks to deadlier slashes and stabs.

I agree with Sucker Punch in another respect, too: Ghost of Tsushima’s swift, brutal combat really does flow better — it’s a lot more cinematic, at least — when the camera isn’t continually jumping from foe to foe. While fighting on a hillside or other steep terrain, the flash-cut among spread out enemies threw my horizon way out of whack, which added an unwelcome beat between attacks as I readjusted visually.

What Ghost of Tsushima still needs, unfortunately, is a means of quickly re-centering the camera. In Assassin’s Creed Odyssey or Origins, I rarely used the target lock-on, only doing so so when there was a bad guy I had to prioritize (usually a pest with a ranged attack). And in those two games, which took a combined 300 hours out of my leisure time, I frequently ended combos and dodges by rolling off the screen. I do the same thing in Ghost of Tsushima. The difference is, I could always click down on the right thumbstick to get my bearings in Assassin’s Creed.

Jin Sakai must confront painful memories from his past, and a new threat in the present, on Iki island in Ghost of Tsushima: Director’s Cut’s story expansion
Image: Sucker Punch Productions/Sony Interactive Entertainment

As a Reddit thread from last year said, the only true means of re-centering the camera involves going into and out of the game’s photography mode; this sort of echoes me pausing the game in San Andreas whenever I got spun around and ended up facing C.J. It’s not something I want to do in combat, or at all in 2021.

All this said, the target lock-on isn’t really the cure all I would prefer, but nor is the original camera an obstacle to my combat tendencies, or my desire to explore this game. I’m nowhere near the new content in Director’s Cut. (Iki Island is accessible in the game’s second act, and I’ve barely begun the first.)

But by the end of this summer, I’ll finally pluck Ghost of Tsushima off my mound of FOMO shame. And I’m delighted that, with the changes in Director’s Cut, I’m getting a “play-it-the-right-way-the-first-time” feeling as I do. I’m impressed with Jin Sakai as a character, and the early moral conflict of whether his principles, or the people those principles protect, matter the most. Tsushima itself is beautiful and richly illustrated, enough that I get a sense of place despite never visiting anything like that island in real life.

Ghost of Tsushima: Director’s Cut will be released Aug. 20 for PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5. The game was played on PlayStation 5 using a download code provided by Sony. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.

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