Immersion is one of the most important aspects of any game with a narrative focus. Most likely if a game doesn’t immerse you in its world, then it hasn’t fully captured your attention. People tend to equate realism with immersion, thinking if a game is realistic therefore it must be immersive. However, as games like Red Dead Redemption 2 prove, realism actually gets in the way. Ghost of Tsushima’s immersion is perfect, showing game developers across the open-world genre how to create an immersive and stunning world that you can’t help lose yourself in.
For people who have no idea what immersion is, allow me to explain. The term doesn’t just apply to video games, in fact pretty much every medium can be immersive. If you’ve ever played a game, read a good book, or watched an excellent film and wonder where the time went, then you were likely immersed in something you found particularly enjoyable or interesting. Obviously immersion is subjective, as you typically have to enjoy something that you find immersive. However, let me try to explain how Ghost of Tsushima does immersion better than any other open-world game out there at the moment.
If you want to know more about the game, check out our Ghost of Tsushima review.
Songbirds and Smoke
Sucker Punch Productions has worked wonders to include several gameplay mechanics that greatly enhance Ghost of Tsushima’s immersion. One of the biggest and most important is how the wind guides the player to their destination. Mark where you want to go on your map and follow the wind. Sucker Punch gives you the option to swipe up on the game pad for a big gust of wind in case you need a reminder, but I didn’t even find that necessary. Simply following the small particles in the air or the direction the grass was blowing was enough for me to get to my destination with ease.
But it’s not just the wind that guides the player. There are several visual cues that guide you to collectibles and quests. You can follow golden songbirds that appear whenever you’re near a secret location, or follow massive pillars of smoke to find side-quests or bandit camps that need liberating. Unlike games like Assassin’s Creed Odyssey that have you diving into the map constantly to mark locations, you can play massive amounts of Ghost of Tsushima without ever having to break your immersion by opening menus. Just naturally playing the game allows you to find collectibles, side-quests, and upgrades. You’ll have to open your map eventually, but much less than other games in the genre.
Eventually, you’ll even receive some armour that pulses whenever a scroll or artefact is within a certain range. These mechanics individually may not seem that important, but they work together to make sure that you barely go into the menus. These visual cues coupled with impressive loading times make sure you’re actually playing as much as possible.
Less Clutter Equals Better Visuals
One of the more agreed upon aspects of Ghost of Tsushima is that it looks stunning. It’s the best-looking game on the PS4 by a landslide. I’ve probably spent a handful of hours in the game’s photo mode and came away with just under 80 photos, the best of which I’ve hand-picked for this article. You could take a snapshot at any moment during the game, and you’d have a decent-looking picture. In fact, my immersion benefited from how photogenic and beautiful it looks. It’s a game that pushes the hardware to its maximum.
However, I think one reason the game is so noticeably good-looking, obviously apart from its art direction, is the lack of on-screen clutter. Because of the visual cues mentioned prior, there are little to no HUD elements unless you’re in combat. No mini-map blocking the bottom left corner of the screen, no quest markers, a health bar that only appears when you take damage, and no gauges telling you how much ammunition you have left. There is zero visual clutter when you’re exploring, and it helps you appreciate the surrounding environment. Loads of open-world games are guilty of making you stare at a mini-map, but Ghost of Tsushima does it differently.
Long story short, Ghost of Tsushima’s immersion is helped by in-game visual cues and some gorgeous graphics. Apart from the wind mechanics, nothing the game does is particularly revolutionary. I’m almost afraid to play another open-world game for fear of thinking it’s a visual mess. I think a lot of game developers will look to it as an example of how to immerse a player in their game as much as possible. I wouldn’t be surprised to see another developer pinch the wind mechanics either. However, until another game comes along, Ghost of Tsushima is the most immersive game I’ve ever played.
I love it when games can be played without any HUD. A clean screen offers more immersion.