Ghost of Tsushima is an action-adventure game played from a third-person perspective. The game features a large open world, with no visible waypoints on the HUD, which can be explored with or without guidance by wind direction. Players can travel to different parts of the island on horseback. An item that acts as a grappling hook is available to access difficult-to-reach areas. The game features side quests and non-playable characters with which the player can interact.
Players can directly confront enemies, called a stand-off, using their katana, which can chain up a series of fatal strikes against a set number of enemies. Additionally, the player has access to bows, which can fire different types of arrows. Alternatively, using stealth allows the player to evade enemies and strike them silently, use tools such as firecrackers and wind chime bells to create distractions, and use smoke bombs to disorient alerted foes and Kunai for striking multiple enemies.
Players can unlock various sets of armor, clothing, and charms. Each set has different properties that provide benefits in combat. Some armor reduces damage taken, while another increases total health or melee damage. Most sets of armor and clothing can be upgraded, by collecting materials in the area or by completing quests. Only body armor and apparel have these perks, while headwear and face wear are for visual appeal. Charms are items, acquired through exploration and give different effects to general gameplay, such as decreasing damage taken, reducing enemy detection speed, or increasing how much health is recovered from healing.
The game’s highest difficulty is a more realistic model in which the player and enemies do massive damage to each other, with all non-boss fights ending in one or two successful cuts.
The protagonist Jin Sakai (Daisuke Tsuji/Kazuya Nakai) is the head and sole remaining member of Clan Sakai and a samurai warrior. He is the nephew and ward of Lord Shimura (Eric Steinberg/Akio Ōtsuka), the jitō of Tsushima. He has several friends and companions he meets, including a thief named Yuna (Sumalee Montano/Yu Mizuno) and her blacksmith brother Taka (Eddie Shin/Kappei Yamaguchi), a female warrior named Lady Masako Adachi (Lauren Tom/Mabuki Ando), renowned Kyūdō archer Sensei Sadanobu Ishikawa (François Chau/Shigeru Chiba), merchant and con-artist Kenji (James Hiroyuki Liao/Setsuji Sato), Buddhist warrior monk Norio (Earl T. Kim/Mitsuaki Kanuka), Clan Sakai’s elderly caretaker Yuriko (Karen Huie/Yuri Tabata), and Jin’s childhood friend and leader of the infamous Straw Hat rōnin, Ryuzo (Leonard Wu/Youhei Tadano). The main antagonist is the ruthless and cunning general Khotun Khan of the Mongol Empire (Patrick Gallagher/Tsutomu Isobe), cousin of Kublai Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan.
Sometime after his duel with Shimura, Jin comes across a community of villagers who have been driven insane by a poison described as “sacred medicine”. It was administered by a scouting party of Mongols whom Jin has never previously encountered: members of the Mongolian Eagle tribe, led by Ankhsar “The Eagle” Khatun, from neighboring Iki Island. Defeating them, Jin learns that The Eagle is engaged in a conquest of Iki Island, where his late father Kazumasa had once led an unsuccessful campaign to pacify its raiders. The samurai withdrew from the island after Kazumasa was ambushed and killed by the raiders. Jin was there during the campaign as a boy; he witnessed his father’s death and still blames himself for not saving him. Made cognizant of this new threat to Tsushima, Jin sails to Iki to stop The Eagle and face his past.
A thunderstorm destroys Jin’s boat, but he can survive and arrive on Iki. Discovering the Eagle’s base to be his father’s former stronghold, Fort Sakai, Jin storms the fort but is subdued and captured by the Eagle’s second-in-command, Khunbish. He and The Eagle force Jin to consume the “sacred medicine” in an attempt to convert him into one of the tribe’s shamans. The poison causes Jin to frequently hallucinate The Eagle, his deceased father, and many of his other past failures. He is rescued by the raider Tenzo, who reluctantly accepts Jin’s help and takes him to the raiders’ leader, Fune. Jin works with the raiders to weaken The Eagle’s hold over the island, eventually retaking Fort Sakai, killing Khunbish in the process. After fending off retaliation by The Eagle’s forces, Jin hears Tenzo say “May your death benefit all beings” to a dying Mongol – the same phrase a masked raider spoke to Kazumasa before killing him. Realizing that Tenzo killed his father, Jin nearly kills Tenzo before controlling his anger. He then proposes re-enacting the ambush that killed his father, to lure out and kill The Eagle. Although suffering from near-continuous hallucinations, Jin overcomes the effects of the “sacred medicine” by acknowledging his father’s faults and at last coming to terms with Kazumasa’s death. Jin kills The Eagle in a duel, turning the tide in the raiders’ favor. Jin and Tenzo forgive each other before parting ways.