“Ghost of Tsushima” isn’t too challenging, but it is massive. Though it falls short of its cinematic ambitions, it’s an engrossing and fun open-world game. After three weeks of playing, I’m still finding new quests, and even some hidden merchants.

Much of “Ghost of Tsushima” is pretty simple and the tutorials do good work to explain what you need to know, but here are some tips to optimize your first run through the game.

Skills to upgrade

“Ghost” has a pretty linear upgrade path; you level up fairly quickly and you can attain everything. Still, there are a few branching decisions you might want to prioritize.

  • Unyielding Sword and Spear Parry: You’re going to be barraged by a bunch of blue-flashing attacks, which can only be parried by this skill. The one against swords is among the first skills you can acquire, and it should be the first one you get. The window for pressing the parry button before an attack lands is quite generous too, so this one skill alone will make Jin extraordinarily powerful even at the beginning of the game.
  • Wind of Inari: There are five different types of “wind” you can unlock to help you navigate the world, each one leading to a different class of point of interest. The Inari Shrines are fox dens that allow Jin to equip more charms. This is the closest the game gets to allowing player “builds” and attack customization. Of all the five wind unlockables, Wind of Inari might be the most useful. Plus, after you unlock your sixth charm slot, you’ll be rewarded with unique powerful charms that will add to your damage, stealth and staggering capabilities. It’s endgame gear, but the payoff is greater the earlier you start.
  • Sprint Strike: Tsushima is filled with pesky archers taking potshots. You eventually get the ability to block arrows with your sword, but the projectiles can still interrupt the beautiful ballet of blades you’re trying to choreograph. Sprint Strike is the optimal way of dealing with these archers. Just make a mad dash toward everyone hanging outside the battle area, and take a swipe. It’s powerful, and eventually will take archers down in a single hit.
  • Strength of Mountains under the “Stone” stance: Jin has four stances, and they will all unlock in order. The first and most importance stance is the basic sword, or “Stone,” stance. You should first upgrade the Strength of Mountains skill that increases stagger damage against sword blocks. The hardest fights are one-on-one duels against swordsmen, so you’ll want every advantage. This will make sure you can dismantle their defenses quicker.
  • Chain Assassination: Your gameplay options open up significantly once you’re able to get this. The game’s story eases Jin into becoming more comfortable attacking from the shadows. The ability to instantly kill two or three enemies at a time makes stealth gameplay the optimal way to play toward the latter half of the game. Positioning and timing is important, but this will cut down unsuspecting enemy troops by a noticeable amount.
  • Standoff Streak: It’s the same reason you’ll want Chain Assassination, but only if you prefer an upfront, stand-your-ground samurai confrontation. “Standoff” is this game’s version of a quick-draw duel, and adding more to this streak lets you dispatch even more enemies at the beginning of a fight. By the end of the game, you’ll be able to wipe out up to five enemies with this initial attack.

Cut through some of the main story first

The main campaign takes a fair bit of time to wind up, at least for the first hour or so. While your desire to roam free may be strong, I highly recommend powering through some of those first few missions. You’ll get some key upgrades for further exploring, most notably the grappling hook made by blacksmith Taka. You’ll need it to further explore other areas of the island.

Pick up everything, especially Supplies

“Crafting” barely exists in this game. Instead, you must pick up thousands of certain items to upgrade your weapons, outfits and bows. “Supplies” might seem like they don’t do much, but “Supplies” are the foundation of almost every upgrade. You’ll need thousands just to upgrade your sword to its peak strength. As soon as the game starts, you’ll start seeing blinking “Supplies” and other things like “Iron,” “Steel” and “Linen.” Start looting early and in earnest, and you’ll have a maxed out katana in no time.

Same goes for flowers. The game has some beautiful color options to customize some of Jin’s amazing and complicated outfits. And picking these up has never been easier in an open world game like this. Simply walk by and press R2. Jin will loot without missing a step.

Also, as you level up, the game will magically gift you a huge amount of supplies at “Gift Altars” in towns. Don’t forget these.

Look out for the white and black dye merchants

Speaking of gathering flowers for outfit dyes, look out for secret merchants in the game. There are two merchants in the beginning and middle parts of the game that sell you white and black dye for some of your outfits, which makes for some great role-playing wrapped in the “Ghost” color of your choice.

Wear the Traveler’s Attire when exploring

As Patrick Klepek of VICE said, this game is great for playing while having a podcast playing in the background, especially when you’re just doing errands, like finding more supplies, flowers or fox dens. If you’re going to dedicate some time to check off your in-game shopping list, make sure to always equip the Traveler’s Attire, which unlocks more of the map as you wander. Plus, the cloth physics never get less awe-inspiring as you play.

Reminder: Getting on the horse is R2

After games like “The Last of Us Part II” and “Red Dead Redemption,” the triangle button is almost becoming a universal standard for “get on your horse/in your car.” Not so with “Ghost,” which relegates a lot of everyday actions to the R2 trigger. It’s actually really comfortable. What’s not comfortable is adapting to this during the first few hours of the game. Slam the triangle button near your horse, and you launch a devastating heavy attack. You can’t kill your horse, but save yourself the wincing.

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