“Keeping things lethal was a struggle,” says Ghost of Tsushima developer when discussing the challenges of creating balanced combat

Ghost of Tsushima
(Image credit: Sucker Punch)

A Sucker Punch developer has addressed the challenges of creating balanced combat in Ghost of Tsushima.

Senior combat designer, Theodore Fishman, went into much detail in a new PlayStation blog post about the development process of creating the “Lethality Contract” in Ghost of Tsushima, touching on the many challenges the team had to overcome to make sure the standard combat fit well with the rest of the game.

He said, “Lethal, precise, fast… but how does that translate into gameplay? Honoring this fantasy, what we called the “Lethality Contract,” was a major challenge we had in making Ghost of Tsushima. Keeping things lethal was a struggle. Assassinations and Standoffs nailed it, but what about standard combat? Lethality had to hold up across the entirety of the game.”

Fishman explained that this meant the combat had to work for player progression, a wide group of players from Easy to Lethal Difficulty, a variety of enemies, and responsive, fast-paced gameplay. 

One hurdle the team had to overcome was the “Sword Sponge” problem. According to Fishman, early playtest feedback they received were very negative, with some saying enemies felt like “sword sponges”. Fishman said, “Players told us loud and clear that their expectation for the katana was the “Lethality Contract,” and that without it the realism that we strove for was shattered.” 

To solve the problem, developers enforced a hard maximum “hits to kill” across all enemies in the game, even with upgrading weapons. This apparently helped the team be careful and avoid having enemy HP too high, but still have upgrades feel meaningful. 

Fishman went on to say, “As we implemented more new types of enemies, with smaller enemy HP values, the experience felt flat because they died so fast. We had to increase difficulty across other aspects without breaking our “Lethality Contract” with the player.” 

The developers decided early on that playing on Easy, Medium, Hard, or Lethal, would not further increase enemy HP to add difficulty. Later on they had to work out a way to balance frequent enemy parrying while still making the gameplay fun. “We wanted players to have opportunities to be offensive, and not always be passive as the most effective strategy. To achieve this, we added Stagger damage to heavy attacks to break through defenses, allowing the player to be aggressive.”

The combat designer went into much more detail and explained that enemy defensive behaviour, speed of enemy attacks, blocking and parrying, player resolve, damage output, enemy move sets, and enemy HP all played a huge role in how they balanced the gameplay.

Ghost of Tsushima released in July earlier this year as a PS4 exclusive and has since sold over 5 million copies, making it one of Sony’s best selling new IPs. 

We reported last month that Ghost of Tsushima will be playable in up to 60fps on PS5 thanks to the console’s Game Boost feature. Ghost of Tsushima has also recently expanded its horizons with a new multiplayer mode called Legends.

Here are 10 games like Ghost of Tsushima to scratch that action-adventure itch. 

Freelance Writer

Demi is a freelance video games journalist with a particular love for Final Fantasy. She's written for GamesRadar, NME, TheGamer, and Gamespot in recent years.