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How to master combat in Ghost of Tsushima

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Ghost of Tsushima's combat strikes the perfect balance of being easy to learn, but hard to master – here's your essential guide to understanding the free-flowing action
Written by Stacey HenleyPublished on
The free-flowing combat is probably one of Ghost Of Tsushima’s most endearing features, but it’s easy to end up just slashing wildly and ineffectively if you don’t know what you’re doing – and that’s only going to end badly for you. To come out on top of the enemy hordes, you're going to need to know how to approach battles, how to overcome every type of opponent, what charms to use, how to chain kills, which enemies to be wary of and – eventually – how to be the ultimate samurai.
Some missions in the game force you into a more straightforward fight, whilst others force you to use stealth. Largely, though, you get to choose how you approach each encounter. This guide focuses on the all-action samurai experience, but if you want to disappoint your uncle, check the Stealth Guide on how to become the ultimate Ghost.

Winning Standoffs

Ghost of Tsushima Winning Standoffs
Winning standoffs in Ghost of Tsushima will let you quickly drop enemies
Standoffs are the most likely way you’ll be drawn into action combat coming out of stealth, but they also can quickly help you take out a lot of enemies, build up your Ghost Stance meter and grow your legend. They’re worth taking advantage of as much as possible.
When you approach a group of enemies, you’ll get a button prompt asking you to push Up to Standoff. This makes Jin shout for a one on one quickdraw sword battle. You must push Triangle and hold it until the enemy is about to strike; if your timing is correct, you will cleave them open in a one-hit kill. Early battles are relatively easy, but later enemies will feint to lull you into an early attack – Straw Hats are particularly bad for this. The best thing is to wait until the enemy is almost on top of you before releasing; they won’t physically step forward unless it’s a real attack, so watch their feet.
Via Techniques (discussed below), you can chain three standoff attacks together, with enemies rushing at you in turn after winning the first clash. Wearing the Sakai Clan armour allows you to an extra challenger to your streak, meaning you can take out four enemies with single hits. When you unlock the Ghost Stance, getting this many boosts is a massive advantage.

How to Use Stances

Ghost of Tsushima Stances
Effectively use Stances to counter enemy attacks and advances
Aside from the standoffs, every other battle in the game is played out in Stances. There are four in total; Stone, Water, Wind, and Moon. These stances each correspond to take on different enemy disciplines; swords, shields, spears and brutes respectively. Using them is pretty straightforward (hold R2, then a face button depending on who you’re fighting). But when you’re facing a swarm, it can be difficult to keep up and change your Stance for each opponent. However, if you don’t adapt, you’ll die; stances are that important.
Stances change Jin’s body shape, and the wrong type of Stance means his attacks will be largely ineffective. The game slows itself down when you hold R2, so switching is fairly simple once you’re used to it. You’ll probably notice the spears and brutes give you a lot more problems in Act I, as you won’t have the right Stances to counter them unlocked yet.
Stances are unlocked by taking out Leaders, and while you’ll encounter enough in the main story to get them all eventually, that also means spending a lot of time struggling with brutes unnecessarily. Liberate farms and towns early on to take out some weak Leaders and get your missing Stances to make dealing with earlier enemies much easier.

Ghost Stance

Understanding how to use the Ghost Stance will make some difficult battles a breeze
Ghost of Tsushima Ghost Stance
There is technically a fifth Stance too, which is unlocked by killing Temuge in Act II. This is the Ghost Stance, and makes Jin invulnerable and allows him to perform one-hit kills for a limited amount of time. It also has a chance to terrify, meaning enemies will flee on sight.
Once this Stance has been unlocked, there are two ways to activate it. One is to kill a Leader, instantly unlocking it, while the other is to kill enough enemies in a row without taking any damage to fill the bar in the bottom corner of the screen. Fall damage does not count, but blowback from your own bombs does.
Once the meter has filled enough, a Ghost mask will flash in the bottom corner of the screen. Clicking L3 & R3 will cause the screen to turn black and white, and allow you to cut your foes down at will.

Staggers & Attacks

Mixing up your attack patterns and utilising all the tools at your disposal will make the game much easier
Ghost of Tsushima Staggers Attacks
While you’ll need to understand the Stances to take on all comers, it would help if you also knew how to actually fight. Ghost of Tsushima's hand-to-hand combat basically consists of staggering an enemy to break their guard, then attacking them to lower their health, but there are a lot of ways to make this run more smoothly.
Each stance comes with unique attacks, with more upgrades to be unlocked as you progress through the game. Spears tend to be the toughest enemy, while swords are the most common, so it’s worth investing in Stone and Wind Stances early on. You’ll also want to unlock all the different Parry techniques as early as possible – these techniques cause attacks that you can parry to glint in blue. Just before an attack lands, tap L1 then Square to bat their weapon away then strike back decisively. If you can get engage an enemy solo, waiting for a chance to Perfect Parry is better than just swinging at them.
In larger groups, you’ll want to stagger enemies in turn. This means having the right stance equipped, then using Triangle attacks to shatter the white bar above their head. This makes your foes more vulnerable to other attacks and lets you do some serious damage as a result. Use Circle to roll away from red attacks and don’t be afraid of switching stances several times as each enemy approaches. With no lock on, hunting down a single foe often leaves you overexposed.
In general, it’s best to stick with quick Triangle taps until an opponent's guard is almost down, then holding it or using the unlocked Stance combos as they’re about to go vulnerable. The exception to this is the brute class: they’re very slow, and so holding Triangle in the Moon stance is an easier task, and often takes them out before they even know what’s happened.
If you’re ever up against an enemy when your corresponding Stance hasn't been unlocked, try rolling behind them and getting some cheap shots in at their backs.
The Ghost weapons will be a big help in defeating even the hardest of enemies; to check them out in more depth, see our Ghost Guide.

Archery

Countering archers and learning how to use your own bow is essential to succeed in the world of Ghost of Tsushima
Ghost of Tsushima Archery
Archers are, by far, the most annoying enemies in the game. Without equipping many Charms, your own archery is mostly ineffective, yet the enemy is deadly. It is possible to utilise archery well, but considering enemies will often rush at you, the headshot hitbox seems very small, the aim zoom is minimal, and later on, falcons circle overhead to reveal your position. As such, it’s rarely worth the fuss of bothering with your available bow skills.
Enemy archers don’t suffer from this problem. They shout to let you know when they’re about to fire, but that’s as helpful as they get. Enemy archers are devastatingly accurate. Opponents begin using flaming arrows halfway through Act II (you need to stop, drop and roll with Circle to extinguish yourself at this point), and play havoc with your Ghost streak. Make sure to take them out as early as you can.
While they’re horrific to take on if full swing –especially if there’s more than one as they stagger their shooting – up close you can carve them open easily, and if you can get behind them, you’ll find they’re even less alert than the warriors.

Higher Ground

Getting to higher ground can be both a blessing and a curse
Ghost of Tsushima Higher Ground
While archers are a pain, their raised platforms offer an interesting opportunity for canny players. If you’re spotted by an enemy, it’s sometimes worth racing for the nearest ladder – your enemies will chase you up one by one, and can usually be chopped down just as they pull themselves up.
Just make sure there are no archers around if you're heading for high ground. These battles at higher elevation are all about momentum, and even a single arrow can cost you your advantage, leaving you backed into a small corner while three warriors carve chunks out of you.

Charms & Techniques

Understand which Charms to equip and which Techniques to learn will make a massive difference to how Ghost of Tsushima plays
Ghost of Tsushima Charms Techniques
As you progress through the game, you’ll unlock various charms and techniques. The Charms are gained from side quests (you unlock more slots at Fox Shrines), while the Techniques come from levelling up, and can be used for Deflection, Evasion, Stances, Exploration, Evolving and Ghost. Charms can be mixed and matched at will, while the Techniques learned are permanent.
Because of the range of approaches on offer, you’ll want to switch the Charms you have equipped for each mission, and will want a balance of all Techniques you learn (aside from Exploration).
The charms are split into Attack, Defense, Ranged, Ghost, and Special. Equipping the Charm which makes smoke bombs heal you is always a solid idea, but aside from that, an action playthrough is going to lean heavily on Attack charms. Bludgeoning, Dual Destruction, and Ferocity are solid choices – alongside Resistance or Vitality for when things get rough – or Swift Return and Precision if you’re attempting archery.
Ghost weapons are covered in the Stealth Guide, but you’ll definitely want Perfect Healing Parry, Sprint Strike, Standoff, Unyielding Spear Parry and, ideally, at least the first two upgrades to every Stance covered.