When we last caught up with Sucker Punch Productions it was in Seattle, with Infamous: First Light. For their next game, the long-gestating Ghost of Tsushima, we’re being transported back to feudal Japan. Creative director Nate Fox tells us more.

Back In 1274, the Mongol army invaded Japan, first hitting Tsushima Island. In Ghost of Tsushima, we step into the sandals of a samurai named Jin, who’s desperately fighting back against crushing odds. But before the game could exist, Sucker Punch had to hit on the formula.

“When we were looking at our next project, we wanted to stay open world because we’re giving authority and power to the player, and we didn’t want to walk away from that. We think it’s integral to modern gaming that players are in charge,” says Fox. “We thought a lot about open world games and what makes some just beautiful and great, then we settled on wanting to have a clear fantasy as the player. Like, ‘Who are you?’, ‘What are you going to be doing in the game?’ Then we came upon this idea which is awesomely simple – to hear about it is to want to play it. Who doesn’t want to go to feudal Japan? Who doesn’t want to be a samurai, with a katana on their hip?”

From there, the Sucker Punch team worked on focusing their idea.

“When we hit upon the Mongol invasion of Tsushima of 1274, it all clicked,” Fox says. “Suddenly you knew who the heroes were, who the villains were, what the stakes were for the world, and you had a video game.”

Recreating the unfettered beauty of the Japanese countryside would be just one challenge that they’d face.

“From tall grass blowing in the wind to the call of a far off crane, we wanted to make it feel real,” enthuses Fox. “All the locations are in-engine, they’re in the world. That’s the place that you’re going to defend, a huge island with a lot of different places, towns, people. There’s so much to learn, there’s so much to see.”

“Who doesn’t want to go to feudal Japan? Who doesn’t want to be a samurai, with a katana on their hip?”

While there’s a wealth of exploration in order to make headway in-game, to tick off side quests and to discover a wealth of collectibles, it’s the fighting that will have many signing on.

“If you’ve ever seen a samurai movie, you know what to expect – two warriors sizing each other up, waiting for the other to make the first move. Mongols are everywhere. For Jin to succeed, he has to use skilful precision in fighting them. No wasted energy, every strike must count.”

Over time, Jin evolves into a ghostly form. This offers up further strategic options.

“As the ghost, he’ll use every dirty trick he can think up to even the odds, even using fear as a weapon,” warns Fox.

No matter what form you play in, a samurai has to look the part. Ghost of Tsushima combines aesthetics with gameplay benefits.

“The armour in this game actually gives you different mechanical advantages. It’s not just the way it looks, it helps accent your chosen play style,” explains Fox. “As you explore the world, you’ll discover omamori charms. They’ll give you an edge in battle but, more importantly, as your legend grows, you’ll develop all-new techniques which transform Jin from a samurai into the ghost. The thing is, you get to decide how those techniques evolve and grow over time.”

Beyond the core pillars of exploration and fighting, Sucker Punch has gone all out on the presentation side of things with Ghost of Tsushima. This includes a Japanese voice track option (with English subtitles), a photo mode and a very special, very cool-sounding cinematic setting.

“Here at Sucker Punch we’re huge fans of samurai cinema and we wanted to create a way for you to feel like you’re playing your favourite samurai movie. So we created a windy, black and white, film grained-out mode that you can turn on from the very beginning of the game.”

Ghost of Tsushima launches exclusively for PS4 on July 17. Pre-order from JB Hi-Fi now.