It seemed like we’d be waiting forever for Sucker Punch’s Ghost of Tsushima to arrive for the PlayStation 4, but it’s here, and we’re diving right in. While it’s easy to spot the inspirations in this massive open world, Samurai epic, the combat in this game is a lot to wrap your head around. It feels like a bit of a genre blend, combining the multidirectional flow of a Batman brawler with the mistake-punishing brutality of a Soulslike. And, naturally, it has some of Sucker Punch’s own flavor sprinkled over the familiar trappings. Breaking down the combat is no easy task, and we might split it into different guides as we dig deeper. But for now, let’s talk fundamentals.

Ghost of Tsushima Combat Basics

In Ghost of Tsushima, you take on the role of Jin Sakai, a samurai so ludicrously indestructible Sucker Punch had no choice but to get Kazuya Nakai for his Japanese VO. A huge part of Sakai’s durability is his uncanny ability to heal himself, represented in the Ghost of Tsushima world as “resolve.” And the best way to build up enough resolve to cash in for health is to master the game’s swordplay basics. Before you even get into things like assassination, stances, or skill trees, there is a key set of fundamentals that will make or break your early game survivability.

When it comes to combat, Ghost of Tsushima tries to have its cake and eat a slice or two. That mix we mentioned earlier of Batman and Soulslike becomes immediately apparent the moment you have to fight a group of enemies. The camera loves to snuggle up with Sakai for that classic, AAA video game “cinematic” feel, but if you get rushed by more than one opponent you aren’t going to be locking on to anyone and swapping targets. You’re going to have to manage your spatial awareness, as you’ll simply be tilting the left stick to aim your attacks. But you won’t be able to lean on the UI for knowing when to defend yourself.

Related: How to Craft In Ghost of Tsushima

Position is important, as it’s easy to get bopped from behind. Sakai will sort of snap to the closest enemy, but he can move just quickly enough that you can create space if you need to. Always try to leverage that mobility to make sure you can see everyone you’re fighting. You need that line of sight because that’s really all you can rely on to defend yourself. Parrying an attack is as simple as tapping L1, but you have to react to animations to create openings. You can also hold L1 to block, but you’re just as vulnerable to guard breaks as the bad guys are. And if your opponent has a spear, you aren’t blocking period. In that case, their weapon will produce a red spark, telling you to dodge with Circle before you can counter. Circle is also for dodging projectiles, and for those there’s an extra sound cue to know when to start ducking. Archers will yell out to warn their comrades of friendly fire, so when that happens you know it’s time to watch for arrows.

When it comes to fighting back, you have three primary options. Square is a light attack, Triangle is heavy, and holding Triangle gives you a meatier stab attack. It’s super important to stress here that Ghost of Tsushima isn’t Dark Souls, but it isn’t Dynasty Warriors either. Light attacks are your primary murderin’ tool, and your goal is to make sure your Square button is doing work when you press it. Well-timed dodges and parries are your shortcuts to free strikes, and while you can chain several light strikes together for a small combo, most of the time (on Normal) you’ll only need a couple outside of boss fights. 

Heavy attacks are not great for landing hits. There’s a lot of windup, and whiffing causes big problems for Mr. Sakai. Triangle is your guard-breaking tool. Some enemies will have shields, others will have your number and block your head-on sword swipes. If you catch them trying to turtle you out, you can land a heavy attack to force that opening. When you land a heavy strike, look out for the defensive UI icon, a sort of opaque, white half-circle above your foe’s head. That means you damaged their guard but didn’t crack it, so you’ll need another heavy hit before you can go in for the kill. You’ll know you’re ready when the sparks fly.

As an added bonus, Cross is jump, which normally doesn’t seem that useful. But if you press triangle with the right timing Sakai will do a fancy kick. Landing that will usually stagger enemies, creating an opening in a different way that’s risky, but can help bypass the song and dance of normal dueling. It can also work on bosses at times, which is always clutch.

Of course, you might be well on your way past the Ghost of Tsushima combat fundies, and are on the lookout for more in-depth guides. We have you covered there too, so check out some of our other Ghost of Tsushima guides:

Have you mastered the Ghost of Tsushima combat basics? Do you have any additional strategies that help you hoard all that precious resolve? Or perhaps you just want to talk about how you feel about the combat in general. Either way, drop your comments over on Twitter and Facebook.