Ghost of Tsushima Director's Cut Review: Iki Island Gameplay Impressions, VideosAugust 20, 2021
About a year ago, Ghost of Tsushima took the video game landscape by storm, offering an all-timer of an experience and one of the best console exclusives left standing.
Fast forward to August 2021, developer Sucker Punch Productions is back with the game's first major bit of DLC (on the heels of an extremely fun multiplayer update) wrapped up in a neat package dubbed Ghost of Tsushima Director's Cut.
The DLC itself, Iki Island, expands greatly on the game's universe, the main character, Jin Sakai, and offers up more of that open-world goodness that had us calling it one of the best games of its generation in our official review.
Add in some major enhancements courtesy of the PlayStation 5's next-generation capabilities and some quality-of-life changes that carry over into the main game, and Sucker Punch boasts one of the best releases for a second consecutive year.
Graphics and Gameplay
Visually and from an immersion standpoint, the original Ghost of Tsushima was a jaw-dropping affair that few have come close to matching.
The base game's journey took Jin to all sorts of locales, from lush jungles with sunlight cutting through the trees and areas with leaves kicking up underfoot to mountaintops with some of the best-looking snow out there. The inhabitants were realistic, and the sound design was superb.
So it shouldn't come as any surprise to hear that visually and immersionwise, the new slice of land opened up to players is just as gorgeous and varied as the lands found in the base game. It's occasionally a little darker to fit the narrative, and the soundtrack itself is a little more subdued, but a stunning field of violet and pink flowers swaying in the breeze—all subject to the ever-changing day/night/weather cycle—is just a few paths away.
The introduction to the island itself is one of those breathtaking cinematic moments right up there with, say, leaving the vault for the first time in a modern Fallout epic. It's downright stunning and worth experiencing. As is cutting loose and exploring the island's wonders.
Similarly, gameplay is again a strong point. Combat remains centered around a counter and/or parry system based on what sort of attack an enemy uses. Sprinkle in a variety of battle stances that are strong or weak against certain enemies, droves of upgrades and different equippable ranged items like bows, and it isn't long before Jin is deftly slashing and assassinating his way through proceedings at no great difficulty to the player.
Fun gameplay wrinkles found in the expansion include an ability to charge up and mow down enemies via horseback, no matter how big the foe or nasty the weapon. It comes at the cost of resolve and feels a little on the arcade side of the coin, but it's there for those who argued the base game was too grounded.
By far the biggest change on this front, though, is within the combat itself thanks to the introduction of the Shaman enemy type.
While the Shaman chants, all other enemies within range become harder to defeat. It's a fun way to help encounters on the island feel fresh. Not only do players have to keep an eye out for pesky archers, now they have to weigh whether to attempt to cut down the Shaman with others in hot pursuit.
As such, difficulty gets amped up when on Iki island too. Enemies under the spell of a Shaman are no joke, no matter how souped-up Jin is from his base game journey. Luckily for players, the option to toggle on a lock-on system is part of the sweeping upgrades found here, and even without it, the camera seems to behave even better. These weren't problems with the base game by any means, but the inclusion doesn't hurt.
Stealth doesn't seem overly changed, but it's worth pointing out that this is an absolute blast of a way to play, whether it's tackling one small little camp or taking on a big set piece-type area. Enemy detection still feels fair, and as a whole, it's incredibly rewarding.
Also rewarding is having the option to reset conquered camps. It's another little check in the replayability column for those who can't get enough of the gameplay.
For those who didn't experience the game the first time around, enjoy—it's a prime offering of gaming done right. This is especially true on the combat front (and layers of difficulty options help reach all audiences), as the horse riding and traversal isn't always as stellar. But the tandem of presentation and gory combat grounded in a real-world setting with a gripping narrative is one of those "wish I could experience it for the first time again" things.
Story and More
The Iki Island DLC is a lesson in add-on content done right.
Storywise, it starts off simple enough. There's a splinter group of baddies scouting the mainland where the base game takes place. Villagers are harmed, and away the narrative goes.
Distressed by what he sees, Jin elects for a power move—he hops on a boat and goes on a one-man mission to shut down the invasion. It's an especially jarring decision considering some of the traumatic moments he's experienced on that island in the past.
Once there, Jin quickly encounters The Eagle and her tribe, which utilizes a poison to enforce its will. This point is something that plays a major driving force in the story, which is accessible after Act 1 of the base game.
Narratively, it fits in amazingly well. The events on the island feel crucial to the overall happenings in the game and region. If one didn't know any better, you could just guess the entire expansion was part of the original release—it's that seamless.
Perhaps more importantly, the story this expansion weaves adds incredible depth to Jin's character (and he was pretty cookie-cutter in the base game, so this great). It hits on major details of his life that were merely touched upon in the base story. It's done so well that it enhances the entire game's story if played from the beginning.
One funny, refreshing story beat that mixes up the feel of the expansion? The folks on the island don't much care for samurai, so that respected aura most in the base game treat Jin with is gone, leaving some amazing characterization of the island's inhabitants to fill that void.
If there's a detriment—and it might be the only one—it's the way the poison can figure into the gameplay at times. We won't go too hard here for the sake of spoilers, but the way it's used can sometimes come off as distracting or cause the player to miss information.
Iki Island isn't the biggest place, but it just feels good to pop open a map in this game and see it clouded over and begging to be explored. New challenges include archery ranges and a must-play dueling arena, which is exactly what it sounds like.
Ghost of Tsushima gets a big performance upgrade in terms of resolution (4K) and frames per second (60). Elsewhere on the technical front, it was simple to import a save from a playthrough on the PlayStation 4, along with trophies. Along those lines, this game still sets the bar high in terms of customizable options, whether it's difficulty, accessibility or something else.
By far the biggest upgrade, though, is the haptic feedback on the PlayStation 5 controller. The vibration technology has been epic on releases like Returnal, and it's no exception here.
From emulating the character's heartbeat during intense cinematics to different levels of vibrations based on the type of surface being traversed on horseback (e.g., dirt vs. a wooden bridge), the effect on the experience is profound. It should go without saying, but it adds a dramatic weight to combat too.
Really, the base game was already equipped with many of these options and an extremely deep universe that was perhaps the best mashup of open-world ideas executed we have ever seen, even matching or besting something like Red Dead Redemption 2. The Director's Cut sprinkles in tweaks and takes advantage of hardware upgrades, making the final product all the more impressive and enhancing its status as a must-play.
Does Ghost of Tsushima Director's Cut qualify for Game of the Year honors? Because it should—the base game felt like a next-generation game come early, and it had no problem standing alongside Sony's other exclusive heavy hitters as one of the best releases of the past few years, if not decades.
In some ways, the Iki Island DLC is more of the same. But when that is a bar all other games will try to reach, there's nothing wrong with that. And the smooth additions—be it stunning new locales and presentation or small additions to mix up the near-perfect combat—only serve to enhance the experience.
The Director's Cut is the definitive Ghost of Tsushima experience and entry point for new players. But it's also the best-case example for how to handle add-on content, even on the narrative side, in the way it seamlessly complements the base game's story. That Sucker Punch delivered this while making the leap to next-generation consoles only makes the feat more impressive.
In a way that the base game was a fitting swansong for the PlayStation 4, the Director's Cut is a fitting hello to the PlayStation 5 as an industry benchmark and beacon to players of what the next generation can offer.