When I reviewed Ghost of Tsushima just over a year ago I found myself captivated by the beauty of its environments and its visceral and responsive combat, and let down only slightly by an initially-interesting approach to open world content that quickly revealed itself to be cut from a similar cloth to most other titles. That didn’t stop it from being one of my favourite AAA titles of the last generation though, and one I wound up coming back to multiple times thanks both to the multiplayer Legends mode that was later added and the promise of even better visual performance with backwards compatibility on the shiny new PlayStation 5.
Now, with Ghost of Tsushima Director’s Cut, I found myself drawn right back in again.
Coming in exactly 13 months after the release of the original version of the game, and at the height of a new-gen console frenzy, the Director’s Cut of Sucker Punch Productions’ epic samurai-simulator is a two-fold release that brings both a native version of the game for the PS5 with console-specific enhancements as well as a whole new expansion playable on both the new machine as well as the PS4. For fans and owners of the original version the Director’s Cut is available as an addition to the existing title, and for newcomers it’s also available as a complete product both digitally and physically. If you are new to Ghost of Tsushima and aren’t sure yet if it’s worth your time, you can read my original review right here, but here’s a sample that sums it up fairly well:
“Ghost of Tsushima might be built from the same stuff as its AAA, open world contemporaries, but that doesn’t stop it from being one of the best open world experiences of the generation. Sucker Punch has set its samurai fantasy apart by presenting players with a beautiful world that is rewarding to explore, with many mysteries to uncover. Jin’s story is a compelling tale pulled from the pages of the epics, and it’s just one of many that the game has to offer. The game isn’t perfect, but it’s not often I spend upwards of 50 hours playing an open world game to total completion and immediately want to jump back in, even if it’s just to sit and watch the breeze roll by.”
Those bits about Jin’s story and the draw of Ghost of Tsushima’s beautiful environments are important, because they’re what continue to push the game to soaring heights in the Director’s Cut’s most substantial new offering – the Iki Island expansion. Set during the events of the base game and accessible as soon as players have reached Tsushima’s second region, this trip to a lawless island populated by raiders and Mongols takes Jin Sakai to some very dark and personal places.
After stumbling upon a camp on Toyotama that’s been decimated by Mongols, Jin discovers the attackers to be from offshore, in particular from Iki Island where they follow a mysterious leader known as The Eagle. Understanding that Iki is a place of significance to his childhood, a place that his clan once attempted to capture and where he lost his father, Jin takes it upon himself to sail for the island to take on The Eagle and the Mongols residing there before they invade Tsushima further. Without giving too much more away, what follows is an especially confronting journey for Jin as he enlists the help of the raiders his clan once warred with and suffers the ill effects of a hallucinogenic poison that unlocks memories and thoughts hidden deep within. By the time the four-to-five hour main quest line wraps up, not only has Jin confronted his past and his family’s legacy, but reconciled with it and allowed himself to heal and find closure through his actions. The path to those resolutions is paved with uneasy but earnest self-reflection and it’s absolutely the standout success of the Iki Island expansion.
Outside of just telling a new story though, Iki is also home to a host of new things for Jin to see, do and learn. The island itself is roughly half the size of the base game’s first region, but it’s home to a diverse range of environments from marble-white rocky coasts to vibrant canopies of violet, deep caves lined with glowing pools and the overgrown sites of long-forgotten battles. Nature has a tight grip on Iki, as does Sucker Punch on effective use of motion and colour. Constant rains and verdant greens paint a unique landscape for the island that contrasts its history of turmoil and offers plenty of reprieve to just stop and soak it all in. Like Tsushima, it’s a sumptuous visual feast that astonishes at every turn, even more so when condensed into this smaller area, and it becomes the stage to some of the most memorable encounters and epic battles in the entire game for pure visual spectacle alone.
Aside from locale however, those battles will initially feel all-too familiar to anyone who’s spent significant time on Tsushima, with the Mongols still the primary threat on Iki. In fact the only notable new enemy type to be found on the island are the Shamans, who travel with groups of Mongol warriors and stir them into a deadly frenzy with their chanting. This means contending with a swarm of enemies who are stronger, faster and harder to counter until the nearby Shaman is taken out, which starts out as a neat enough wrinkle, until the realisation sets in you’ll wind up just repeating the same strategy of going for the Shaman first in every encounter. The Mongols on Iki certainly feel more aggressive and better-equipped, and their eagles now work to alert their masters of your presence when sneaking into strongholds, but I couldn’t help hoping for just a bit more than the familiar Mongols and bandits.
Where combat does get interesting is in the addition of some optional new gear that can be found through new Mythic Tales on Iki. In particular the Sarugami Armour, which removes Jin’s standard Parry ability but ups the window of opportunity for Perfect Parries and Perfect Dodges while imbuing both with extra-powerful counter attacks that are great for crowd control. This one new armour alone changes the feel of combat a great deal, and although I probably wouldn’t rock it full time (I love my Ghost and Sakai armours too much) it’s fun to throw on just to add a bit of spice to combat.
Your horse also has a much bigger part to play on Iki, bolstering your combat efforts with a brand-new technique called Horse Charge that (you guessed it) lets you barrel into groups of enemies to knock them flat. It’s ridiculously satisfying. You’ll also get access to new saddlebags for your horse that’ll store any excess ammunition you pick up, which definitely feels like it should’ve been a feature in the base game, but both of these new features carry across to Tsushima nicely and render your horse even more of an essential partner than before.
Iki Island’s main quest line is only a small portion of what’s available in the expansion, and in fact ignores around half of the new map area to be explored. Players can easily expect to triple their time here or more, roaming Iki and engaging in optional Tales, finding new collectibles, evicting Mongols and completing challenges. A lot of Tsushima’s diversions return, like hot springs and haiku spots, but there are also a few new activities that are worth checking out such as (surprisingly tough) archery challenges and a bokken sparring tournament. Best of all though are the animal sanctuaries, tasking players to soothe creatures like cats and deer with a simple motion-based flute minigame and rewarding them with cute friends to pet. Iki is packed with exciting mysteries and secrets to uncover that I won’t spoil here, but given the smaller surface area it’s incredible how much meaningful content Sucker Punch has filled it with.
New content aside, the Director’s Cut of Ghost of Tsushima also brings with it a handful of enhancements and updates. There are some welcome new quality-of-life additions like an enemy lock-on (finally!) and the ability to hide Jin’s now and quiver outside of combat that will apply to all versions of the game including the vanilla PS4 title, but by-and-large the biggest changes come in the form of PS5-specific upgrades.
While the game’s assets and effects seem largely unaltered in the Director’s Cut, players on the PS5 side of things are treated to the option of a 4K target in the game’s Higher Resolution mode. Strangely, the option of a Better Frame Rate mode still exists, and seems to run at a resolution closer to the old version in its backwards compatible state, but without the tools to properly measure it seems to me that both modes run at (or at least target) 60fps during gameplay. The 4K mode looks fantastic though and really brings out the rich detail and jaw-dropping draw distances already present in the game.
There are definitely things only present and possible in the PS5 update of Ghost of Tsushima, starting with some incredibly fast load times. Where the PS4 version (loading from an external SSD on my PS5) takes over a minute to go from launch to being in-game and playing, the PS5 version takes a mere 15 seconds. Fast travel, while already shockingly fast before, is now essentially instant – even when zipping from Iki to Tsushima. Haptic feedback from the DualSense is a lot of fun, both in the clanging of metal in the heat of battle as well as more subtle actions like your horses hooves as you ride and the satisfying slide and click of your sword being sheathed.
My ears aren’t learned enough to know if the 3D Audio implementation here is overly improved from before, but Sucker Punch has certainly put a lot of effort in to ensure the PS5’s 3D Audio capabilities enhance the experience on Iki Island. When the wind swirls and rain patters around your head as your ride, or the clashing of steel in battle rings from all sides in battle and the precise direction of incoming arrows can be sensed, even from an elevation, it does truly add a layer of depth and nuance to the already-stellar presentation that has to be heard to be appreciated. And of course, PS5 owners finally have the pleasure of a full Japanese lip sync thanks to cutscenes playing out in real-time on the console.
While these upgrades to the PS5 edition of the Director’s Cut are all very nice to have, the debate is already on as to whether they justify the added $15 AUD price tag over the same game on PS4, or whether they’re closer to similar upgrades other titles have received for free. It’s hard to speak to the work put in by Sucker Punch to make it all happen, and how to put a price on it, but given that the game already looks and plays great via backwards compatibility I’d certainly hesitate to drop extra on switching to the new version on top of purchasing the DLC. The good news there is, whichever direction you decide to go, the game and the Iki Island expansion are both brilliant.
Ghost of Tsushima Director's Cut and in particular the Iki Island expansion does a great job at giving players more of what made the game's original release special. The brisk new adventure takes Jin Sakai on a journey of reflection and reconciliation that contains plenty of beautiful, memorable moments and some very cool new gear to play with. The updates made for its native PS5 release do feel a touch slim given that they come at an added cost, but they do go a long way to refining and enhancing the experience. A great game made better, then, and a fantastic excuse to spend dozens more hours in Photo Mode.
Iki Island expansion gives Jin a great new and very personal story
New region is stuffed full of compelling content
Both the main game and Iki look stunning in 4K at high frame rates
Quality-of-life updates are very welcome
Horse Charge and Sarugami Armour are game-changers
Enemies on Iki Island feel largely the same to fight as elsewhere
PS5 enhancements don't feel substantial enough to warrant the upgrade fees