Ghost of Tsushima debuted a little over a year ago. That auspicious beginning was followed up by much critical and gamer acclaim, numerous award wins, and a dose of supernatural yokai adventures thanks to a multiplayer co-op DLC in Ghost of Tsushima: Legends. In my humble opinion, it was nearly a perfect game, a perfect roll-out, and a perfect plan of attack beginning to end from Sucker Punch Productions. The only thing I wanted after Platinum’ing Ghost of Tsushima and battling my way through Legends was, in a word, more. A sequel, a DLC, a horse-riding romp through the pampas grass with Jin, whatever. Thankfully, as of today, the new “Director’s Cut” version of the game comes with a whole new and wholly worthwhile expansion, taking Jin to Iki Island and beyond.
If you’ve played through at least the first act of the main game, you can access the new expansion either mid-run or after you’ve completed Jin’s original mission. It’s a great excuse to come back to Ghost of Tsushima after some time away or a wonderfully expanded side-adventure that’ll pump up your skill set, build out your armor and weapons stash, and scratch that explorer’s itch just as much as the base game itself. What I most appreciate about the expansion as a returning player, however, is how masterfully it blends elements of the original game, the more supernatural DLC Legends, and new island adventures that keep things fresh. My review follows below, with the appropriate spoiler warning here.
In the base game, you play as Jin Sakai, a noble samurai who is caught between the ironclad honor of his family and fellow samurai, and the ruthless invasion of Mongol forces. Your inner conflict, throughout the game, bristles between honoring your fallen father and other noble samurai allies, and learning the relatively less honorable ways of spies, rogues, and assassins. Eventually, Jin will become the Ghost of Tsushima in earnest, the word of your own brutal nature spreading through the Mongol horde but also reaching all the way back to Japan’s Emperor himself. That conflict ultimately boils over in a final fight and fateful decision that’s up to you, dear gamer. However, whatever you choose, Jin’s story is not over.
While we’re still waiting for news of an actual Ghost of Tsushima sequel, the Iki Island expansion is a great way to build out Jin’s story as it exists so far. A rogue encounter with a Mongol shaman and their pumped-up warriors will lead Jin to an extensive expansion mission to said island, taking players anywhere from 10 to 15 hours to finish up. While there, all the familiar combat, exploration, and stealth mechanics from the base game are retained, though you’ll obviously get some new skills and gear along the way. You’ll also have similar waypoints and objectives to explore and collect, like banners and haikus, but you’ll also have some new points of interaction to help make the island locale stand out. And while you’ll run into familiar types of roguish, pirate, and warrior NPCs in a similar fashion to the base game, you’ll soon find that the greatest enemy here might just be yourself. To dig into that a little bit more, we’ll have to talk story spoilers here.
In Jin’s original journey, we learn that his father was killed by a raider on Iki Island when Jin was young, though not so young that he couldn’t possibly have helped defend his fallen patriarch. That memory literally haunts Jin and the player in the expansion, thanks in a big way to the island’s new Mongol leader, the Eagle. The female leader of this band of Mongols does not yet know about the legend of the Ghost, but the people of Iki Island know about the Sakai clan all too well. Jin’s father once led a band of samurai to the island, known to the locals as the Sakai Invasion, so he’s not too keen on revealing his family ties in a hostile nation where both sides of the conflict want to kill him. But while the raiders and their tenuous alliance with this wayward samurai might just break upon finding out his true identity, Jin’s own mind might break first thanks to the Eagle’s hallucinogenic poison.
I was genuinely surprised to see that Ghost of Tsushima‘s expansion did something that I had hoped Marvel’s Avengers‘ Black Panther expansion would have done: The Iki Island adventure borrows a bit from the surreal, supernatural vision journey of the Legends DLC by dosing Jin with a poison that makes him hallucinate and relive his darkest memories. This is a brilliant way to freshen up the gameplay while keeping the same base game mechanics intact. Jin’s own internal struggle here mirrors that of the main game’s external conflict between his more and less honorable companions. The decision also answers the call for a dose of the supernatural in the main gameplay itself; Ghost of Tsushima is far from turning into Sekiro, but now that Legends has dipped a yokai toe into the cursed waters, the main game can loosen up the reins on reality a bit.
So while the story remains strong and connected to the core conceit, how does the expansion’s gameplay ramp things up? Well, for starters, the island enemies are pretty tough thanks to their shaman links (familiar to Legends players) and foes who change up their stances mid-battle (the new target-lock camera option may or may not help gamers here). I was also happy to see that Sucker Punch has not only been very kind to your horse, they’ve also let you pet various animals across the island countryside. Your horse, whatever you named it, will get a fun new ability early on (I won’t spoil it here but it’s a fun one, for sure) as well as some more cosmetic options. And R2 to Pet? Yes, please! My favorite new addition are the animal sanctuaries scattered throughout, featuring pettable animals and the best flute-based mini-game since The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.
Petting animals, reciting haikus, and gathering gear is all well and good, but the foundation of the expansion is rock-solid thanks to a focus on aspects of Jin’s story. The main game leaves some lingering questions unanswered and some traumas not dealth with. The aforementioned death of Jin’s father early in his formative years certainly plays a part, but so do Jin’s allies from the main game, especially those who formed a bond with him and then severed it through betrayal; you’ll know it when you see it. The real challenge is an internal one for Jin himself. Players will learn a lot more about jin as a person, a hero, a son, a leader, a Ghost. Sure, there’s still that illusion of choice here—the story will play out pretty much straight no matter what you do—but the expansion allows Jin’s internal monologue more room to breathe while packing a dense, dynamic, and totally worthwhile adventure into an exploration of Iki Island.
The Ghost of Tsushima: Director’s Cut is drop-dead gorgeous across the board, not just in the new island setting. The Iki Island expansion itself, however, is a perfectly condensed and flawlessly executed version of everything that made the base game so great. To new Ghost of Tsushima players, welcome; to returning samurai, Ghosts, and everyone in between, welcome back.
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