In my original review of Ghost of Tsushima, I claimed that it was “quite possibly the best samurai game ever made”.
I’ve had time to ruminate on that since. And, after playing though its new Iki Island expansion on PS5 along with a chunk of the game’s campaign, I feel I need to correct it to “it is the best samurai game ever made”. There’s just nothing else quite like Ghost of Tsushima, and I’ve found my second journey into its world surprisingly more engaging than the first.
That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy Ghost of Tsushima the last time I threw myself into its Mongol-invaded world. I just found lots of little faults with it and, launching just after the masterpiece that is The Last of Us 2, as a PlayStation exclusive it had a lot to live up to. But now that it’s available on PS5 in the form of a Director’s Cut, it’s got another chance to impress. And impress it does. Any PS5 owner that hasn’t played Ghost of Tsushima yet is in for a treat, while even those who have extensively toured the island might want to return, at least to delve more into Jin’s backstory.
Okay, so let’s deal with the elephant in the room first: Ghost of Tsushima Director’s Cut on PS5 doesn’t look night and day better than the original game running on the hardware. It does look that littler bit cleaner, however; it’s like going to the opticians and coming away with new glasses. With that extra bit of clarity you’ll admire more of the game’s sights, with objects like grass and trees in the distance being that bit sharper and more convincing. It might be the placebo effect, but I’d say the lighting and shadows are a little better too.
What you’re really paying for, if you decide to upgrade from the PS4 version, is 3D audio and DualSense features. Thankfully both are great. With a pair of headphones on, preferably Sony’s very own Pulse Headset, you’re immersed in the world of Ghost of Tsuhima like never before. The rousing soundtrack gives you chills as the music swells during epic battle scenes, while during the quieter moments it’s easy to get lost taking in the ambience. It helps in combat, too, with you easily identifying enemies around you. And for those who’d like more of an authentic samurai movie experience, exclusive to the PS5 version of Ghost of Tsushima: Director’s Cut is correct lip syncing for the game’s Japanese audio track. You can thank the PS5’s ability to power Ghost of Tsushima‘s dramatic story scenes in real-time for that.
When it comes to DualSense features there’s the whole gamut. Certain sounds play through the controller’s speaker, perhaps making you confuse the game world with the real world for just one moment. Haptic feedback also gives you more of a connection with the digital world presented to you, providing sensations such as the pitter-patter of Jin’s feet as he runs, and the clash of steel. The triggers are made use of too, of course. You’ll feel resistance as you use your bow and arrow, and will feel force as you make use of your grappling hook to pull down bamboo blockades.
If all those features sound good to you, go ahead and buy the PS5 upgrade. If not, chances are you’ll at least want to invest in the Iki Island expansion. You can access Iki Island early on into the game’s second act, but canonically the story its tells takes place after you’ve completed Ghost of Tsushima‘s main campaign. When Jin hears about the peasants of a village being driven mad by mysterious chanting Mongols, he can’t help but investigate. Soon enough he learns of a Mongol shaman known as “the Eagle”, and seeing what she’s capable of, he travels to Iki Island to deal with her before she makes her way to the mainland.
Iki Island holds many memories for Jin, being the place his father was killed many years ago. An early run-in with the Eagle sets him on a path to face his memories, work with those who he once considered his enemies, and once again free Iki Island. It’s a more personal and emotionally-charged story, though that doesn’t stop it from having some truly epic battle scenes. One of which, set upon a luscious green plain, is particularly memorable. It provides some nice new abilities and features, too. Your horse, for example, can now be instructed to charge at Mongols, knocking them over like bowling pins. And saddle bags can be obtained, allowing you to store ammunition on your horse for easy resupply.
Charge through Ghost of Tsushima‘s Iki Island story and you’ll likely be done with it in around four hours, but there’s so much more to see and do. With the picturesque sights on offer, you’ll want to as well. Alongside the usual activities such as composing haikus and slicing bamboo, you’ll find spots that trigger memories, allowing you to relive moments of Jin’s past. You’ll find out what makes him tick, and explore the awkward relationship with his father. There are new Tales to undertake as well, providing interesting side stories with worthwhile rewards. Though as ever, the best rewards are obtained by completing Mythic Tales. Overall, there’s a good ten hours worth of content to sink your teeth into.
In terms of gameplay, is Iki Island more of the same? Maybe, though it does throw a troublesome new enemy type in to the mix. Often lurking on the periphery of battle, chanting Mongol shamans power their fellow warriors up. Needless to say, if you don’t prioritise taking them down quickly, you’ll find your opponents being much more hardy. Other than that, though, it is pretty much business as usual. It feels like the the development of Jin Sakai is the true focus here, and it’s achieved; if we ever get a Ghost of Tsushima sequel, he’s ready and primed to be a hero for the people.
Before wrapping things up, it’s important to consider some of the other elements added to Ghost of Tsushima since launch. The ability to lock onto opponents has finally been added, for example, though it turns out the dynamic combat of Ghost of Tsushima doesn’t actually play well with such a system after all. A new equipment loadout system has been implemented as well, allowing players to group together things such as charms and armour, making it easier to swap between multiple playstyles. And of course, there’s Ghost of Tsushima: Legends, a multiplayer-focused mode that could have quite easily been its own game. A new rivals mode is on the way for it soon, allowing two teams two to compete against other. It’s definitely worth checking out if you fancy taking the game’s brilliant combat into a multiplayer setting.
Ghost of Tsushima was a great game when it launched just over a year ago. And now, in the form of a Director’s Cut, it’s even better. It seems trite to make a big deal over the visuals not being massively upgraded for next-gen when the game looks so phenomenal anyway, and what has been added – 3D audio and DualSense support – is enough to make the upgrade fee worthwhile for those who already own the original game and want to take on the new Iki Island expansion. That itself is largely more of the same, but its thoroughly engaging story that lets us learn more about Jin Sakai isn’t to be missed by those who were entertained by the game’s main campaign. And so, what else is there to say, other than for newcomers, Ghost of Tsushima: Director’s Cut on PS5 is absolutely essential.
Ghost of Tsushima: Director’s Cut Review: GameSpew’s Score