The following review of Ghost of Tsushima: Director’s Cut, is in addendum to our original review for Ghost of Tsushima, released on July 17, 2020 for PlayStation 4. For our original review, click here.
Ghost of Tsushima presented the PlayStation devout with one of the most fascinating depictions and loose recount of the historic war between the samurai warriors of its titular isle and the invading Mongols. It was completely out of left field, coming from renowned Bellevue development team Suck Punch Productions, who had been quietly working on its development since the launch of inFamous: First Light in 2014. Sourcing materials of both fact and folklore, the team were steadfast yet paced in creating their first original property since the launch of the aforementioned anti-hero franchise, but weren’t shy in noting a fragment of inspiration in its supernatural elements within Ghost of Tsushima. Regardless, Ghost’s integral fundamentals were a refreshing welcome to the scene, with intuitive swordplay, an bountiful assortment of unique encounters and an emotionally impactful campaign narrative that enamoured players from its beginning to end.
But of course, it was no secret that the title would evidently make its way to its home platform’s successor, the PlayStation 5 with enhancements underway within its original presentation. The Legends expansion would detail minor improvements in performance and graphical fidelity, alongside its multiplayer aspect. But I never expected us to land an extension to Jin’s adventure so suddenly. Before we jump into the Iki Island DLC, I want to quickly note some of the title’s quality-of-life improvements that will carry it throughout the entirety of this generation, catering to both existing players and newcomers. First and foremost, an enriched overlay in both presentation, texture vitality and photogenic aperture have been escalated upon its already lifelike existence. A performance boost aids its presence, delivering a consistent 4K/60FPS.
Additions made to the base title are minimal, but make for a subtle contrast between the original release and the Director’s cut. The Dualsense haptics give the overall sensation and experience an extra kick, but nothing to the extremities of an Astro’s Playroom. On the other hand, other aesthetics such as attire and the ability to camouflage your bow-and-arrow are minute but excellent for a more steady and progressive combat flow. Horseback riding through the island is again just as gratifying, if not more as the tussling bristles of an overgrown flower-field brush up against you while racing from region to region, navigating to your next objective and overcoming another bloody encounter between Jin and a swarm Mongols, it’s an enticing draw to upgrade an esteemed and heralded PlayStation essential, but with some monetary drawbacks.
An Iki Situation…
✔️Subtle additions to Tsushima’s base title are welcome.
✔️Performance boost is phenomenal.
✔️Iki Island expands on pre-existing lore.
❌ It’s Expensive, PlayStation need to reconsider it’s pricing here.
The Director’s Cut adage implies exactly what Sucker Punch were striving for; additional content for its concurrent and coinciding storyline that seats itself somewhat comfortably during the ongoing events of title’s mainline campaign. What this means is, you will need to complete Ghost of Tsushima’s baseline narrative to its second chapter before detouring towards the additional five hour long DLC story driven campaign. This see’s Jin wash ashore Iki Island, in hopes of aiding its residents from the dubious “Eagle” Tribe, lead by the devious Shaman, Ankhsar “The Eagle” Khatun.
The tribe are responsible for manufacturing a poisonous substance making the Isle’s inhabitants crazed and delusional, and turning on their own including the visiting Jin. After its effects spread across to Tsushima, Jin takes it upon himself to investigate the neighbouring island with hopes of finding the source of this problem, only to be confronted by its natives that have no love lost for the Samurai. The tale takes a deep-dive into Jin’s past with personal problems the Iki patrons had with the samurai’s family – most importantly Jin’s father and former Samurai lord, “The Butcher of Iki” Kazumasa Sakai.
We’re privy to flashback scenes that essentially broaden our protagonist’s background and character, understanding why he’s perceived as a threat towards Iki Island, yet does his best to convince the people there that he’s of no threat to the innocent, rather forging unconventional alliances with many of its own warriors to take down “The Eagle”, hoping to reclaim the terrace for its people, and rid Tsushima of it supposed curse. However, it’s a tall task for Jin to overcome, with his controversial ancestry being likened to a dictatorship trying to overthrow the establishment for what the Samurai lord considered to be an unjust way of life.
Iki’s campaign melds a pre-conceived notion from Tsushima, that hostile territories may be the samurai’s forte, but having to converse with natives that would once be considered adversaries makes for a fruitful dynamic on both gameplay and plot. New faces and new places branches our story further as we learn more about Iki’s crisis, years after the death of his father. But as we venture through Iki, the island itself is sandboxed with an excellent array of tactical objectives much like our hero’s homeland, but at a miniscule yet concentrated rate. There’s an abundance of sights to behold while tackling swarms of bewildered natives that attack from left-field. Shaman’s brainwashing armies of poisoned islanders, hoping to eliminate the threat of our protagonist.
There’s a subtle difficulty spike that may be somewhat overwhelming to newcomers that have yet to play the base game in its entirety, but for those that are well acquainted with the title’s mechanics, it will take no time getting back into the swing of things here. Most of Iki’s selling point is its dominating environment, brimming with incredible visuals and lush forestry. Riding horseback through the mountainous valleys, and trekking across cavernous cliffsides places you right back into Tsushima’s clasps like you never left. The beauty and grace of planting your feet upon the sandy shores near the clear blue waters of Iki, viewing the saturated purple clouds of a sunset sky, and the flares reflecting off a dusty hillside across the emerald plains ridden in poppies and sunflowers make this one of 2021’s most gorgeous experiences to date.
I’m not going to beat around the bush here, Ghost of Tsushiuma: Director’s cut is expensive. At $125AUD RRP retail – $45AUD for existing owners looking to upgrade their copies – this is worth mentioning due to the amount of content you’re paying for. I’ve racked my brain, discussing this tribulation with cohorts, and its the same response over and over; the price-tag on this DLC is unjustified for what you are getting. It’s uneasy to take this out of the equation for the insurmountable quality being delivered here, but it’s worth calling out that this needs to be reconsidered if PlayStation dearly want to attract the masses that have yet to play this title in all it’s glory. I can grant accolades, and attach my adoration towards its deliverance, but as a consumer I would second guess paying such a steep amount for this title. This is completely the prerogative and opinion of my own, whereas as fan I would bite the bullet and enjoy it for what it’s worth.
Ghost of Tsushima: Director’s Cut is an unequivocal essential to a PlayStation 5 owner’s catalogue. Whether you have yet to experience such a title of high calibre and quality, or have already trudged through the insanely vast and unknown elements of Tsushima, Iki Island beckons you to dive back in and re-invigorate your love for this amazing campaign all over again. A story that will forever remain engrained within Japanese folklore, yet a cinematic, action-adventure that continues to pay homage to Japanese cinema, along with the addition of new lip-syncing mechanics for separate language choices. Ghost of Tsushima: Director’s Cut stakes itself atop the peaks of the valley, looking down upon an enriched line-up of incredible PlayStation exclusives, this year.
Original Review by Mike Pulman – First Published July 15, 2020.
Sucker Punch has done what a fellow PlayStation studio did back in 2017 – they’ve refused to play it safe and have developed an absolute gem of a new IP with Ghost of Tsushima. In all my years as a gamer, playing as a samurai has never been at the top of my list of to do’s. Thanks to my lack of knowledge of modern or historic Japanese culture, plus a total obliviousness to the Mongol invasions back in the 1200’s, this could easily have been a title to overlook in the already impressive lineup of excellent PlayStation exclusives.
As it turns out – I’m glad I didn’t sleep on Ghost of Tsushima – because it’s an excellent game and a new personal best for Sucker Punch Productions who have taken an almighty risk by leaving Infamous in the shadows. Taking the role of Jin Sakai, a young samurai, you’re immediately propelled into a cross-country mission in search of justice. Sure, that’s nothing new for an action-adventure game, nor is a vast open-world full of areas to explore and regions to liberate from enemy forces.
But a yawn fest this game is not.
From the beginning, it’s clear that Sucker Punch are true to their word in how the original development for their latest title took inspiration from the likes of Red Dead Redemption and Zelda Breath of the Wild, but there is also a decent hint of Assassins Creed about some the game that players should notice quickly. Like in Breath of the Wild, the world in Ghost of Tsushima encourages the “if you can see it, chances are you can get to it” mantra to its exploration. The biggest difference to Zelda and other well-done open worlds is how the environment itself can be your guiding compass to the next destination.
If you’ve selected a location on the map, a simple swipe up on the Dualshock’s touchpad will trigger a ‘guiding wind’ where the breeze points you into the direction you need to be going. It doesn’t ever get old and I personally found myself using the feature more and more, preferring this cool (albeit slightly tokenistic) mechanic to find my way around rather than just going from the traditional ‘point A to B’ with an ugly guiding line in the middle of your screen. Sucker Punch hasn’t tried to rewrite the rulebook of an open-world adventure title, they’ve just added their own spin to it, and it works.
Speaking of the world itself, Ghost of Tsushima is one of the most visually stunning gaming experiences ever made. Period.
During the over six-year development, Sucker Punch devs took regular trips to real-world Japan and the Island of Tsushima (located between mainland Japan and the Korean Peninsula) to get a true sense of the world they wanted to capture in the game. Work included taking hundreds of photo scanned leaves, tree models, grass, and bush in their bid to develop as realistic a world as possible based on the real thing. From an audio perspective, Sucker Punch also took the time to record various nature sounds, such as birds and the sound of wind rustling through trees in forests.
It all works in the final product, but it’s the visuals that truly stand out, the cool atmospheric sounds are just a bonus. Whether it be tall mountains in the distance, smoke pouring out of a building on another horizon, a shrine on a hilltop, or the several wonderfully detailed Japanese temples, Ghost of Tsushima feels like a world that is alive and well. Of course, the game is based (albeit loosely) on the first Mongol Invasion of Japan in 1274. To build an experience around a real-life historic event and not put in the detail to do it justice would’ve been easily noticeable to gamers, and what Sucker Punch achieve in this area could be a lesson other developers could learn.
It’s all very well and good to have solid gameplay, but if the environments fail to deliver, the title as a whole suffers. Ghost of Tsushima refuses to let any detail in its world slip past the quality test. Thankfully, the moment-to-moment gameplay in Ghost of Tsushima is on par with its amazing visuals. This is no more true than when in combat. Fights feel great and require a decent amount of concentration and timing on the pad to get right. Early on, Ghost of Tsushima gives a combat tutorial that will serve gamers well moving forward, covering the basic striking and defence mechanics as well as some tricks that help give a slight advantage.
As the game goes on and you enter more battles, you’ll only ever have a slight advantage depending on the approach taken to combat and the various upgrades and skill points earned. Making use of the skill tree, constantly upgrading abilities and utilising armour is crucial in Ghost of Tsushima as you’ll take on several different types of enemies. There are also different battle stance options to be learned and mastered. These stances are critical to giving yourself the best chance against the different enemies, most of which require different stances in order to beat.
Ghost of Tsushima is an utterly beautiful game that features an open world you should explore and take a lot of time with. To not do so defeats the purpose.
As an example – the stone stance is ideal for taking on other swordsmen whereas the water stance is best for Mongols with shields. Light and heavy attacks with the Katana (your main weapon) are used best in variation, plus there is simply nothing more satisfying than an accurate headshot using your upgradable bow. Combat just feels great, every battle feels exciting, and the audio/visual cues Sucker Punch have implemented into the fight system should keep even the most unreliable of players feeling like they’re always capable of getting the win.
Yes, Ghost of Tsushima is a samurai game and its combat reflects this in large part, but you’d be hard stretched to find more fun in moment to moment fights in any other game.
Slow like an Assassin…
But despite its brilliant visuals, addicting gameplay in battles, Ghost of Tsushima does have issues in its storytelling. Jin Sakai is pretty one-dimensional in his motives, and as such, the main story feels like a chore at times despite some fun missions that push the plot forward. But unlike The Last of Us Part II or Red Dead Redemption 2, characters in Ghost of Tsushima just don’t have the conviction that made me care about their fortunes. I just wanted to get to the next mission to enjoy the fantastic combat and see how many Mongol enemies I could stealth until getting caught. What happened to Jin, or his various well-acted sidekicks, didn’t really phase me a whole lot.
As for the antagonists, without giving too much away, they didn’t really do a whole lot for me either and their motivations seemed fairly run of the mill. All that being said, at the time of writing this review I am approaching on 20-hours of game time and I do sense there is still a lot more to come from the story itself. So far it hasn’t grabbed me, but the brilliance of other areas mentioned in this monologue will keep me coming back for multiple playthroughs I’m sure. Also, I am fairly new to the samurai genre, so much of the underpinning “swordy stuff” behind the plot could well be over my head.
Ghost of Tsushima is an utterly beautiful game that features an open world you should explore and take a lot of time with. To not do so defeats the purpose.
On top of its seemingly endless discovery, the battle system provides one of the best and most intense gaming experiences I’ve had that equal everything that was great about the combat systems in games like The Last of Us Part II, Red Dead Redemption 2, and even some of the better Assassins Creed games. The combat does what it does exceptionally well, and it’s that wider game within the game during these moments that provide the biggest highlight throughout all the well-designed missions.
What Ghost of Tsushima lacks is a great story. Everything else is on par with some of the best title on PS4, and it’s a fitting farewell to a simply outstanding lineup of AAA+ single-player experiences that make this generation a winner for PlayStation. Ghost of Tsushima might be the last big gun on the PS4, but it’s also one of the best, albeit for a slightly disengaging main plot.