Ghost of Tsushima Iki Island on PS5
After a whirlwind launch last year that has seen it fondly remembered as one of the PS4’s best ever games, Ghost of Tsushima has become a gift that continues to give. First, the unexpected launch of a multiplayer mode called Legends, and now a meaty single-player expansion called Iki Island that releases as part of a fully-fledged Director’s Cut edition for both PS4 and PS5.
As one of the many who utterly adored the original game for its beautiful artistry and tactile gameplay, I couldn’t wait to see what the team at Sucker Punch had created with this second bite at the apple. What I found was the addition of a brief but engaging new story that weaves a few welcome new layers to the overall experience, though ultimately is a package that doesn’t stray far from the blueprint of the base game.
Iki Island sees Jin Sakai once again on the hunt for Mongols, this time over the sea to an island hostile to samurai for reasons beyond its invasion by a foreign army. It is an island inhabited by raiders, raiders who Jin’s father attempted to pacify many years before with his own ill-fated invasion, one that earned him the nickname ‘Butcher of Iki Island’ and ended in his untimely death at the hands of the criminals he sought to bring under control. All under the traumatized gaze of his son, who watched helplessly as his father was slain.
The backstory becomes an important layer to the contemporary timeline after Jin is captured and poisoned by a mysterious and spooky Mongol leader, The Eagle. Her hallucinogenic broth haunts Jin throughout the entirety of the story as she attempts to lure him into defecting to the Mongol forces, toying with the morality of his decision to aid the raiders in their plight to rid Iki Island of Mongols despite their troubled history with the Sakai clan. Jin is forced to face the demons of his past, choosing whether to forgive or avenge the raiders for his father’s death.
I found it to be a compelling narrative premise, even though I doubt many will be all that surprised by its outcome, save for one clever twist towards its conclusion. What it does do, though, is provide welcome new context and detail to Jin’s past that is genuinely worth experiencing in tandem with the plot of the base game. So often single-player expansions offer us a new adventure, but one that ultimately doesn’t provide any new perspective on the events in the original game. Iki Island does certainly give you more reason to care about Jin, something I think many players will enjoy given the rather muted nature of his personality.
Another quality of any good expansion is the extent to which it seeks to provide players with new ways to experience its gameplay and either iterate or improve on features of the base game. Here, Iki Island is a bit of a mixed bag, but my impressions were mostly positive.
Just as on Tsushima, Iki Island puts the onus on exploration once you’re unleashed onto the island itself. Right from the off you’re able to discover the sandbox according to your own pace, and everything looks and feels very familiar. There is, of course, the main questline to follow, and there are side questlines you’ll stumble across by interacting with the locals, and then a bunch of ‘undiscovered locations’ represented by question marks.
It’s the latter of those I was particularly interested in given that one of my main complaints of the original game was that they slightly lacked diversity once you had reached midway through. Charming as they are, there are only so many foxes I can follow to shrines, and only so many lines of Haiku I’m prepared to write before the practice starts to feel a little stale.
Iki Island adds one or two new activities to the mix. There are now archery challenges to beat, ‘memories of the past’ to uncover, and a cute new mini-game to play at various animal sanctuaries that involves luring animals toward Jin as he plays the flute, tilting the DualSense up and down to keep the song in tune. It’s hardly ground-breaking stuff, but it’s a fun distraction and invoked that same that sense of magic I felt when playing Ghost of Tsushima for the first time last year.
Indeed, there’s definitely a sereness and tranquility to playing Ghost of Tsushima beyond just the incredible beauty of its colorful open world, but the graphical flair still once again takes center stage. The game’s beauty is on full display here, almost reaching new heights with breathtaking vistas and wonderfully colorful flora that exudes an almost fantasy quality. I frequently found it impossible not to stop and take photos.
Going back to the subject of the DualSense features, those on PS5 can look forward to a real treat when it comes to the extra immersion created by the controller’s functionality. The haptic feedback, adaptive triggers, and audio emitted from its speaker really impressed me to an extent I hadn’t anticipated it would. It’s another excellent demonstration of what the hardware can do when developers put in the effort to get the most out of it.
Other new additions to gameplay include one or two added new layers to combat, which notably increase the difficulty over the base game. Indeed, I found that Iki Island was a far greater challenge than anything I had encountered in Ghost of Tsushima, partly owing to the fact that Mongols here are much more heavily armored, but mostly because many of them switch between different weapons. Frequently you will encounter enemies that attack you with a spear, only to switch to dual-wielded swords or sword and shield. They’re also often rallied by new shaman enemy-types, whose chanting enhances their abilities until they’re taken out. The effect of these new features certainly keeps you on your toes.
Another aspect to combat that feels different is that there isn’t such a heavy emphasis on parrying as there was before, and this is particularly notable during boss fights. Like the run-of-the-mill enemy types, bosses on Iki Island switch weapon types, which means often parrying isn’t the best way of dealing with them. I had always felt the base game relied too heavily on that mechanic, making the dynamic of each fight more or less the same — you had to parry. Here, dodging seems to have been buffed so that it’s viable to evade attacks and counter without leaning on parrying all the time.
Unfortunately, though, the few boss fights there are do feel similar, just as they did in Ghost of Tsushima. It would have been nice if each were more unique from the other beyond one or two different movesets.
The same can be said of the activities within each main and side quest. They are, for the most part, almost all identical to the base game, and exclusively centered around killing Mongols, either by sneaking into position or facing them head-on. I do wish there was some questing that involved Jin doing something else just to change up the pace. Perhaps that is beyond the scope of most people’s expectations for a DLC expansion such as this, but I have my fingers crossed it’s a priority for the game’s inevitable full-scale sequel because after playing 10 hours of Iki Island it occurs to me that for as much as I adore Ghost of Tsushima, I’m not sure I could do another 40 hours of the exact same thing.
Still, despite those shortcomings, there’s no question that Ghost of Tsushima Iki Island is an entertaining overall experience and I’m confident most players will find it worth the asking price; in particular, because the story strengthens Jin’s character arc by shining a light on an aspect of his youth not particularly well explained in the base game. For that reason, it works as an adventure played alongside the base game, and equally as an engaging new chapter for those playing it after the fact.
- Another beautiful open world to explore
- A brief but compelling story that adds new perspective on Jin’s life
- New layers to combat that offer a tougher challenge
- DualSense functionality on PS5 is excellent
- Slightly lacking in new features from the base game
- Only a small number of new armor sets and special moves
- Some forced stealth sections
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