Ghost of Tsushima Iki Island Expansion Review
By the end of my time with Ghost of Tsushima I felt I’d put all of Jin Sakai’s demons to the sword. The Iki Island Expansion and additional PlayStation 5 upgrade — both included in the game’s ‘Directors Cut’ — made returning to one of my favourite games of last year incredibly welcome, even if a lot of what’s here is just more of the same.
Upon landing on Iki, Jin is captured by The Eagle. The Eagle is the leader of a cult-like tribe of the Mongol invaders and her presence can be felt in every part of this new expansion. The most frequent way is via her Shamans. The Eagle uses this kind of religious sorcery to provide her followers with a little extra fight in the midst of battle. This undoubtedly changed the way I approached each new fight but, towards the end of the five-or-so hour campaign, fights often boiled down to heading straight for the taking shaman and then dealing with the rest. Crossing swords with the enemy in Ghost of Tsushima, even at the end, often had an air of unpredictability about it. This additional mechanic takes just a little of that away.
Outside of the Shamans, Jin is also troubled by visions brought on by The Eagle. These visions manifest throughout the entire playthrough and can appear when you least expect them. Don’t worry, they’re not random battles or anything that devious. However, they will send the world into a haze of neon colours and bright lights momentarily, occasionally accompanied by the sins of battles past. At first, I considered these an inconvenient and distracting plot device. However, as contrived as they are, I surprisingly grew to like them. Especially once I saw how they moved the story along and realised the game wasn’t going to use them to take cheap hits at me.
Outside of this the formula for the Iki Island Expansion is otherwise very similar to the core game. And I’ll admit, I’m very much in the “if it isn’t broke don’t fix it” club when it comes to add ons like this. One small gameplay addition I really liked was the introduction of saddle bags on Jin’s horse, allowing him to store more ammo and retrieve it at will. Speaking of horses, Jin can also now charge enemies when on horseback. Not huge additions by any means, but ones that make sense if you’re building upon an established game. Those who have played the base game won’t be surprised to find that there are plenty of extra charms to unlock to boost stats, additional armour sets to unlock (including some excellent PlayStation themed ones), and there are also additional challenges and points of interest to mix things up. These range from moments to reflect and delve even further into Jin’s past, to simple archery challenges. There is also some motion-controlled flute playing to establish sanctuaries for deer and cats, so not every new addition is to be celebrated.
New open world distractions aside, it can’t be ignored that I was clearing out Mongol camps with the same tactics I’d used for forty-odd hours back on Tsushima. It’s still fun to experiment with ways to stealthily take out your enemies or stand your ground and fight like a Samurai if you prefer, but largely they were nothing I hadn’t played before. That said, it did seem like some of the larger encampments had added a few extra defences and ways to spot Jin to make them a bit more of a challenge to take on.
Where the Iki Island Expansion is strongest is in its storytelling. Both through its main campaign and ‘Tales of Iki’ side quests: As soon as Jin sets foot on Iki, it’s made very clear that he isn’t welcome here. Clan Sakai, Jin’s family, has a troubled past when it comes to the island to say the least. That history forms the backbone of the core campaign, alongside the seemingly omnipotent threat of The Eagle. This juxtaposition of a melodramatic but grounded story of Samurai vs Raiders and an occult presence that could affect Jin at any moment is something I was initially wary of. Ghost of Tsushima had dealt with myths and legends before — Jin as the titular ‘Ghost’ is one himself — but this was usually left for storytellers and side quests where not all is as it seems. However, almost as soon as I began asking myself these questions, the game answered me in a way that satisfied my curiosity and established its narrative once again.
The story told on Iki was not one I expected, nor did I think it was a thread that required pulling at. However, come the end of the quest line I was pleasantly surprised. In my original review of Ghost of Tsushima I described the story as “somewhat predictable,” but also praised its execution. The exact same can be said here. The key story beats appeared obvious, but it’s the character interaction and the other elements that flesh out each point on the journey are what make this story, and that of the original game, what they are. The main story here is actually very compact, taking around five hours to complete. It also feels much smaller in scope, with Jin’s battle against The Eagle lacking the weight of his clash with Khotun Khan. Perhaps if some sections were left to breathe a little before players could move on, especially considering the brevity of the story, this final fight would have felt more impactful.
However, when you consider the amount of side content here, it’s also entirely possible for the player to leave that room themselves. I found that much of the heart in the Iki Island Expansion could be found in the ‘Tales of Iki’. Whether that was helping someone save a missing family member, or discovering the truth behind a funny if not misguided tribute, these stories and personal moments are important for fleshing out the world, allowing for the discovery of new areas of the map, and they actually show off more of Jin as a well-rounded character outside of the constraints of his primary focus.
Once again, getting lost in this world provides some of its best experiences. Iki Island is far more haunting than Tsushima. Entire villages have been destroyed, left to decay before being taken over by lush foliage, wild monkeys and cats roam through the world and the overall population is pretty sparse — not unlike the real life Iki of today. The player, like the protagonist, is entering the unknown with each new area discovered and whilst the flowing fields and pops of colour from trees and flowers remain, the disheveled and lawless nature of this Raider-controlled fictional version of the island is as brutal as it can be beautiful — and it really is beautiful.
Looking out onto the horizon or riding through a forest as the sun breaks through the trees feels sort of magical. This is, in part, thanks to the upgraded lighting and visuals that come with the PlayStation 5 upgrade. Despite being unreasonably convoluted outside of buying the Ghost of Tsushima: Director’s Cut, adding the PlayStation 5 upgrade alongside the new expansion is essential for owners of Sony’s new console as far as I’m concerned. Yes, the PlayStation 4 game looked gorgeous anyway and runs at 60fps on PS5. Plus, this being an upgraded version of a last gen game, it doesn’t remove any of the rough edges that remained. However, the visual fidelity really is stunning and the introduction of DualSense support takes this over the top. The additions are subtle, amounting to things like the feeling of horse hooves or the tension in the string of your bow (that classic example!) and like a lot of implementation for Sony’s new controller it can be hard to explain or argue for in writing. However, I really do think it takes the Ghost of Tsushima experience up an extra notch.
Almost everything I’ve already written about Ghost of Tsushima applies here again. The Iki Island Expansion dives into Jin’s past in a way I wasn’t expecting and handles yet more conflict — both internal and external — incredibly well, if not a little predictably. I loved the storytelling, the characters, the environments, the combat, the music, as much as I did the first time around. The only thing really letting this down is any true variety in what you’re doing as a player. Whilst there are some significant gameplay changes, the blueprint remains almost entirely unchanged.
That said, if like me you finished Ghost of Tsushima wishing you had more of it to play or want to learn more about Jin, Clan Sakai and its murky past then playing this expansion shouldn’t even be in question.
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