Ghost of Tsushima: Director’s Cut adds some much needed color to the samurai adventure. Which isn’t to say the base game lacked color on the PS4. Ghost of Tsushima has always been downright drowned in the reds, yellows, and oranges of autumn leaves dancing across the camera. But its accompanying “Iki Island” expansion introduces environments that look plucked from a fantasy painting. Oily purples, sun-soaked greens, and bioluminescent blues at the bottom of black caves make a very picturesque home away from home.
The side plot that takes you there is more prosaic. Protagonist Jin Sakai hears tell of a new warlord poisoning people with hallucinogens on Iki. He sets out to stop her — this woman called The Eagle — and embeds with a local population his late father once tried to “pacify.”
In this way, Ghost of Tsushima: Director’s Cut adds more of exactly what I want. It offers a less romantic perceptive of the aristocratic overlords than the majority of the base game. All while exploring Jin’s past. Iki Island is where his father died, you see, as witnessed in flashback during the main plot. And the people you meet don’t have the same rosy memories of the man who led an invasion to take their land. The expansion (and really all of Ghost of Tsushima, even before the Director’s Cut) is at its best when studying these common characters.
The weak link, as ever, is Jin himself. The game can’t help but frame his decisions as righteous at every turn, even as his choices and beliefs shift on a dime. We watch him slowly grow to trust and understand the people of Iki, for instance, only for him to pull a knife on a close ally the second he discovers something he doesn’t like. What’s worse is the game never commits to considering this a mistake, emotionally for losing a friend or tactically for threatening an ally. Jin ultimately makes the right decisions — just as he does in the main game — but all of that growth seems isolated. He teaches himself every philosophical lesson he comes upon. As such Jin never feels urgently connected to the people he constantly claims to protect.
Thankfully, the gameplay is mostly there to pick up the slack again. The island is full of new bases to conquer and legends to unravel. Not to mention there are some all-new side activities like a fantastic dueling arena.
The hostile camps don’t stand out much from the base bases. Though they are typically tougher. The first “normal” camp of foes I fought was protected by half a dozen turret units I only saw before in the central campaign. Plus there are new “shaman” enemies that test the limits of historical fiction by buffing other attackers with chanting. The shamans are no slouches in a fight, either, which adds an interesting order of operations to combat. I only wish they stood out from the crowd more; it’s often tough to find the singers in a sea of similar-looking dudes.
That’s an even bigger issue in some of the “Tales of Iki” story battles. Jin gets lots of backup against his new rivals during the scripted missions. Backup that’s tough to tell apart from his dozens of enemies in the thick of a fight. I often had to flick on his ninja vision mid-battle just to outline who was friend and who was foe before starting to sling steel. That’s not fun. Not in a game where the challenge is quickly recognizing which enemy is using what weapon and fluidly switching stances to match. When Jin is alone, though, combat continues to hum.
Which brings us to the latter legends. They’re still great! Each is a memorable peak of style among what are otherwise pretty similar encounters. One duel involving monkeys and a blind man feels like the end of a movie — as the best duels in Ghost of Tsushima usually do. It’s part of why the new dueling mini-game is so welcome. Learning your foes one-on-one is well worth a place to practice as much as you want. It’s fun on its own.
These are the same kinds of high points, though. Having already finished Ghost of Tsushima, nothing about the Director’s Cut outright surprises me. Nothing feels like the developers did something truly new with the pieces they already had in place. Nothing left me hungry for more of a particular, fresh idea. It’s more of what already worked. Albeit with a very welcome touch of more complex storytelling and enhanced visuals.
If you never picked up the game, or did so and dropped off early like we all do with so many open world games, this is perfect. The update adds worthy new features — like lip sync for Japanese voice acting and a lock-on camera — that are terrific options for newcomers. Personally, I’ve grown too used to the high-speed zigzag of combat to use the new camera option effectively. Though it can help decipher friendly characters from hostile ones. Plus you can bring new abilities (e.g. a horseback ram attack) into the main game. Meanwhile some of the game’s most impressive technical features, like ludicrously impressive load times, are just a tiny bit crisper on PS5.
Ghost of Tsushima: Director’s Cut does everything the game did at launch, only better. That will be more than enough for most folks. Though it leaves me (who’s already wrung quite a lot of enjoyment out of the release) just a little wistful for some glimpse into what an eventual sequel can really do.