Launched in July 2020, Ghost of Tsushima is a captivating tale of tragedy and vengeance. Jin Sakai, the last of his clan and one of the few samurai to survive the Mongol invasion, adopts the mantle of the Ghost – exchanging his samurai code of honour for the brutal ways of the shinobi – to slaughter those who’ve taken his home and murdered his people.
Integrated into the Ghost of Tsushima Director’s Cut, the Iki Island expansion broadens that narrative. The Mongol threat has landed on the close-by Iki Island, a place already of great pain for Jin, and now one of torture and death for its inhabitants. Forcing Jin to take on the trauma of his past, at the same time combatting a new brutal enemy, Ghost of Tsushima’s Iki Island doesn’t do too much to change the core formula. Although, it doesn’t really need to. With some gameplay tweaks, new missions, a great story, and another breathtaking land to explore, Iki Island widens the same experience that made the main game so remarkable – making the entire Director’s Cut that much more of a must-play for PlayStation owners.
The Iki Island expansion is out now as part of the Ghost of Tsushima Director’s Cut, on PS4 and PS5. This is available as an upgrade to those who already own the main game (UK or US), or you can purchase the upgraded game in its entirety (UK or US).
Yet to play the main Ghost of Tsushima yourself? Then first check out the KeenGamer review by my colleague, Andrew Highton.
Warning – this review contains minor spoilers for both Ghost of Tsushima and the Iki Island expansion.
Story – Family, Revenge, and Redemption
Available from the start of Ghost of Tsushima’s Act II, Iki Island starts off with Jin encountering a group of villagers who’ve lost their minds to a unique type of poisonous torture, at the hands of a never-seen-before variety of Mongol soldiers. After Jin dispatches them the only way he knows how – violently – he discovers that these grunts were not the pawns of the game’s original antagonist, Khotun Khan, but a new villain simply known as The Eagle.
With this Eagle Tribe gaining a foothold on Tsushima’s neighboring land, Iki Island, Jin is met with a situation he always hoped to avoid. A small land home to raiders and bandits, Iki was where Jin’s father, Kazumasa Sakai, was brutally killed 15 years prior. Nevertheless, the lives of Jin’s people are once again at stake – though some less innocent than others. Following a rough boat journey with the Ghost’s horse at his side, soon at Iki Island, he lands.
With that of the main game, Iki Island’s story fits in quite nicely, its developments not feeling out of place no matter where you are in Ghost of Tsushima’s core campaign, from its second act and beyond. When and where the major narrative kicks off after reaching the island will differ for some, but the stakes are quickly felt – both personally for Jin and in the grand scheme of things. Compared to Khotun Khan, The Eagle is just as intimidating with that same sprinkle of minor charisma; and yet, she still manages to stand out as a villain by being able to get under the protagonist’s skin that much deeper than what our hero’s already contended with.
That goes for other story elements concerning the native raiders and bandits of the island, many longtime enemies of Jin and the samurai, now allies facing a common enemy. Iki Island excels at illustrating the grey area in many a conflict: the fact an enemy, past or present, is far more than just the reasons we might hate them.
Such depth can be said for the entirety of this expansion, notably a proper dive into Jin’s relationship with his late father, an element that felt missed in the main game. Honing in on his feelings towards Kazumasa and their roles in the Samurai invasion of Iki a decade and a half before, it’s easy to empathise with Jin’s dual feelings of guilt – one being a hinted secret disdain for his father’s acts, and another for not trying to prevent his death weighing on The Ghost’s shoulders.
Taking this a step further is one of the new optional collectibles, “Memories of Your Father”, various spots on the island which each takes you through particular childhood memory. The fact these are optional becomes a minor drawback, with these memories feeling essential to Jin’s arc as a whole, making it feel incomplete for those who aren’t completionists, sticking only to the main campaign. Be that as it may, whether you played Ghost of Tsushima a year prior to its release or are doing so for the first time, Iki Island’s writing grips you into investing even more of yourself into Jin than before.
Still, one of the unique selling points to the campaign can become a hindrance over time. An aspect of the main adventure is a series of hallucinations – ones Jin experiences as extensions of his guilt and innermost thoughts. Appearing both at routine and random moments throughout gameplay, what becomes an interesting insight into Jin’s psyche soon feels disruptive, as a purple haze and booming disembodied voice appear to break the immersion of whatever you’re doing. With that, the need to finish the campaign as soon as possible, just to enjoy playing through the rest of Iki Island uninterrupted, is a minor nuisance that becomes increasingly glaring the more you play.
With its campaign and collectibles is a selection of side missions, “Tales of Iki”, similar to that of Tsushima. All excellent little side pieces of storytelling, including the Mythic Tales, which are just as engaging breaks from the main mission as Iki Island’s original counterpart. For completionists who like to fully explore the map, there are also some “unwritten tales” to discover, giving the journey that nice extra narrative touch on your latest journey as The Ghost. A lack of new mission types is slightly disappointing, but the classic argument of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” rings true for Iki Island.
Gameplay – Shamans and Horseback
Iki Island continues Ghost of Tsushima’s prowess for enthralling sword combat. You still have the same four sword stances; water, wind, moon, and stone; requiring you to switch on the fly to have the edge over certain warrior types – with the Ghost’s weapons like kunai and smoke bombs for an extra advantage. While a con here is that there are no new stances or weapons to enjoy in default combat, there is a new class on the enemy side: Shamans.
Entering a chanting trance to buff up their allies, Shamans rally their fellow Mongols to attack more ferociously, upping the difficulty spike for even regular enemy encounters. Along with the Mongol soldiers now being equipped with multiple weapons they can switch between multiple times, you’re met with extra layers of strategy when considering the best way to vanquish your opponents, making victory all the more thrilling.
There’s only one new combat skill added to the mix here, and it’s for your horse: charging. Simply pressing the L1 button on horseback makes your noble steed charge into your foes, trampling those who stand in your path. For those who were tired of the procedurally generated encounters in Ghost of Tsushima taking time away from whatever mission you had at hand, this is a majorly welcome and incredibly fun timesaver.
It goes hand in hand when paired with the PS5 DualSense’s haptic feedback – making you feel each step of your horse’s galloping, along with the tug of your grappling hook or every sheath of your sword. Even when having to turn around and charge again to pick off the rest of the Mongol litter, stampeding over Iki’s invaders never fails to satisfy.
What feels to be an improvement on the many Fox Shrines throughout Tsushima, the alternative animal sanctuaries this time around are an absolute delight. Implementing more variety in a smaller number, shrines for monkeys, cats, and deers are situated all over Iki. Each meets you with a mini-rhythm challenge balancing your controller, to play a song, and gain the trust of each animal. Thanks to the additional story ties these have to Jin’s mother, this expansion’s collectibles become that much more enjoyable to collect with the tranquility and emotional resonance they bring.
Along with the fresh additions, including time-based archery challenges, there are familiar landmarks with things to do that have carried over from the main game. Haikus, bamboo strikes, hot springs, duels, and lighthouses all make a return, being just as entertaining to complete as they were before. However, with everything to explore and new enemies to stab, it’s ever so slightly discouraging to realise no more skills would be on offer beyond those for exploration and horse charging.
Compared to the many experience gains on offer, it’s very quick and easy to max out Jin’s extended skillset. For the many who are playing the Iki Island expansion post-game, there’s a bit less to work towards and look forward to, making all the extra experience you’re earning start to feel pointless. Nevertheless, that small blow soon dissipates when you gloriously horse charge a bunch of Mongols for the 45th time.
For those wanting to play through the story and little much else, it should take you around 8 hours. If wanting to take your time in clearing the entire map with all collectibles, on the other hand, you’ll be looking at a playtime of roughly 20 hours. The latter is far more likely, with this varied island making you want to come back for more, seeing adventure you’ll be taken on next, even for quick yet intoxicating play sessions.
Graphics and Audio – Among the Best on Offer
Ghost of Tsushima’s visuals were a reminder as to why video games are an art form. With the Iki Island expansion and the rest of the Director’s Cut on PS5, developer, Sucker Punch, further cements that belief. Surprisingly, as if thought impossible, Iki Island’s forests, valleys, and waterbeds are even richer as visual spectacles – before being stained by the crimson red of Mongol blood Jin spills. Packed with even more detail with the Director’s Cut on PS5’s higher resolution, the nature of Iki Island is packed with lush colour palettes, causing you to want to stop and make most of its joyful Photo Mode at every opportunity.
Iilan Eshkiri’s exemplary soundtrack once again never fails to impress from start to finish – capturing the soul of the Akira Kurosawa films which inspired the game itself. With some slight adjustments and remixes catering to Iki Island’s particular story elements, the heartful tones of every track elevate every feeling of pain, anger, suspense, and hope.
Somehow improving perfection Ghost of Tsushima’s graphics and audio are why the sections of these reviews even exist. When going beyond just background noise and the bare minimum for illustrating the story at hand, a game’s music and visual presentation has the potential to each become its own character. Following the main game, Iki Island does just that, with its masterfully crafted graphics and audio feeling as integral as story and gameplay.
The Ghost of Tsushima Iki Island expansion was played on PS5.