Review: Ghost of Tsushima Director’s Cut

With the release of the PlayStation 5 last year, it set up not only Sony, but a number of developers to bring some of the best games of the last generation onto the new platform with enhanced visuals. While it supports backwards compatibility, there are plenty of gamers who are willing to rebuy or upgrade to have some of the monumental features the PS5 has to offer, such as haptic feedback, the shortest load times possible, adaptive triggers and higher potential for visual fidelity. Sony and Sucker Punch Productions have listened and brought one of the most-prestigious games of last 2020 onto the latest platform, featuring everything that made the original so special and more. This includes a brand new expansion that takes our ever evolving hero to a brand new island. With so much going for it, Ghost of Tsushima Director’s Cut has all the makings of being a must have re-release.

You play as Jin Sakai, a young Samurai in a noble family whose past still haunts him, but more than anything just wants to make his uncle proud. Ghost of Tsushima kicks things off immediately as the Mongols are invading the coast of the island, with their goal back in the thirteenth century being to conquer all of Asia. Unfortunately for the residents of Tsushima, the Mongols are a vicious force that goes against everything the warriors of Japan stand for, namely to win by any means necessary, even if it means using cheap tricks. The story delves deep into how far someone is willing to go for the people they care about, even if it means breaking their morals. While there’s various means of disposing your enemies, it continuously discourages you, especially early on, to use stealth as it’s not an honorable thing to do. In the samurai code, if you mean to take someone’s life, you must do so in the most direct way possible, looking them in the eye and not stabbing them in the back. As we witness the atrocities the Mongol invaders inflict on Tsushima, Jin’s perspective of how to save his people begins to shift. Jin develops far more than we thought he would; as a character he’s stoic, but it’s clear he’s an emotional individual. The story itself is well told with strong themes and charismatic characters, although the writing is unremarkable. Each scenario may be exhilarating, but the dialogue itself is boilerplate and does little to expand this foreign tale into something more. Regardless, there was never a moment through the story we did not enjoy, from the brutal travesties to the tear-jerking fallouts of Jin’s actions.

Surprisingly, there’s few actual story missions in Ghost of Tsushima. There are three acts, but each only has a handful missions to get through before moving forward. Fortunately, Sucker Punch has put an emphasis on quality over quantity as each is roughly half an hour to an hour in length (minus a couple one offs near the end) and they come with some of the most intense scenarios that will have you enthralled all the way through. But like any open world game, the vast majority of the experience is about exploring the island itself and uncovering the various side missions and characters it has to offer. It took us a little over thirty hours to complete the campaign, with doing all of the character-specific side quests and partaking in roughly half of the side activities. These include bamboo cutting mini-games that will bolster your Resolve (essentially your regenerating health items), finding Inari Shrines to increase your Charm slots, and locating onsens to reflect on the events and increase your health, among various others. There are also Mystic quests, which are longer side missions that will take you flashy adventures and grant you unique abilities. Tsushima is brimming with life, with so much to see and do, even though it somewhat falls into the standard open world tropes like clearing out bandits and Mongol strongholds, and looting various upgrade materials.

Unsheathe your blade as Jin’s skills are put to the test in a surprising deep combat system. This is an action oriented title that also deals with a heavy stealth component — the best comparison would be to Assassin’s Creed, but it’s is a little more complicated than that. While you’re not allowed to swap out your blade and knife, you’ll be able to unlock various fighting stances that best complement each of the enemy types, such as shield users, spear wielders and brutes. There’s a level of strategy that goes into each fight where you have to utilize not only your stances but your diverse weaponry, be it throwing Kunai to damage and disorient, or sticky bombs to cause knockback in a large radius. The latter comes in handy during those Mongol strongholds when things go sideways. This can be a challenging game, as a single combo can take Jin down if not careful; it may not be on the level of Dark Souls, but it’s no cakewalk either. While the world itself is ripe for exploration, it’s the gratifying combat that will keep you engaged. As someone who generally gravitates towards a stealthy approach, I almost felt it more enticing to go head on with enemies, although this is primarily because sneaking around isn’t the best it could be. It’s not bad by any means, there just doesn’t seem to be as many mechanics as you might expect, such as hiding bodies. It’s simply concealing yourself in high grass and keeping out of sight. You still can do silent assassinations and chain attacks, all upgraded through the extensive skill tree, but I didn’t find it as satisfying as taking them down in brutal combat — at least for most enemies. Even coming up on a patrol, I never found myself bored of battle as each encounter feels different enough to keep players interested.

While combat is engaging, the traversal mechanics leaves much to be desired. They’re not unusable, but they’re clumsy, maybe more in line with early Assassin’s Creed titles. The problem is Jin more times than not refuses to get off of ledges or beams, whereas his horse has no trouble jumping down cliffs. The grappling hook makes traversal a lot smoother and lining up various jumps will make you feel like a ninja, but there are times when the hook will not connect correctly and you’ll plummet to your death or alert enemies in the area. Outside of main missions, there are numerous shrines scattered around Tsushima that involve intricate climbing puzzles, and when they work they work well, but these issues weigh them down. Fortunately, Ghost of Tsushima has one of, if not the best, navigation systems when it comes to directing you where to go. You literally follow the wind; you’re not looking at some obstructive arrows, but instead the nature around you as grass and trees will blow in the direction you need to go. It’s such a subtle but effective animation that immerses you in the world even more.

The biggest addition to Ghost of Tsushima Director’s Cut is the brand new Iki island, which features an extensive story. It can take upwards of twenty hours to complete all the content the island has to offer (although mainlining it will take only a few hours), from the story to the various side quests and activities. These include the standard ventures to find shrines and hot springs, but similar to the scenic haiku areas, you’re able to use the DualSense’s gyroscope to play the flute and attract wildlife such as monkeys, deer and cats. The fact you’re able to pet cats makes this expansion a thousand times better in my book. You also get a number of new abilities, but they’re primarily allocated to exploration and your horse, which now has the ability to charge into battle and kill Mongols invaders with little problem. There’s also new armor to find and various new tales to be told, including even more memorable duels. The island itself is also beautiful. Mind you, all of Ghost of Tsushima looks magnificent, but Sucker Punch has been able to create an rich and diverse area that’s completely separate from the main Tsushima island. We see a forest full of purple wisteria trees, old moss filled villages, valleys and rocky coastlines, just to name a few of the alluring areas. There are also incredibly cinematic scenarios, putting you not only in epic fights, but trippy and thought provoking ones as well.

Iki island feels fresh thanks to the story as Jin’s past plays a significant role, more so than it has ever been. While the main game had its moments, this tells a deeper, more involved plot regarding Jin, expanding his character and motivations significantly. He evolved throughout the lengthy campaign, but learning about his past and reliving the moment and his inner thoughts is perfectly done. The story revolves around the Iki island and how a woman is inspiring the Mongols and converting them into Shaman, a new enemy class that strengthens enemies with their chants. She poses a great threat to both Iki and Tsushima and it’s now up to you to take her down. You’ll have to team up with unsuspecting forces, even learning they may have had a larger role in your past.

With the release of Ghost of Tsushima so close to the PlayStation 5, it only made sense that we’d get a remaster on the powerful platform. From a technical perspective, Ghost of Tsushima was never the most impressive technical impressive title out there, especially being released a few months after The Last of Us Part II. Artistically, Ghost of Tsushima holds up magnificently, with some of the most scenic vistas you’ll see in any video game. The island of Tsushima has been painstakingly reimagined to be beyond gorgeous, especially for an open world game that rarely skimps on details. The island of Iki also fits this bill, having a surprising amount of variety not seen on the main island. Overlooking the island from a cliff on a clear day to riding through a bamboo forest as thunder strikes all around you, there’s an incredible amount of variety to see. With that said, some of the lighting effects can be overpowering at times, even blinding where you have trouble fighting the enemies around you. Thankfully, these are less frequent than the vistas of flowers, rice fields and autumn forests. Sucker Punch has also stepped up their game with both visual and audio cues, with birds and foxes being bright enough to see and directing you in certain directions with their calls. That’s on top of their musical scores that use appropriate Japanese instruments. I would have liked to have seen more music in the world itself as the set pieces and story content is where it shines the brightest, unlike most of the other activities which are quiet. Regardless, they perfectly aid the emotional and impactful scenes.

The Director’s Cut fully takes advantage of the PlayStation 5’s capabilities. Load times that are but one or two seconds long for both loading into the game and teleporting. The game is rendered in 4K and dynamic 4K depending on your mode (one that focuses on resolution or frame rate) and runs upwards of 60fps. The LOD draw distance is still relatively small for shadows, but you will rarely notice it. The DualSense is also used very smartly, with some actions (such as breaking down a bamboo entrance) puts some pressure on your fingers. On top of that, every stomp of your horse can be felt in the controller’s haptic feedback. It all feels so natural, but all of this leads to an even greater immersion into the thirteenth century.

Closing Comments:

Ghost of Tsushima is one of the best samurai games of all time and the Director’s Cut only excels it further. Sucker Punch Productions’ work on reimagining thirteen century Japan is a grand achievement, creating a captivating world filled with an exceeding amount of things to do, while implementing an engaging, memorable combat system. The Iki Island expansion extends the journey even further, with a fantastic personal story of Jin Sakai, more of the activities we’ve come to love and a vast open world ripe for exploration. There’s even risk-reward armor that can be found, alongside the various new aesthetics. There’s a number of improvements to the visuals and overall immersion, with the Director’s Cut taking full advantage of the powerful hardware and controller features. While the PlayStation 4 is no slouch, the Director’s Cut introduces more than enough to justify moving platforms, being one of the must haves on PlayStation 5.

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