Ghost of Tsushima launched last year as a late-generation masterpiece, an open-world game that managed to defy its tropes and deliver an experience that was consistently engaging, exciting, and gorgeous. So when it was announced that it would be receiving a single-player expansion alongside its PS5 upgrade (dubbed the “Director’s Cut,” unfortunately), it’s no surprise that people were excited for more time with Jin Sakai, the titular Ghost.
Iki Island finds us once again lifting the Sakai katana as Jin an undisclosed amount of time after the end of Ghost of Tsushima’s main story. Jin stumbles across a village full of people who have seemingly lost their minds, stumbling about and muttering about enemies who aren’t there. When a Mongol crew does appear (fully outfitted with the new “Shaman” enemy type), Jin learns of a new threat facing Japan—a Mongol shaman known as The Eagle, who has taken hold of Iki Island. Soon, Jin departs from the mainland of Tsushima to stop this threat before it arrives at his home. There’s one big, initial catch though: this is not the first time that Jin has been to Iki Island. In fact, it’s the place where a crucial moment in his life occurred—the death of his father, Kazumasa Sakai.
Much like the main story before it, one of Iki Island’s biggest strengths is its commitment to personal, character-driven storytelling. Yes, there’s the vague threat that this new crew of Mongols poses to the mainland, but the real story here is one about a man coming to terms and grappling with his father’s legacy, as well as that of all samurai. I won’t get into specifics, but the expansion tells an intriguing and surprisingly emotional story about grief, accountability, legacy, and overcoming trauma. It’s a moving counterpart to the personal tale of the base game.
It probably goes without saying, but Iki Island is simply stunning to behold. It’s not as varied geographically as Tsushima, but being roughly the size of one of the mainland’s regions it has plenty of space for forests, fields of flowers, and expansive beaches. The island does seem to have an increased focus on cliffside areas, which makes for some engaging platforming sections with dazzling views.
Another way that Iki Island separates itself from Tsushima is how its people react to and view samurai like Jin. The people of Iki do not trust Jin due to the actions of his father over a decade ago, and it makes for interesting encounters early on. Where walking through a village in Tsushima might inspire admiration, here people initially scoff at Jin and make it clear that his presence is not welcome. It’s not the biggest change, but these little grace notes (disgrace notes?) help keep the world of Ghost believable and lived-in.
When it comes to gameplay, Iki Island is more of the same, which is just fine by me. The combat remains almost entirely intact, with no real additions save some skills for horseback combat. This lack of new abilities is a little disappointing, especially considering how infrequently I fought from horseback, but it’s also a case in which the developers knew that nothing was broken so there was no need to fix anything.
The main additions (besides new story content) that Iki Island offers are in the form of new activities such as archery challenges, wind shrine puzzles, and animal sanctuaries, as well as more retuning activities like bamboo strikes, shrines, and haikus (hell yeah). The sanctuaries are the most rewarding addition, both story-wise and in regards to gameplay; players tilt their controller along a path to play notes on Jin’s flute to restore peace to animal sanctuaries arounf the island, with each completion punctuated by Jin sharing a story about his mother. It’s incredibly sweet, and helps provide context for one of Ghost of Tsushima’s most notably absent figures.
While the story wraps up more quickly than I thought it would—I was finished in about 6-7 hours—Iki Island stands as a worthy expansion to one of the best open-world titles of the last few years. It tells a moving story that helps players better understand both Jin and the world around him while providing entertaining new activities and dazzling new vistas to capture in photo mode. It’s not nearly as robust as a title like Spider-Man: Miles Morales, but as far as single-player expansions go, it’s an incredibly satisfying voyage that’s essential for fans of the main game.