I opted not to buy Ghost of Tsushima when it launched on PS4 in July of 2020 for the same reason I didn’t buy The Last of Us Part 2 the prior month: The launch of PS4 in 2013, and the subsequent remastering of the PS3’s swan song game The Last of Us only a year after the game launched, had taught me to be cautious.
Surely, I told myself, Sony had updated versions of the PS4’s final two exclusives waiting in the wings to bolster the PS5’s launch year.
Then, Sucker Punch announced that on day one, Tsushima’s PS4 version would take advantage of the PS5’s added horsepower to run at 60 fps. Notably, a similar announcement was not made by Naughty Dog at the time. This led me to think that, if the studio was going to just issue a free performance patch, a native Tsushima upgrade was out of the question — and that Naughty Dog wouldn’t follow suit with its own game, as to not cannibalize sales of a potential remaster of The Last of Us Part II. I was, of course, wrong about all of this. Even though it was late, TLOU2 did get its 60 fps patch, and now Tsushima is receiving a native upgrade for PS5.
The “Director’s Cut” branding here is a tad confusing and even some of Sony’s own collaborators take issue with it. The best explanations I can think are either “Director’s Cut” sounds more classy than “Complete Edition” or “Game of the Year," or it’s the term Sony thinks fits best with games that never received a traditional DLC release to begin with.
Tsushima’s PS5 release does look sharper all around — but this is not a remaster and I am glad it’s not being sold as one. Is it the definitive way to experience Ghost of Tsushima? Absolutely. Is it going to blow your mind if you've only played on PS4? Probably not. Is Sony’s decision to charge $10 extra to get the PS5 upgrade a bunch of bullshit? Yes and no, but if you want a deep dive on the PS5 enhancements, you’ll find that in the second half of this review.
This is not a remaster and I am glad it’s not being sold as one.
Speaking of pricing, here’s my best effort to explain the confusing ways Sony is charging for this expansion. If you’re new to Ghost of Tsushima, the Director’s Cut will cost you $59.99 or $69.99 depending on what platform you buy it for (and remember the PS4 version of the game will run just fine on PS5 if you’re looking to save some money). That gets you the full game and the Iki Island expansion — along with cosmetic items previously reserved for the game’s “Deluxe Edition”. If you already own the game, you can get the Iki Island expansion by purchasing the “Ghost of Tsushima Director’s Cut Upgrade” from the Playstation Store for $19.99 on PS4 or $29.99 if you want those PS5 enhancements.
Lastly, if you’re on PS4 and buy the Director’s Cut upgrade for $19.99 now, you can upgrade to the PS5 version for $9.99 whenever you manage to get your hands on the new console. As of now, there is no way to buy the PS5 upgrade without the Iki Island expansion. Get used to that $9.99 upgrade fee, by the way, as Sony has committed to that being available for all of its cross-gen exclusives going forward. While it is nice to finally have Sony commit to some form of upgrade path for its games, this is a far cry from the more consumer-friendly approach Microsoft has taken, outright refusing to allow publishers to sell upgrades to players: either give it to them through smart delivery for free, or go home.
What was most refreshing about Tsushima when it came out was how it showed how its studio, Sucker Punch, had matured since its Infamous and Sly Cooper games. Those franchises all featured fun combat and engaging world navigation but weren’t exactly narrative tentpoles. Tsushima stood out in the studio’s catalog, featuring a more compelling story while still nailing everything it takes to make a thrilling and fun open-world adventure.
Iki Island, both the name of this expansion’s new map and story, shows that Sucker Punch is still learning in the best ways possible. Iki unlocks once you’ve started the game’s second act (after you free Lord Shimura) and, if it’s your first time, I recommend playing it as soon as you can. You’ll come away from the Island with a roster of new armor and charms, and better horse combat to boot.
The story is the standout here. Although quite short (I was able to clear it in around five hours with some side quests thrown in), it’s a very tightly written adventure featuring immersive set pieces and great character moments for Jin that further make him question the role of the Samurai in Japanese life. If you need more incentive, there are also sanctuaries where you can pet monkeys and cats.
(Note: Minor spoilers for Iki Island follow below.)
In the mission that unlocks the expansion, you learn that Iki Island was where Jin’s father, Kasumasa Sakai, met his gruesome demise right in front of a young Jin. The story is dead focused on that fateful event, both what led up to it and how it has stayed with Jin since.
As seen in the trailer for the expansion, Jin is quickly captured by The Eagle, a threatening Warlord who forces her prisoners to drink strong hallucinogens to win them over as Shamans. This poison stays in Jin’s body for the duration of the expansion and causes him to have visions as you explore Iki. These visions are unpredictable in their arrival: sometimes they’d occur when I was on the brink of death in combat, others would take over as I was riding across a bridge. As random as the timing can be, their content is anything but random, which keeps them from feeling like an annoying gimmick. I was really impressed by how contextual they were, and I’m sure I didn’t get close to finding all of the vision triggers in my playthrough.
The visions are key to Jin’s journey of self-reflection, but so is Iki itself. The people of the island are anything but friendly to the samurai and have no problem with the tactics Jin has developed as the Ghost. At the point in the main game’s story when Iki opens up, Jin is wrestling with the morality of being The Ghost more than ever, so giving him a smaller adventure to freely use Ghost tactics without moral judgment adds another interesting layer to his character for when you do return to the main game.
What I loved most, however, was the politics of Iki Island which are woven through both the main story as well as the side-missions that deal with Iki’s past. While the original story already made Jin reckon with the role of the samurai in the most desperate of times, Iki Island suggests they may actually do more harm than good, which makes the end of the main story all the more satisfying if you complete them in order. Without spoiling the major details, the whole narrative is about the long-term consequences of Samurai rule and what it really means to carry out long and arduous occupations of people that have no desire for you to “liberate and protect” them. It’s not just Jin who was left scarred by his time on Iki as a boy, but nearly every person he comes into contact with upon his return. All that pain and scarring for a conflict that was doomed from the start and left nobody the victor. So, you know, absolutely no real-world allegory to be found.
In terms of gameplay mechanics, Iki brings a few that keep the expansion fresh. You can now hook onto and bring down certain structures in the map to unlock new routes through platforming puzzles (this feels amazing on PS5 thanks to excellent use of the DualSense adaptive triggers). The combat is also turned up a notch, with three new enemy types including elite soldiers, who can switch between spear, sword, and shield combat on the fly, and brutes carrying double-sided blades.
What really keeps the combat challenging, however, are the shamans. They make every enemy around you stronger and more ruthless, meaning they recover stamina faster, take more blows to break their guard, and can keep attacking you without leaving large windows to get your own strikes in. One shaman surrounded by a few fighters becomes hard to handle, and running full speed into a camp with multiple shamans is a nearly impossible task. You need to deal with shamans quickly, or use every trick in your arsenal to pick off the half dozen fighters around you who are getting roided out by their chants. I played the expansion on my New Game+ save and still found the combat to be overwhelming at times, even in my fully upgraded Sakai Clan armor.
Iki’s side missions are about in line with what Tsushima delivered in its original release.
Iki’s side missions are about in line with what Tsushima delivered in its original release. There are some standouts, most of them are fun and, importantly, rarely feel like the busy work open-world players expect from more recent Assassin’s Creed entries. While there are only six Mongol camps to liberate, they are much larger than typical outposts on Tsushima Island, keeping them challenging.
The two “Mythic Tales” found on Iki are hands-down the best-written and executed mythic tales in the game and left me eager for more when I finished them. One is a dark mystery, while the other is a smaller, more personal story for Jin that features some great platforming. The loot you’re rewarded with after completing them kicks ass too. My favorite is an armor that forces you to fight much more carefully by not only rewarding you for executing perfect dodges and parries but also taking away the normal parry entirely.
There’s just enough new mechanics here to suggest a mountain of fresh ideas are coming in Ghost's sequel. But beyond just being a preview of what’s coming in future Ghost games, Iki is also great evidence to be psyched for anything else Sucker Punch has in-store. Paired with a sharp story and great set pieces I don’t want to spoil here, Iki Island is a more than worthwhile experience.
The actual process of upgrading your game is a bit of a pain but not a complete nightmare. To start, your game never actually gets “upgraded” in any way. Once you’ve bought the $30 upgrade and downloaded it, the PS4 version of Tsushima will be right where you left it, taking up nearly 45GB of space on an already space-limited console. As someone reviewing and comparing both versions of the game, it’s convenient — but I suspect most PS5 owners would prefer that the PS4 version be totally replaced to save storage. Oh, and when you actually open the PS5 version, you need to import your save files manually before you start playing; to say the least, Xbox Smart Delivery this is not.
If you do the math, PS5 owners who bought Tsushima for full price last year are getting the rawest deal, as a full upgrade puts them out nearly $100 when you factor in tax. If you bought the game on sale then that $30 upgrade fee might sting less. $20 for an entirely new map and story isn’t unheard of in AAA gaming — and many expansions have been more than worth the cost (The Witcher 3: Blood and Wine comes to mind). But are higher resolution targets and DualSense support really worth another $10 when Tsushima already ran terrifically on PS5 with that free 60 fps patch?
Performance on PS5 versus PS4 backward compatibility — In my time with the new version of the game, I’ve found that most of what Sucker Punch promised in their original blogpost has been delivered in a noticeable way, although not always as dramatically as some PS5 owners may have hoped.
To start, load times are what you’ve come to expect from native PS5 games. They’re incredible. Once you hit start, you’ll usually be in the game in around a second — and it’s the same case with fast travel: the longest fast travel time I found was around five seconds. Sucker Punch did a lot of work to make load times acceptable on PS4 and, while they were improved greatly when running on PS5 via backward compatibility, it’s a no-contest win for the native PS5 app.
The resolution bump does make a difference as well. Even though the game isn’t running at a native 4K (it’s using some kind of reconstruction according to Digital Foundry), details across the game look sharper and a bit more refined. Do not take that to mean this is a full remaster of the original game, however. Think of this as a fully optimized PS4 game that’s taking better advantage of the added strength of the PS5. While I have some disagreements with how Sucker Punch is using the added performance headroom, I can’t deny it’s shipped a much more polished product.
Here are two images that best illustrate the type of visual improvements PS5 players can expect. On the left is an Arum Lily found near Akashima village captured from the PS5 version of the game, and on the right is the same flower captured on PS4. They were captured using the game’s photo mode, so any blemish in the assets is going to be on full display. While you can see a bit more detail in the pollen stem and the edges of the petals are a bit smoother, it’s pretty hard to find a difference otherwise. Any brightness differences you’re seeing are a result of my own efforts to replicate photo-mode settings while jumping between two different games.
And it’s the same story across the game. If you found yourself disappointed at the lacking detail in the cliff faces in the PS4 game, you’re not going to find any improvements here other than some smoother edges. But the parts of the game that always looked great on PS4 look even better on PS5. Clothing and other character model details in particular are all sharper across the board which makes cutscenes look just a tad more modern. The PS5 version also appears to be HGiG compliant, which means HDR looks more realistic on newer TVs. A proper remaster of Ghost of Tsushima, one that featured ray tracing and proper enhancements to models and assets, would have taken a lot more time to deliver — time that Sucker Punch should be spending on the sequel. If you want true, next-gen graphics from Sucker Punch, you’ll have to wait for its next game. That’s perfectly fine by me.
If you’ve had a PS5 for any amount of time then you already know that DualSense support was going to make or break this upgrade. I am happy to report that Sucker Punch has pretty much nailed the implementation here. The haptic feedback for navigating the open world is probably my favorite way the team has implemented the controller's new features. Instead of the blunt buzzes that were found on DualShock, the DualSense provides much smoother and meaningful feedback for almost every aspect of movement. For example, when horse riding you get the expected feeling of your horse’s gallop, but that feedback adjusts depending on what surface you’re riding on. I laughed in amazement at how it transitions from riding on a dirt road to a wooden bridge and back to dirt.
This is also the first game with archery as a major mechanic to feature DualSense support and it has me really excited for what Guerilla Games is going to bring with Horizon: Forbidden West. For the first time, the game’s two bows feel notably different on the draw. The quicker half-bow puts less resistance on the trigger than the longbow, and I rarely found myself outpacing the resistance and breaking the immersion the triggers bring. Feedback on shots also felt nice when arrows were released.
If I had to pick a letdown from the use of DualSense haptics, it would probably be sword-based combat — although I admit my own expectations going into this review played a major part in this. I never really got the feeling of metal clashing with metal, but I was otherwise impressed with how it added to the immersion of combat by providing satisfying feedback on perfect parries and stronger attacks.
This really only scratches the surface with how the DualSense is implemented in Tsushima — with everything from cinematics to menu navigation featuring some level of haptic feedback. It all adds to the experience of playing and, if anything was going to sell PS5 users on the $10 premium they’re paying, this is it. The DualSense team at Sucker Punch should be extremely proud of themselves, full-stop.
I do have a few gripes with some of the choices made and some disappointing omissions to highlight. On the PS4 game running in backward compatibility, every cutscene, with the exception of a few pre-rendered cinematics, ran at 60 fps. On PS5, however, Sucker Punch made the confounding choice to have cutscenes run at 30 fps across the board. This is made all the more confusing when you remember that there are no more pre-rendered cutscenes on PS5. Everything is being rendered in real time to enable both English and Japanese lip-sync.
The switch from 30 fps back to 60 fps gameplay is most jarring in the game’s set-pieces. The incredible opening battle with the Mongols feels disorienting in places as you jump from on-rails combat to cinematic and back to combat. Sucker Punch needs to undo this and give PS5 players their frames back.
I was also disappointed by an overall lack of next-gen performance features. All you’re getting is a higher resolution target and HGiG tone-mapping. For starters, there’s no lower-resolution 120 fps gameplay mode to be found here — the game’s “Favor Performance” mode is basically useless, in fact, simply dropping resolution back to 1800p (what it achieved on PS4 Pro) to make sure frame rate can stay at 60 fps. However I never really found any moment in Resolution Mode that caused noticeable frame drops. This omission does make sense, as most players probably aren’t using a TV that can achieve 120 fps gameplay, but, as an LG CX owner, I would like to see this added in a future update.
The biggest letdown to me is around the “3D audio enhancements" that Sucker Punch’s blog post promised. The only enhancement I could find is better information in the game’s menus, telling players which sound modes will provide a 3D experience, and the “TV Speakers” setting, which will work with TV Speaker 3D audio if you’re using the PS5 beta out now. Otherwise, to put it bluntly, if 3D audio in Tsushima is supposed to sound better on headphones, I can’t tell.
If I had to guess, the actual enhancement Sucker Punch provided here comes from moving the audio processing onto the PS5’s dedicated Tempest Audio engine, making it sound better on a wider range of headphones. The game did feature 3D audio on PS4, but that only worked with the now discontinued PlayStation Platinum Headset. You could switch over to and experience 3D audio on PS5 through backward compatibility but I wouldn’t be shocked if the EQ was still tuned for the Platinum headset. Since 3D audio works with any pair of headphones on PS5, it would make sense then if all of that work has been handed over to the console.
Speaking of audio devices, sound profile switching still isn’t automatic for some reason. If you find yourself often putting headphones on when you play, you’ll have to remember to manually switch to “headphones” mode in the game every time you put them on. Tsushima is the only native PS5 game from Sony I can think of that has this drawback, as basically every other game defaults to the selections made in your console settings.
Thankfully none of the issues I have here amount to more than a headache and I do think the PS5 upgrade is worth it. A $10 premium stings no matter how you slice it, especially if you bought the game for full price last year, but the incredible DualSense experience and improved load times really do make the difference for me. When I was jumping back and forth between the PS4 and PS5 versions for this review I already found myself annoyed by these missing features on the older version and definitely don’t want to live without them. The fact it comes bundled with a whole new story and map also softens the blow. Overall, this is a worthwhile upgrade for anyone who has or plans to get a PS5.