Review: Ghost of Tsushima: Director's Cut is the perfect game world to escape in during lockdown

Sometimes, after a long day of killing Mongolian marauders, you just wanna calm things down by playing your flute for a wild cat until it lets you give it a pat.  

Ghost of Tsushima: Director's Cut indulging in this kind of escapism is exactly the self-care I didn't know I needed in lockdown. If you never picked up the original, or haven't played since release, now is the perfect time to return to Tsushima.  

For new players, the elevator pitch is: An open world action-adventure that's a love letter to samurai cinema, the story of noble warrior Jin Sakai fighting to protect his home from an invading Mongolian horde and his transformation into a legendary ninja.  

When the original game was released as a PlayStation exclusive last year, I wrote that it masterfully balanced beauty and bloodshed, and was a fitting swan song to the PS4 era.  

Now the game straddles console generations, polished and re-packaged with all post-launch content into a definitive 'Director's Cut' edition for the PS5. 

While it was already beautiful running on older consoles, it's hard to overstate how great this game looks running at 4K and 60fps on the PS5. With the next-gen SSD slashing load times, exploring the titular island of Tsushima is virtually seamless and Ghost does an excellent job ensuring its mechanics don't distract from its world. 

The HUD is uncluttered and unobtrusive, there's no minimap to guide you to your next objective, instead the wind's direction points the way and a guiding gust can be summoned with a swipe across the touch pad.

An open world's worth is measured in how successfully it encourages and rewards player curiosity and Ghost wisely never points a finger where a gentle nudge will serve. It doesn't sign-post every piece of content and instead lets the player discover what's worth finding for themselves. 

While there's a sweeping epic of a main story to complete, some of my favourite moments in Ghost come from the more contemplative side activities, from composing haikus to chasing foxes as they lead me to their secret inari shrines.

Or, as I mentioned earlier, you can visit cat sanctuaries and complete a soothing flute mini game to befriend the animals that live there. That's an activity which is, and I cannot stress this enough, much cheaper than therapy. 

But if chilling with cats isn't your cup of tea and you like your escapism a little bloodier, Ghost delivers there too and in this enhanced edition, when battle does come, it's not just a visual treat. The haptic feedback of the Dualsense and the adaptive triggers gives a visceral, tactile dimension to both swordplay and archery which was missing from the original game.

Some shrines in Ghost of Tsushima are tips of the hat to other iconic franchises.
Some shrines are tips of the hat to other iconic franchises. Photo credit: Xenojay

But if you're a returning player who just wants to know if there's enough new deliciously soapy samurai story in the Iki Island narrative expansion, you will not be disappointed.

It sees Jin grapple with a shamanistic Mongolian sect who use hallucinogenic poison on their foes under the direction of a deadly masked warlord named The Eagle. In gameplay terms this means not only new enemies and a spectacular new boss, but also nightmare sequences where Jin faces down his guilt over his father's death. 

This 'nightmare level' storytelling device, popularised in the iconic scarecrow encounter from Batman: Arkham Asylum, is a fun way of shoe-horning fantastical elements into a game that is technically supernatural-free.

And when it comes to other classic games, Ghost isn't afraid of wearing its inspirations on its sleeve. Shrines dotted throughout Iki island reference other iconic Playstation titles from God of War to Bloodborne and solving a riddle at each rewards you with a new armor skin in the style of each. 

Even though the original game's weaknesses, namely sloppy AI and over-powered combat tools, are still present, they are less of an issue for me this time around. Having one place where all my enemies are idiots and all my problems can be solved via smoke grenades is PPE for my soul in this pandemic-ravaged reality.  

Ghost of Tsushima: Director's Cut doesn't feel like a new game, when the fundamentals are this excellent, enhancement is better than reinvention. This complete edition is the gaming equivalent of sliding into a warm pair of slippers - familiar, comforting and exactly what the plague doctor ordered.

Four-and-a-half stars.