Ghost of Tsushima’s Iki Island imagines a more manageable open-world game

Ghost of Tsushima was one of my favorite games of 2020. I was taken aback by its gripping story, deceptively complex combat, and exceptional sense of style. Most notably, it features one of my favorite open worlds in gaming. It’s visually stunning with a seemingly limitless number of colorful landscapes to admire. It’s the rare open-world game where I never wanted to fast travel.

Ghost of Tsushima Director’s Cut – Iki Island Trailer | PS5, PS4

Like most games in its genre, it can be exhausting too. The first time I opened the map screen and saw just how big Tsushima Island was, it felt like a burden. I knew I would likely be locked into a 50-hour commitment if I wanted to see the game through to its end. By the end of the game, the map would be littered with hundreds of tiny icons, padding out the total run time with an endless to-do list of activities. Petting a fox went from being a delightful task to a chore after my 20th one — and I still had 30 more to go.

So imagine my relief when I fired up Ghost of Tsushima: Director’s Cut and hopped into the game’s new DLC. It features a brand new story set on Iki Island, a smaller and more compact location than the sprawling Tsushima. After a few hours of play, I found myself wishing that more open-world games would shrink down to its size.

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Ghost of Tsushima’s Iki Island expansion is included in the game’s new Director’s Cut. It’s a sort of an optional narrative interlude that slots right into the central story. After a certain point in the main game, Jin can set sail to Iki Island where he finds that a shaman called “the Eagle” is unleashing a mysterious poison on the people of Iki. It’s a self-contained tale that takes players to an entirely new location that’s just a touch smaller than Tsushima’s starting zone.

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This isn’t new for open-world game DLC. It’s the same post-launch strategy we’ve seen with games like Sony’s Horizon Zero Dawn, which added a frosty northern area to its map for the Frozen Wilds expansion. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla just took its Vikings to France for its Siege of Paris DLC. It’s often a way for developers to deliver more content by remixing existing assets and activities, placing them on a freshly uncharted map that contains a few new tricks.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

Iki Island doesn’t feel much different from Tsushima in terms of design, but it is more manageable to explore. Unlike my time on Tsushima, I never felt overwhelmed during my stay on Iki. Within four hours, I had revealed a little less than half of the map with new points of interest appearing at a steady pace. I’d gotten to try out a handful of new activities, like a motion-controlled flute minigame and archery contests, each of which only repeats a small handful of times. Nothing threatened to overstay its welcome. I felt like I’d actually be able to do and see everything on Iki Island in a reasonable amount of time, which was a relief coming off a game like Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, which feels melancholically large.

That smaller world entirely changed how I interacted with the game. I wasn’t spending hours hopping between map icons, obsessively checking them off my to-do list. Instead, I was playing at a more leisurely pace. I tackled the story in a way that felt narratively right, not disappearing at critical plot points to spend hours on busywork. I found myself taking more time to admire the environment and soak in all the beautiful colors — stopping to smell the flowers, you could say.

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It’s a similar experience to the one I had playing Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales. The superhero title is something of a side-adventure to its predecessor, boasting a breezy 8-hour run time. A 100% completion only takes around 18 hours compared to the 35 or so it takes to get a platinum trophy in Marvel’s Spider-Man. The extra hours didn’t add much to the latter, just more repetition. By contrast, Miles Morales is a sleeker adventure that contains the same web-slinging thrills without the mental bloat.

A gorgeous sunset in Ghost of Tsushima: Director's Cut.Image used with permission by copyright holder

I’d love to see more open-world games that look like Miles Morales or the Iki Island expansion, though I understand why we don’t. The genre is designed to keep players hooked with a wealth of content. Those who only play a few games a year want to get the most bang for their buck and that’s fair considering that new AAA games often cost $70 now. On the flip side, the time commitment can be its own problem, especially for gamers who find their free time waning with age or added responsibilities. It’s difficult to find a midpoint between those two needs; ultimately, not every game or genre can fit every need.

Still, the Iki Island expansion shows that a compact open-world game is possible. The format works just as well as a 10-12 hour experience as it does a 60-hour one. All the hallmarks that make Ghost of Tsushima’s base adventure so special are there; just think of it as a finely curated tasting menu rather than an all-you-can-eat buffet. Both can fill you up, but only one is likely to leave you feeling sick if you try to cram it all down.

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Ghost of Tsushima: Director’s Cut is now available on PS4 and PS5. Those who own the base game and just want the Iki Island expansion can upgrade for $20.

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