With Ghost of Tsushima: Director's Cut carving its way to both PlayStation 5 and PS4 on the 20th August, we've been eager to learn more about what's being added to Jin's expanded adventure. As you may already know, Director's Cut features a brand new expansion, which sees our intrepid samurai travel to the mysterious Iki Island.
Fortunately, we were recently able to sit down with creative director Nate Fox and environments lead Joanna Wang, who were happy to give us some insight into what we can expect from the upcoming Director's Cut.
Push Square: Straight into it, how big is the Iki Island expansion?
Nate Fox, Creative Director: If you're familiar with Ghost of Tsushima, Iki Island is the size of, really, the first act of the main game, Izuhara. It's a big, dense story with a lot of landscape and secrets to discover.
Can we expect Iki Island to have the same kind of open world map density as Izuhara from the main game?
NF: So, it's very similar to Ghost of Tsushima, where we strove to get this just-right feeling of, you know, exploration and discovery, of moments of quiet and moments of violent tension from swordplay. So when we got that dialled in for Ghost of Tsushima, we used that same overall feeling of peaks and valleys for Iki Island.
Does Iki Island utilise the same gameplay mechanics as the main game? Following the wind — all that kind of stuff? Is it building on Ghost of Tsushima?
NF: Iki Island is absolutely building on top of Ghost of Tsushima, but does add in a raft of new things as well. You know, new skills for the player to discover, new armour — of course new stories — and that's what drives a lot of the feeling of growth and newness when you play through the Iki Island experience.
How difficult is the expansion? You can travel to Iki Island from as early as Act 2 in the main game, right?
NF: Right, that is a terrific question. So, the Iki Island expansion is available once the player gets into Act 2. However, we really wanted to also embrace our players who had faithfully played through all of Ghost of Tsushima and wanted to have this experience.
So the Iki Island expansion will kind of jump up in difficulty for those players who have really explored breadth and width of Tsushima Island.
Does that mean we can expect more complex enemy encounters?
NF: It's a more difficult combat experience that will require you to use all of your weapons and skills, really at their highest level.
Are there any new mythic tales on Iki Island that you can tell us about, or is all of that a secret?
NF: Yes, there are. And it is a secret.
But that's part of the fun of discovery!
Are there any new weapon types or additional gameplay mechanics in the expansion? Or is it, again, just kind of building on what's already there in the main game?
NF: We're absolutely building on what's already there. There are no new weapons or stances in this upgrade, but there are a good number of new armours, and in particular, skills that you can find that really change the way that you play the game.
We wanted to lean in on this idea that player expression, particularly through combat, is one of the things that makes the game very much your own. So whether you're a ranged player, a sneaky player, or just a straight-up 'let's fight sword-to-sword' player, we wanted to give you more to dig into.
So can we expect new enemy types as well?
NF: Yes, absolutely.
Moving onto the expansion's story, you've already hinted that Jin and his clan have a history with Iki Island. Can you give us an idea of how long the story is?
NF: Yeah, it's very similar in size to Izuhara, so... It's an open world game, so it depends on how you play it. If you want to beeline through any one particular narrative aspect of Iki Island it'll take different amounts of time. But the best example — just because it's an open world game — is to think of it like an act in Ghost of Tsushima.
What can you tell us about Iki Island itself?
Joanna Wang, Environments Lead: So, Iki Island is a smaller, poorer, more wild island than Tsushima. Another way to describe it is more mysterious. But for the overall Mongol invasion over there, Iki Island has a long history of pirates as well as a history with samurai.
When you first arrive, you'll see the steep cliffs and mysterious caves — there's a lot of unique scenery for you to discover.
Does that mean Iki Island kind of has its own art style? Is there anything that you've done graphically to differentiate it from the main game?
JW: So with Tsushima we really focused on the bold colours. You know, you see those golden temples, red flower fields, and so the beauty and nature of the landscape is really what we tried to push for. And with Iki, we're continually trying to do that same thing, because that's what we're really passionate about — this is the identity of Ghost of Tsushima.
But we are trying to use a different colour palette for Iki. You may have seen in the trailer, there's a wisteria forest, and you can see the purple flowers hanging over the vine and swaying in the wind. So that's one example of how we're thinking about pushing for a visual difference between Iki and Tsushima.
Okay, so we have to ask. In the trailer for Iki Island, we see Jin on a boat with his horse, before a lightning storm hits, wrecks the boat, and we see the horse floundering in the water.
What do you guys have against horses?
NF and JW: [Laughs]
NF: We love horses!
I mean, there's no question that in Ghost of Tsushima, your best friend is your horse. They're right there with you, and so, you know... I'm happy to report that horses play a role in Iki Island as well.
Because we love horses!
So, New Game+. Is the Iki Island expansion also tuned for New Game+?
NF: It's part of the New Game+ landscape.
Since Ghost of Tsushima: Director's Cut is coming to PS5, can you tell us about the improvements on Sony's current-gen console?
NF: Yeah, there are absolutely some features that we could put onto the game because of PS5 hardware.
So, haptics being the big one. This is a game where we can suddenly let you feel what it's like to hold a katana in your hands when it gets deflected by a shield. You feel it through the controller because of the haptics and adaptive triggers.
Even the Japanese lip syncing. We're capable of putting that in because the PS5 SSD let us take some of our cutscenes that, on the original version of the game we had to pre-render, and now, we can do them live. And so the hardware makes a difference.
So how does the new Japanese lip syncing actually work?
NF: It's real-time rendering. On the PS4 version we would have to pre-render films that we would use to play while we were loading in new chunks of the background. And these films are very, very large. In fact, they're so large that we just barely got them on disc.
But with PS5, because we can do them live rendered, we now can accommodate the extra lip sync.
How about the load times? Ghost of Tsushima already has incredibly fast load times on PS4 — especially for an open world game — and on PS5, the Director's Cut load times are supposed to be even faster. Just how quick are they?
NF: As fast as we can get them! I mean, it's not like this for every transition, but generally speaking, if you wanna go somewhere, the screen dips to black and comes out and you're there. And that's because we want to create that feeling of being inside a classic samurai film. And so, because of the SSD, we can get closer to that experience — that vision of what it would be to be inside of one of those films.
Moving away from the expansion, what's it been like to see Ghost of Tsushima receive so much praise over the last year?
JW: I will say, after the release of Ghost of Tsushima, I feel like I'm living my dream. We're always very passionate about making games and the whole team is so talented in finding the style, finding every little bit of how we're going to make this game. And now we see fans around the world are enjoying playing our game, and sometimes I feel like I have to knock myself on the head and ask if this is real.
It's fantastic, and we're so appreciative of all the support. We're very happy to see how it all turned out, and we're so happy to see everyone enjoy our game. I definitely feel like this is our game because we made it, but it's also everybody's game because every single one of you guys play through the game and enjoy the journey with Jin, and that can be so personal. It was just so amazing that this could happen in 2020.
Yeah, it feels like Ghost of Tsushima was kind of a big deal for a lot of people, being such an immersive game during a time when everyone was staying home because of the pandemic.
JW: Even myself, I just recently played through Ghost of Tsushima again. We can't go travel, we've been in lockdown, but when I played through it, I personally felt like I just had a virtual tour — going somewhere in another country, another world. A world that's beautiful and nice, I can interact with animals and connect with nature. So much of this, even from just my point of view, it was awesome.
And Ghost of Tsushima was met with a huge response in Japan — you were even made tourism ambassadors of the actual Tsushima island. How did you guys feel about that?
NF: We could not be more humbled by the response from our fans in Japan. We made this game because we're massive, massive fans of Japanese samurai cinema, Akira Kurosawa. We wanted to contribute to that genre through the lens of a video game. And to have it be well received means that we, you know, didn't mess it up — that it stands inside of this space, of the samurai story genre.
And for that to happen, it really, you know, we understand completely that it occurred because of our work with our colleagues in Japan — thankfully we're a member of Sony, so they helped us out. We talked to a lot of experts about the time period and thanks to all of that coordination, I think that is the reason why it feels authentic to people that have a much bigger background than we do. As well as, you know, a lot of the research that the art team did to make that landscape come alive.
But at the end of the day, there is nothing that feels better than knowing fans in Japan liked the game, because we wanted to honour that genre.
Huge thanks to Nate Fox and Joanna Wang for taking the time to answer our questions. Special thanks to Aram Jabbari, Sarah Moffatt, and the team at PlayStation for making this interview possible.