Game director Nate Fox has recited one refrain in many interviews and used it again in a chat about the upcoming “Iki Island” expansion in the “Ghost of Tsushima” director’s cut release for PlayStation 5. The development team at Sucker Punch Productions was laser focused on one goal: letting players fulfill the pop culture fantasy of being a wandering samurai.
“When we started making the game, we weren’t aware of what the landscape of video games would be when it would release,” Fox said. “So all we had was our enthusiasm for that starting idea: to be a wandering samurai, having that fantasy in the open world that’s vibrant.”
The “Iki Island” expansion releases Aug. 20 for $20. Last year, I called “Ghost of Tsushima” 2020′s version of “The Witcher 3,” in that it quickly became a beloved hit while offering substantial free updates, most notably the multiplayer “Legends” component. With “Iki Island,” the game seems to echo the “Witcher 3” post-launch chapters, with entirely new locations and stories.
The expansion will feature story and gameplay elements focused on serving the “wandering samurai” pop fantasy, many of which the team didn’t have the time to include in the original game.
This also includes infusing even more color into the game’s visuals, environmental lead Joanna Wang said. Last week’s trailer for the expansion prominently featured bold bursts of purple and blue. Some of the trailer appeared to lean further into the game’s fantasy inclinations.
“We used a lot of bold colors in Tsushima, spaced out for the whole map,” Wang said. “For Iki, we are changing with a different color palette tone. The purple flowers hanging on a vine and waving in the wind is just one example of vegetation we don’t have in Tsushima.”
Wang and Fox didn’t want to elaborate too much on artistic changes, especially since it might spoil the upcoming story where Jin discovers an unsettling secret about his family’s past. In the base game, the story revealed that Jin’s father was not at all kind to the hero, even with his dying breath.
Still, the promise of more lush fields and environments to explore is key to the game’s appeal of being a wandering samurai. Slowly exploring and feeling entranced by nearby areas is part of the game’s core experience, discovering new stories and scenarios.
“You may see very steep cliffs, a mysterious cave and a seagull hovering over an abandoned fort in the distance,” Wang said. “And nearby, you may discover people who are suffering. It’s just one example of how we build a location with a mission when you arrive, and to make you feel curious.”
One aspect of the original game that’s not often talked about are the side quests. These stories weren’t particularly lauded in the initial review process, but players could find plenty of self-contained character dramas separate from Jin’s transformation as a dutiful samurai to a vengeful vigilante.
“I think the thing that really got people at a deep level was this idea that we weren’t actually making one story,” Fox said. “We’re making an anthology of stories as you wander through the landscape. Because of your ability with the sword, you had the capacity to help or hurt the world around you, and it was in your agency to make that happen. That’s something you only experience by spending hours in the game and looking at those lovely views.”
Fox said that, like the base game, people can expect many of Jin’s new adventures won’t directly relate to the central conflict about his family.
Fox also said more combat skills will be included to enhance Jin’s existing abilities and skill trees. He didn’t specify what Jin could do, but we can expect them to further enhance his core skills of stealth, swordplay and archery. All this, he promises, is further enhanced by the work they’ve done for the DualSense controller haptic feedback.
“We devoted our energy to make it feel like you’re holding a katana, so when you swing your sword and it bounces off an enemy’s shield, you feel it in your hand,” Fox said. “That’s something new to us as game makers, who are used to working in audio and visual, but not this kinetic experience of entertainment.”
Jin’s combat in the original game was a standout even among similar games. Sword slices would meet fleshy resistance and friction, making the violence seem even more tangible.
“You’re going to know that your sword bit into someone’s shoulder, or that you missed and you’ll have this instant tactile response,” Fox said. “It makes that core fantasy that much more vibrant.”