Winner of “Best of gamescom” and “Best Action Game” at gamescom 2018, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is the next adventure from developer FromSoftware, creators of Bloodborne and the Dark Souls series. Carve your own clever path to vengeance in an all-new adventure from developer FromSoftware, creators of the Dark Souls series.
In Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice you are the “one-armed wolf”, a disgraced and disfigured warrior rescued from the brink of death. Bound to protect a young lord who is the descendant of an ancient bloodline, you become the target of many vicious enemies, including the dangerous Ashina clan. When the young lord is captured, nothing will stop you on a perilous quest to regain your honor, not even death itself.
Explore late 1500s Sengoku Japan, a brutal period of constant life and death conflict, as you come face to face with larger than life foes in a dark and twisted world. Unleash an arsenal of deadly prosthetic tools and powerful ninja abilities while you blend stealth, vertical traversal, and visceral head to head combat in a bloody confrontation.
Take Revenge. Restore your honor. Kill Ingeniously.
Few game studios have reached the level of popular and critical acclaim that FromSoftware has attained in just the past decade. Between the Souls series and Bloodborne, FromSoft has established itself as the premier source of challenging action RPGs, a legacy they continue with Sekiro. Sekiro is the sort of game that immediately comes with high expectations, and just as quickly delivers on them. It simultaneously builds on what makes Dark Souls such a unique experience, while also carving a new path that’s more accessible to newcomers. It’s a delicate balance, but one that Sekiro is more than prepared to maintain.
Sekiro immediately distinguishes itself from its predecessors with its combat system. Rather than emphasizing dodging and evasion, Sekiro’s combat is focused around deflecting enemy attacks and countering to weaken their posture until you can land a deathblow while making sure the enemy doesn’t deplete your posture. Posture exists as a separate meter from health, and depletes when you guard against attacks without timing the deflect or take damage. It’s difficult to do significant damage to most enemies without first depleting their posture, so fights often become a series of back and forth strikes as you learn when to deflect and when it’s safe to attack, which is especially important since even ordinary enemies can easily kill you if you’re not careful. This system is deceptively simple thanks to massive variations in enemy move-sets and timing, as well as the various tools you find and add to your prosthetic arm.
Such a high level of precision can make Sekiro difficult at first, but becomes endlessly rewarding as you master it. Every fight, from random mobs you find while exploring the world to major bosses, feels memorable, distinctive, and oh so satisfying when you can finally land that deathblow. The level of back and forth as you attack and deflect enemy attacks (as they do the same to you) makes every fight feel like a clash right out of a samurai movie. With such a satisfying combat system, even basic farming for money and upgrade materials becomes fun and exciting. Of course, you can also take a stealthier approach and assassinate enemies to help with tougher encounters by cutting down their numbers first. Stealth can certainly make fights easier, but it hardly removes the challenge. You still have to be able to sneak up on enemies (although detection is fairly limited unless you’re standing right in front of them) and then you’re likely to alert the rest of the enemies in the vicinity, who you’ll then have to fight normally. Stealth is an advantage, but even then death is still just one wrong move away.
Death in Sekiro is simultaneously more and less forgiving than in Souls games. On one hand, you have the ability to instantly resurrect one or two times per life and even dying for real means you only lose half your money and skill xp rather than all of it. On the other hand, there’s no way to recover what’s lost unless you get lucky and it’s saved by a mechanic known as Unseen Aid. Most enemies are able to kill you in one or two hits, particularly early on, so even veterans of these types of games will likely die often as you gradually learn the encounters. What keeps this from being too frustrating is the fact that every encounter is unflinchingly fair. From the tutorial boss where you’re meant to lose to the final boss, no fight is impossible. The game punishes every mistake you make, expecting you to learn from each and every death and come back a little more prepared. You’ll always have all the tools needed for the encounter you’re presented with, so long as you make the right moves. The level of difficulty is about on par with the Souls series, so you’re likely as not to get frustrated at some point because you keep dying on the same enemy over and over, but the reward is always worth it. Beyond the obvious loot enemies drop, it’s incredibly rewarding to know that you were able to make the right moves and beat the enemy that gave you so much trouble before. It creates a real sense of progression after every fight and encounter, so that you really feel like you’ve accomplished something by the end.
Important as it is, combat is far from all Sekiro has to offer. Even exploring areas as you progress can give fun and exciting surprises. Sometimes going in the wrong direction will let you find an NPC who gives you useful items, other times you’ll encounter a mob of enemies guarding treasure of some sort. You might even find another Sculptor’s Idol, Sekiro’s waypoints that respawn enemies and restore your health and healing item. Exploration has always been a big part of FromSoft games, and Sekiro is the best example of that yet. The ability to jump and use the grappling hook to reach far away locations greatly expands the world you can explore, as well as the possible approaches to fight enemies. Every turn has a new secret, and every bit of curiosity is going to be rewarded in some way. It’s always a joy to be wandering around in an out-of-the-way area, only to suddenly find a new upgrade for your prosthetic that completely changes the way you play the game.
Prosthetic upgrades serve as one of the main forms of improving your character in Sekiro, a radical departure from the complex stats and interactions in previous FromSoft games. You can find various new weapons to equip to your prosthetic, as well as upgrade those weapons to significantly change how they work and how you use them. These weapons vary from your standard shuriken all the way to a feather that lets you vanish and reappear behind an enemy, which allows for all sorts of different play-styles as you learn what ability best counters each type of enemy. Additionally, you can obtain skill points by killing enemies, which you can spend on skills like new sword attacks, passive upgrades, and new ways of using existing abilities. Compared to the Souls style, this type of progression is far friendlier to newcomers, while still adding enough depth to the gameplay to satisfy even the most hardcore players.
In the same vein, Sekiro’s story is far more accessible than FromSoft’s earlier games. Instead of cryptic, half-mad NPCs and vague hints in item descriptions, Sekiro opts for a more traditional story of a shinobi, known only as The Wolf, working to rescue his young master, a boy whose blood carries the secret to immortality. Cutscenes and dialogue are more common, and serve to make the story clearer and easier to follow without having to dig through rare items to learn everything. That said, this only applies to the plot-critical information. Sekiro’s NPCs all have their secrets, and few of them are willing to go into detail about their pasts. Even as you learn more throughout the main story, it’s easy to miss all sorts of juicy details if you don’t interact with the NPCs regularly and complete their quests (while occasionally eavesdropping on them), so there’s still that same aura of mystery to the world that makes FromSoft games so enthralling.
Graphically, Sekiro lives up to the same high standards we’ve seen in other FromSoft games. All the character animations for The Wolf are slick and detailed, from jumping across rooftops to fighting enemy samurai, and the same goes for enemies. Their individual stances and movements are all detailed and precise enough that experienced players will be able to read exactly what attack they’re going to do solely from how the enemy is moving. The level design is similarly excellent, from gorgeous mountains to war-torn cities. Everything feels like a fully realized setting, and details like the types of corpses and destroyed buildings you see can even give hints about the area’s history. The entire game runs smoothly, with virtually no discernible glitches in terms of visuals or gameplay, which is remarkable in and of itself compared to how many games are at launch.
As a new IP from such a highly regarded studio, Sekiro had a lot to live up to, and boy does it meet expectations. The more streamlined combat and clearer story make it FromSoftware’s most accessible game by a long shot, while still offering enough to satisfy veterans as well. Every aspect of the game feels polished and fully realized, making it just a joy to play. From boss fights to farming mobs, Sekiro never has a dull moment and never fails to reward player skill and tenacity. Whether you’re a hardcore Souls veteran, a curious newcomer, or something in between, Sekiro is an experience you won’t want to miss!
Released By: Activision
Release Date: March 15, 2019
Platform: PS4, Steam (reviewed), Xbox One