REVIEW: Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

Death comes to those who wait

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is the latest offering from FromSoftware, the makers of the Dark Souls and Bloodborne games. As one might guess from that pedigree, Sekiro is not a game for the easily frustrated.

 

Wake up in a run down temple with a man obsessed with sculpting the Buddha. He will also help you with your prosthetic arm as you progress.

Sekiro is set in an alternate/mythical version of Sengoku Japan. You play as a shinobi, ordered to protect ‘the Divine Heir,’ a young child with the Dragon Heritage. The tutorial takes place with you breaking the child out of bondage and, during the attempted escape, you lose your left arm and the Heir. You awaken in a temple with a prosthetic arm and a mission. Recover the Heir and get vengeance on those who wish to use him.

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You can have up to three different accessories to your prosthetic arm equipped at one time (the grappling hook does not count as one of the three.) Pause the game (yes, really) and switch between them as the situation demands.

 

 

On that course, your prosthetic will be a massive asset. In the first major departure from the SoulsBorne games, Sekiro allows players to use all areas of attack. Up and down are open paths for you to go, using the first ability of the arm, the grappling hook. Go over walls rather than finding the gate, stealth over to where a soldier or two are talking and, in some cases, eavesdrop for vital information or stealth kill at least one of them.

Stealth is a good way to get ahead in Sekiro. Use your surroundings to ambush your enemies.

Stealth is a major way to traverse through Sekiro. Hiding behind walls, distracting enemies to come over to investigate for an instant kill, or crouch moving through high grass to get behind enemies for the same. When there are multiple enemies, any advantage in combat is a huge one.

Combat is actually a second major departure for Sekiro. Dark Souls games were patience based combat, waiting for the right time to attack after an enemy leaves an opening and dodge rolling to get there. Bloodborne’s combat was a bit more up tempo, but still relied more on ripostes and dodging. Posture is Sekiro’s stamina of sorts, where you build up an enemy’s posture bar and, when broken, allows the player to perform a deathblow. But beware, you also have a posture bar and the enemies are relentless in trying to break yours. As such, Sekiro is an offensive game, where going on the attack is an advantage. But don’t over-extend, since parrying your opponent also affects their posture (and vice-versa). Sekiro has fast, tight combat and is highly engaging. But don’t expect your Dark Souls experience to be a huge asset. In some ways, it’s a hindrance, when you try to dodge an attack that you really should be parrying.

Another major departure is how you evolve your character in Sekiro. Gone is stats leveling and instead there are trees from which you can choose skills that will allow you to customize your character. You get points to spend by killing enemies, but some progress towards those points (as well as gold accrued) is lost each time you die and return to the statue. Unlike Dark Souls, you cannot recover that experience or money by backtracking to the spot of your death.

Deathblows are the fastest way to kill enemies. Break their posture or sneak up on your foes to be able to perform one. Bigger enemies and bosses require multiple deathblows to bring down.

There are certainly similarities to the SoulsBorne games. You receive a Healing Gourd early, which is essentially an Estus Flask and is upgraded in a similar way (frustration note: Sekiro took after Dark Souls 2 and only gives you one Gourd to start, so healing is very minimal.) There are also healing items in the game, and, while you can only carry a handful, any extra you find go to the Statue and are refilled when resting.

Overall, if you liked Dark Souls for the ‘hard but fair’ reputation it earned, Sekiro is well worth your time. It is difficult, extremely so at times, but figuring out the system, mastering it, and conquering the game will be as rewarding as it was frustrating to get there. Sekiro isn’t Dark Souls or Bloodborne. It is its own new and exciting thing. And that is a thrilling proposition.

 

 Instead of bonfires, you will run across statues like these. You can travel between them at will, or back to your sculpting friend at the dilapidated temple. You can also rest and upgrade your skills here.

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