From Software is infamous for making exceptionally difficult games that can be harsh on players, but satisfying to anyone brave enough to overcome their challenges. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is another title made in the same vein as Dark Souls and Bloodborne, with incredibly difficulty bosses and a gritty world that looks visually fantastic. Unlike From Software’s previous titles however, Sekiro has many different tweaks to its gameplay that allow newcomers to the “souls series” to ease their way into its harsh world. Combat is still as vicious and unforgiving as any of the other games, and it still has its fair share of issues that pop up every now and then, but it’s the little things in Sekiro that greatly add up and create a more welcoming difficult game.
Sekiro places you in the shoes of a shinobi protecting a young lord in 1500s Sengoku Japan, occasionally referred to as Kuro’s Wolf. The young lord is kidnapped and the shinobi’s arm is severed in battle, leaving him to die. It’s not until the shinobi is given a mechanical arm called the Shinobi Prosthetic from a mysterious Sculptor that he can recover and begin a quest to rescue his young master and get revenge on the enemy who took his arm. The story is presented much clearer than previous From Software games, which were often cryptic with their plots. As things happen in the story, Sekiro introduces a variety of beings and creatures based in Japanese mythology, all of which play interesting and significant roles. Not all characters become as fleshed out as others, but the world fits the same dark tones you’d see in both Dark Souls or Bloodborne.
Gameplay is where Sekiro really shines. The controls are similar to From Software’s other games, but now their applied to a ninja like formula. Stealth is a real asset in every instance of Sekiro, where sneaking around and killing enemies will significantly impact how difficult most scenarios will be. It’s not difficult to sneak up on unsuspecting enemies and wipe out a legion, but it can be a necessity at certain times. You can do this by sneaking around using the Shinobi Prosthetic to reach high places and swing between rooftops, which is very fun and a neat twist to this style of game.
Stealth is heavily encouraged, but not the end-all solution. You’ll frequently have to fight battles head-on when you can’t sneak up on enemies through reasonable means. In this situations, Sekiro mixes things up with the Souls formula but adding and taking away some things from previous games. This is something that opens up this style of game to those who disliked some of the tedious elements found in Dark Souls.
Instead of stamina you now have a posture meter, which shows the strength of your stance when defending against incoming attacks. Enemies have this as well, which when filled up completely will break their defense and can give you a chance to execute them swiftly. However, if your own posture is broken you’ll be powerless to stop an incoming attack for a short period. This makes combat very interesting in skirmishes against multiple enemies, which is often difficult but can be tackled in many different ways.
Parries and deflecting attacks can help break the posture of your enemies and give you multiple chances to instantly kill them and control a crowd, which leads to some very cool moments. Bosses also have this, which can be a key element to bringing them down instead of simply chopping away at their health. Without having to worry about stamina, you can do whatever actions you like at any time without having to stop, but blocking and getting knocked down a lot will significantly impact your posture meter and leave you open to be killed.
This is how the difficulty of Sekiro can become very high, which might be restrictively so for some players. Going into a battle underprepared or without the right moves open to you can lead to nearly impossible fights that will stop you dead in your tracks. It’s incredibly important to explore around areas and find new items to gain new abilities and attacks, because they become vital in later portions of the game. In some cases, without them it becomes incredibly difficult or unwinnable to engage in certain battles. Some enemies deal significant amounts of damage and will kill you fast, even if you go in very prepared and ready to take them on.
One option you have is the Resurrection ability, which lets you immediately get up from a killing blow one time and continue to fight. Getting fatally wounded once again after will knock you back to the last Buddha Idol (save point) you visited, just like any other Souls game. There are consequences to this however, called Dragonrot in-game, which affects certain characters within the world you explore if you abuse Resurrection too much. The ramifications also affect you as well, preventing some helpful bonuses that randomly occur as you progress. Much of this ties into the plot, but it’s a neat spin on the idea of being Hollowed in Dark Souls.
Visually, Sekiro is a good looking game. The feudal Japan setting is great and has many different environments where interesting events take place. Many of the enemies you find lurking around have a lot of detail built into their armor and weapons, as well as their behavior and idle animations depending on the situation. Even in the most colorful or bright of areas, Sekiro has a very foreboding undertone everywhere you go, its another dark world that many Souls fans will enjoy exploring. However, a constant problem throughout the game is the camera. In open areas the camera is totally fine, but it’s when the game shifts to more enclosed areas is where things go wrong.
The camera can get pushed up very close to a wall or even your character, obscuring the view at the worst of times. When this happens in battle, it’s almost guaranteed to lead to a swift death since you can’t see where attacks are coming from fast enough to react. In some cases, this can also cause you to lose a lock-on to enemies and force you to reorient yourself. While you can control the camera with ease using the thumb sticks, the camera still can end up moving itself too close to something that will obscure your view.
All of this being said, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is the game that newcomers are going to want to play as their first Souls-style game. It’s not as tedious in some aspects as previous From Software titles, but it doesn’t shy away from being just as difficult and rewarding to players. The setting and story are very interesting and will keep everyone trying to overcome the next big challenge as they fall and get back up again. While the camera can still be an issue, the rest of the game is well-thought out and designed to make you feel like a master ninja in its best moments.
This review was based on a digital review code of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice for PlayStation 4, provided by Activision.