Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice Ongoing Review Part 1: Something Familiar, Something New
Challenge, freedom, and death highlight our first weekend with FromSoftware’s newest title.
By Ryan Seery
It has been two years since Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice was first revealed during The Game Awards. Speculation then quickly began with players wondering if it would have the methodical defensive tendencies of Dark Souls or build upon the fast-paced, aggressive style developer FromSoftware introduced in Bloodborne. With Sekiro, the studio takes one of its biggest departures from the gameplay it is known for while delivering the challenge and excitement fans have received from its prior franchises. Like the games before it, expect to die early and often.
Sekiro sets itself apart immediately with its setting. FromSoftware does feudal Japan beautifully. While only a slight step up graphically from Darks Souls 3, the open set pieces where you sneak around getting stealth kills set the game apart. These locations give a feeling of freedom. With the ability to choose which routes you take to stealithy murder your foes, each walkthrough of an area conjures endless ways to take down enemies or peacefully elude them. Incredibly detailed cliff-side castles, remote enemy camps, and flame-engulfed estates give life to the cruel world you find while leaving you wanting to explore more.
These set pieces are complemented by a way of traversal not found in any of the Souls games or Bloodborne. Swinging from point to point with the grappling hook is fast and fluid. While crouching in tall grass, hugging corners to get a viewpoint of what is ahead, double jumping up walls, or grappling to a leverage point to plot out your route, Sekiro’s movement is precise.
Verticality is a huge factor in this game. Not only with getting from one place to another, but during combat too. Enemies have both health bars and posture meters to contend with. To get a devastating deathblow or just a chance to whittle down an enemy’s health, you must use parries, dodges, and jumps to break your opponent’s posture. To do this successfully takes failure. You have to learn from your mistakes and be patient enough to not make them again. Like the games that came before it, when it comes to battles, Sekiro is about pattern recognition.
Leveling up doesn’t happen with Souls or Blood Echoes in this game. You gain experience points from kills, which amounts to collecting skill points. These are used to purchase helpful abilities to build out your capabilities in battle. However, since this is a FromSoftware game, you do get penalized for dying.
In Sekiro, you lose half your money and current experience points from death… and you don’t get them back. There is no recovering what is lost in this game, leaving death absolutely punishing to the player. Luckily, you can occasionally offset this with a quick resurrection. Get murdered by two lowly enemies? Don’t get mad right away – maybe wait for them to turn around, resurrect yourself, and then deathblow one of your would-be killers.
The prosthetic attachments you can find are another aid in battle. Reminiscent of the trick weapons you received in Bloodborne, you can equip up to three attachments at a time to help exploit enemy weaknesses. These tools can be upgraded by collecting items, but you’ll have to face a challenge to earn the help. Everything in this game comes with a price.
Player progress is key in Sekiro. Not just with respect to upgrading the character, but how you yourself improve. Every intense battle teaches you something new about the game that you should bring with you to the next fight.
Death is punished with diminishing money and experience, but also allows you to learn from your mistakes. Realize those mistakes, be patient, and learn the enemies’ movements and tells, so you can be the one lending out the punishment. One of the greatest feelings is coming back from a rage-quit to defeat the enemy who you couldn’t even get to half health in prior attempts. Learn, take a break, be patient, and then kick some ass.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice had me interested since the FromSoftware logo flashed on the screen two years ago. I’ve speculated since that day on how the studio would build upon the changes they made between Dark Souls and Bloodborne, and this game is beyond what I could imagine.
While feeling lost in a semi-familiar world with the difficulty ramping up, I’m anxious, nervous and kind of fucking scared to see what's next.
Obligatory Disclosure: Activision provided Dead Entertainment with a copy of the game for review and article consideration following its launch.