Before Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice released, there was a vast majority of the gaming community that was making comparisons to other Souls-bourne titles. After getting some serious time with From Software’s latest IP, I can confidently say that Sekiro is not Dark Souls or Bloodborne, but something new entirely, and I can’t put it down.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is a completely single-player experience. You play a lone shinobi, the Wolf, entrusted with protecting the Dragon Blood prince. He is captured by a nefarious general and the Wolf loses his arm in the process. He wakes up surrounded by carved idols and notices his left arm is now an intricately crafted prosthetic capable of performing a multitude of abilities. As this lone shinobi, you must explore a deadly world full of samurai and monsters waiting for their chance to cut you down, while searching for your missing royal heir.
While this game certainly has some Souls-like nods, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is mostly an entirely new experience and one that longtime souls fans might have a harder time adapting to than newcomers.
In terms of similarities, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice has idols that act as “bonfires”. Here you rest and reset the world state, but it also allows you to increase your attack, vitality, and posture. Later, you’ll be able to use the idols to mend the dragon-rot that is plaguing the over-world as well. There are coin purses that are similar to souls or frenzied cold blood. Popping one of these rewards the player with in-game currency they can then use to purchase worthwhile items. The most souls-like element in this game though is the world building. Exploring the world of Sekiro will feel VERY familiar to those that have played the original Dark Souls, and honestly, it’s brilliant.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice might start out rather linear, but players that commit to this title will soon find out that the world is their oyster. After the first location, I soon found that I wasn’t really limited by much, in regards to where I wanted to go. If I went left, I might end up in an entirely new area, and eventually I’d get to a boss I would either beat or see as a “wall” that I would later need to scale. If I went right, I usually found similar features, or, better yet, upgrade materials like Gourd seeds or prayer beads. Exploring the world of Sekiro is one of the most rewarding experiences in and of itself. There was never a time where I felt like I was going the wrong way, and generally, my curiosity rewarded me with materials or skills that would make my playthrough easier.
At one point, there was a time in the game where I had 5 different bosses, or mini-bosses, to take on and another new area to explore. Where older Souls titles might have been steeped in mystery and vague lore, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice lets you know upfront. Understanding where to go might not be written out in bold, but the world building sets you in a mentality where you feel like exploration and discovery are more crucial than saving some prince. The reward for exploring is never something that grew tiresome either since there is such an emphasis on utilizing materials you find throughout the world. Some might increase your attack power or defense, some may bolster your chances to find items or the amount of sen (money) you find. There are materials for upgrading your prosthetic tools, and items that increase your stats. Everything in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice has a purpose, and utilizing everything you’re given will absolutely make progressing through this beast of a game much more enjoyable.
This is where the similarities to the Souls games end, however. Everything else you find in this game will be unique to the IP, and honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way. If anything, Sekiro is the love child of Tenchu and Bloodborne. With a focus on aggressive combat and emphasis on stealth mechanics, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice offers players a beautiful blend of both, and the result is an overly addicting game, with an insanely steep learning curve.
To say your opening hours with the game will be “hard” is putting it mildly, especially for veterans of From Software titles. For those coming into this game fresh, take your time, embrace the mechanics and systems you’re shown, and have fun. For those that are more than a little familiar with Souls-likes, forget EVERYTHING you think you know. To Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice‘s credit, the tutorial zone is a fantastic first area to help players adjust to the game’s mechanics. Most enemies can be killed in a couple hits, and they telegraph their moves very clearly, so parrying their attacks should make you feel like a shinobi in no time. On top of that, worrying about defeating the first “boss” isn’t a problem since you’re supposed to die to him. After that initial area, you’re brought to the first, actual area in the game. Like the opening zone, this area allows players to flex their fingers and really deep dive into the thick of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice.
For starters, posture. Posture. Is. Everything. One of the most obvious differences in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is the introduction to the posture meter. Trading blows with enemies, damaging enemies, and countering enemies all increase this meter and once filled, it allows you to perform finishing moves that make quick work of almost anything. For the smaller guys, you can run in, land a few attacks and end them before they even have time to think about hitting back. You will slowly be introduced to other enemies though that require a lot more finesse. Just blocking will increase your posture meter more than your opponents, but landing perfect blocks drastically increases the meter of your opponent. Land a few of these and most of the game’s general baddies will fall in a matter of seconds.
Eventually, you’ll encounter a mini-boss which will pose as a skill check for the uninitiated. These smaller bosses usually require two death blows, but for the perceptive players out there, there’s usually a way to get in a sneak attack, which is always a smart option. It is during these boss fights, and even some mini-bosses, where the game encounters a curious bisection. Exploring the over-world and fighting regular enemies is usually very enjoyable. After you understand the game’s mechanics, navigating hostile enemies and traversing an area comes with relative ease. Then you encounter a boss, and within seconds you’re most likely reviving wondering what the hell happened. This bisection is one that players will either adapt to or loathe entirely. There is a stark contrast between these two elements, and it can catch you off guard, especially if you’re going into a fight you’re sure you can win. I suppose this is another comparison to older Souls games, but this felt a lot more black and white than previous titles.
Where some might argue that these mini-bosses are too hard, or even regular bosses, to that I have two things to say. One, it’s a From Software game. It is going to be difficult. Two, use the things you find in the area and things will go a lot smoother for you. For example, there was a General (mini-boss) that I could not take down. My prosthetic axe wasn’t doing a damn thing, my attacks were constantly getting blocked, I was running out of options. As I scroll through my inventory, I noticed the “Fistful of Ash” item, which was exactly what it sounded like. I equipped this, went back into the fight, and instantly staggered the General, allowing me to land a couple of hits before I had to toss another one out. After repeating this pattern, I eventually took down the General and was the recipient of another prayer bead. Another boss wouldn’t react to a single prosthetic I had (and you find quite a few) except for one, the Sabimaru, which inflicted poison damage and allowed for fast, consecutive hits. Throwing this out in the fight rapidly poisoned him, and ensured I could drive up his posture in a very short period of time. He went down in seconds.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice gives you everything you need to take down any opponent. Understanding this and utilizing everything became part of what made this game such an overly enjoyable experience. Each encounter became a puzzle I needed to solve to progress, and like most other souls-likes, learning the boss’s moves and tells eventually led to success.
To change up your play style even more, each prosthetic you earn can be altered in a number of ways which allows for even more creative freedom. The Loaded Umbrella can be enhanced to allow for easier parries, with no damage being dealt to you. The Shinobi axe can be tricked out with fire so you deal explosive damage on top of the physical damage. The Raven’s Feather can be altered to let you dodge in any direction you want, on top of negating all damage. These prosthetic tools are the meat of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, and they can be beyond fun to use.
Another interesting change to the Souls’ formula is the addition of background music. The soundtrack of this game is more prevalent than any previous Souls title. Where there used to only be ambient noise, now there are wood flutes and taiko drums. While it isn’t a game changer, playing a From game and noticing music in the background can be surprising for sure.
The biggest issue with Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is the learning curve, in my opinion. The beginning moments of the game can be extremely frustrating as you learn how to properly deflect attacks. For me, it was forcing myself to not block or dodge out of the way, but instead, face the attacks head-on. Obviously, this is a different approach to combat than previous From titles, but it is a huge mechanic to understand if you ever want to get past the opening moments. That being said, enemies do feel like they do way too much damage for such an early section. When it was more than just one opponent, I would gravitate towards stealth killing as many enemies as I could versus taking them all on at once. In a way, is dissuaded me from hunkering down and learning the posture mechanics, because why do that when I can exploit them with little to no damage on my end?
Honestly, though, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is probably my new favorite From Software title. The world is painstakingly crafted and absolutely gorgeous to look at and explore. Bosses are clever and never feel re-used, each presenting their own challenge to overcome. The addition of a soundtrack is a welcome choice, as it adds another layer of immersion, and is simply elegant and pleasing to listen to. The new mechanics, while tricky at times, offer just as much player freedom as the multitude of weapons given to us in previous souls games. Lastly, the story is more emphasized here than it has been in any other From game, showing that they can, in fact, tell a full story, when they want to.