Set in a fantasy version of Japan in its Sengoku period players take control of an elder Shinobi who was left for dead after an intense and bloody battle with his Lord’s kidnapper, upon awakening the Shinobi named Wolf awakes to find his body, not in the shape it once was. Armed (pun intended) with an all-new prosthetic limb and a wide arsenal of tools at his disposal Wolf seeks to dispatch of his enemies and rescue his Lord, Kuro.
From the very beginning of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice I found myself immediately concerned about what your standard reviewers would say, from the off the game is very clearly a FromSoftware game in a similar vein to that of Bloodborne and Dark Souls but, Sekiro is not Bloodborne and nor is it Dark Souls whilst there are some similar mechanics the overall feel and pacing of the game is so very different to the other FromSoftware titles that it does not deserve to be but in the Soulsborne group but instead deserves to stand on its own as it’s own franchise.
So, This isn’t Dark Souls 4?
No, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is certainly not Dark Souls 4 however, there are some similarities in a couple of mechanics and that is again, just similarities. Take the sculptor’s Idol for example, similar to the bonfire’s in Dark Souls in the sense that they act like the game’s checkpoints and you can indeed upgrade your stats and fast travel from Idol to Idol that does not warrant a comparison to Dark Souls. The latest Tomb Raider series has a mechanic extremely similar to this in the form of campsites does that make Tomb Raider, Dark Souls? No. “But, what about IGN, Polygon and Eurogamer?” all three of these companies have compared Sekiro to Dark Souls far too much before the release of the game and as such, they’ve had to stick to their word. The only part of Sekiro’s gameplay that I can honestly say feels like Dark Souls is that some swings of Wolf’s katana somewhat feel like the Uchigatana from the Souls’ franchise and that is a loose connection at best. From leaping effortlessly and grappling your way to the top of the tallest tower to sneaking through low grass and staying grounded Sekiro escapes that Souls comparison in the best way possible.
Sekrio: Shadows Die Twice: Xbox One [Reviewed], PlayStation 4, PC
Release Date: 22/03/2019
Price: £49.99 [Disclosure: Game Copy Provided by Publisher]
Play Your Way
This phrase has much become synonymous with Bethesda titles over the years but, unlike Bethesda titles where several paths are laid out for the player to follow in whichever order, they would like Sekiro and the team at FromSoftware really have embraced this gameplay philosophy allowing players to approach every single encounter in any way shape or form they see fit. Players can tackle enemies head on and draw a whole crowd of flailing swords and rifle shots although that is definitely not what I would advise, but, it is an option as is simply running past the horde of enemies desperate for your blood. The best example I have for this is a location called Ashina Reservoir, players should hit this area fairly early on in Sekiro and as soon as players arrive at this area it may look very straightforward but, looks can be deceiving. Ashina Reservoir contains within 2 minutes of its Sculptors Idol; Two bosses; five separate paths; two giants; 9+ enemies and all of these can be explored or completely ignored and each can be explored in countless ways and it was at this point in the game that I really began to appreciate the world that FromSoftware have built for this game. The world itself presents players with so many different ways to experience the game, speaking to players that were playing alongside me we were discovering that some of us had done bosses that others had missed, not through ignorance but just due to the depth of the world.
This depth does not solely belong to the world of Sekiro but also it’s combat and various skill trees, gadgets and items.
By My Sword
Sekiro’s sword combat is both forgiving and brutal, with some bosses you may find yourself stuck for hours and others you may find you breeze through and this is due to each boss having their own playstyle from Dragons and Demons to Monkeys and Masters of Lightning Sekiro really does have something for everyone, but for me personally it is not the bosses themselves that shine in Sekiro it is instead the mechanics within Sekiro that I truly found promising and has me in high hopes for the future of the franchise.
The standard is set from the very beginning, players must rely on their quick reflexes and in some cases their patience to overcome any and all that stand before them. Players will unlock prosthetic tools throughout their journey from steel umbrellas to shurikens and these tools will assist players throughout their journey with some going as far to the point where I would say they were a little bit too helpful in certain parts of the game. But, this is all within the mood of Sekiro because whilst players are certainly in for a challenging and frustrating time the game is also a lot more forgiving when compared to previous FromSoftware titles. During battles, players will have to keep a close eye on their posture and if the player’s posture breaks from guarding too much then it can leave them open to an extremely brutal attack when the AI decides if it wants to hit you or not, in most cases when my posture would break the animation would play out leaving me susceptible to whatever the enemy had in store for me but rather than put their sword through my heart of even just tickle me they would just back off. This goes for bosses too, especially the boss named Genichiro. In this fight, the aforementioned boss would occasionally unleash a flurry of attacks and in most cases, I would not be able to deflect every attack and would end up taking the posture break to save my life and every time my posture would break a neat animation between Wolf and Genichiro would play out and by that time I had fully recovered and taken no damage. Whilst I’m unsure if that was the intended use of the posture break in this fight it just didn’t feel quite right but that is just a minor gripe with the combat.
During combat, players will focus on breaking the enemies own posture and leaving them open to insanely bloody finishing moves that never grow old, players can use everything at their disposal to try to break their enemies posture from deflecting the enemies attacks to launching a full frontal assault making use of your combat arts (an all-new mechanic that allows players to alter their moveset to fit their playstyle) to force your way through fights. If that’s not your style then don’t fret as whilst some bosses will force you to face them head on the majority of the game is actually playable solely in stealth.
Drop onto an unsuspecting enemy and unleash a brutal yet silent execution and then move onto your next target from below, above or behind. Whilst I adore the stealth mechanics in Sekiro from the ability to mask yourself with a cloud of your enemies blood to being able to grapple to almost anywhere in the world and plan your attack to every detail it is far from perfect. I often found that enemies would be able to detect me through rooftops and this detection wasn’t a bar that slowly built up it was just instant and whilst I would be able to work around the issue by adjusting my approach the following attempt it doesn’t mean the issue wasn’t there. There are also items you can take with you that will help you greatly to move around the world undetected and to be quite honest I recommend that you try to play this game in complete stealth as to me that was the most fun I had with the game, studying enemy patterns and timings so that I could dispatch of every guard had me feeling like a true Shinobi but, when I would fall in combat death was not always the end.
Shadows Die Twice, And Then Some
When a player falls in combat they are presented with two options, they can either lay peacefully and take the death or they can choose to resurrect with 50% of their health granted to them to continue the fight to try to land that killing blow on their enemy. However, players can only resurrect a limited number of times per fight, for example, if a player was to fall in a boss fight and they only had two revive tokens then even if they use one to get back up the player can not use that second token unless they take one of the bosses health bars. If a player dies immediately after resurrecting they do not get to pop right back up instead they must go back to the sculptor’s idol taking a hit to all of the saved coin that they have on them alongside any unspent XP they may have collected on their journey, and whilst this may seem like a simple mechanic it is actually one of the most interesting mechanics introduced within Sekrio do you resurrect and challenge the boss one more time or do you just take the hit to the coin and XP rather than risk dying again and losing a bigger chunk of what you’ve earned? That is solely down to the items at the players’ disposal at the time and the faith they have in their own abilities.
World of Mine
The deep, rich and beautiful atmosphere created within the world of Sekiro is genuinely fantastic, it offers much-needed breaks from the relentless combat and it is whilst the world is held abeyance that players can truly connect with the Sengoku Japan environment. Offering a fabulous soundtrack that keeps pulling the player back and producing that “Oh just one more attempt” feeling.
The world of Sekiro has many twists and turns all for the good with deep caves and winding rivers to explore players will find it hard to get bored at any point during their time with the game as it truly feels like they belong in the world and have a place amongst all of the chaos, that’s not to say that the entirety of the world is perfect, however, the story of Sekiro took a backseat during my adventure because whilst it was simple I was often left wanting more from the various characters and I found it rather difficult to care about what was going on in the world when I did not know much about the characters themselves. Whilst there were hints scattered throughout the lands about certain characters and their backstories there was rarely anything concrete. So whilst, the world itself is physically beyond magnificent the story told within left much to be desired.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice stands on its own two feet as one of the best releases of this console generation whilst being demandingly difficult it also offers up a variety of options to players allowing for everyone to create their own stories of combat, and whilst the stories experienced by each individual can be exhilarating the game’s plot does have room for improvement alongside the sometimes problematic stealth mechanics.
All in all, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is a fantastic outing for FromSoftware and I’m optimistic for this franchises future and the stories yet to be told within the beautifully sculpted world. The minor issues with plot and stealth mechanics are nothing compared to the deep combat, scintillating traversal and brutal bosses. 9.5/10