Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice Review
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice Review - Before We start
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is a new baby developed by From Software, a Japanese video game development company known for game series like Armored Core, Bloodborne or Dark Souls. Development of Sekiro began in late 2015, right after the completion of The Old Hunters downloadable content for Bloodborne. The game finally released worldwide on March 22, 2019 for Microsoft Windows, PS4, and Xbox One. Published by Activision outside of Japan and Asia region. The game was supposed to be named just Sekiro, but publisher pushed for a sub-title - Shadows Die Twice. Sekrio by itself doesn't have that special ring to it.
Sekiro will take you to a reimagined 16th-century Sengoku period Japan, to follow the story of a shinobi known as Wolf, pursuing revenge on a samurai who cut off his arm and kidnapped his Lord - Kuro that Wolf has sworn to protect. Being unable to die, shinobi will go on a quest, to find and save his Lord, to help him complete the Immortal Severance ritual, to remove the Dragon Heritage, and prevent more deaths, on this cursed land. How far Sekiro stepped away from the Dark Souls series? What new does it bring to the table, and what does it mean for future souls-like games? Is this in fact, the best and hardest souls-like game to date? I will try to answer all of these questions in this Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice Review, right on this site.
The Evolution is real
Things change. War, despite the known mantra, changes too. Games change. Maybe change is not the right word. Games evolve. First game in a souls series was a clunky mess of a game focused on slower, calculated gameplay. Tight corridors stuffed with enemies, linear paths, with healing items that player had to grind for. Dark Souls changed the idea by adding Estus Flask, making the world a bit more open, with twisted roads, and unlockable shortcuts between them. Dark Souls II granted players a bit more freedom in their early pathing, with the DLC Scholar of The First Sin, making DS2 the hardest souls game to date. Bloodborne changed the rules, forcing players to play aggressively, allowing for faster gameplay, and Dark Souls III connected Bloodborne and classic Dark Souls mechanics creating a hybrid between the two, that you either love or hate. Personally, I loved it.
Sekiro and Dark Souls. The same... but different… but still the same. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice took the core of Dark Souls gameplay and allowed for more freedom in movement, with the addition of jumping, and vertical movement, with the use of a grappling hook, while limiting the possibilities of playstyle to an absolute minimum. The game is similar to Tenchu in a lot of aspects. We follow an existing character that can’t be customized in any way, using one main weapon - a katana called Kusabimaru, and various tools used through our Shinobi Prosthetic Arm.
Limiting player’s choices when it comes to playstyle was a bold move from From Software. The shortage of play styles, that can differ only through the usage of different skill tree, and different Prosthetic Arm Tools allows the game to be consistent. After all, Sekiro is a pure single player experience. There’s a certain road that a character has to take, and a certain fighting way that players have to deal with. For a player that loves giant Ultra Greatswords, and more of a tanky defensive approach, this game might be a bit lacking in the beginning. But the way this game presents its combat system - every Dark Souls fan will stick with it through the entire game. From Software is at the top of their game, as always, what else would we expect?
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The combat system and Difficulty
Let’s talk about combat mechanics. They can be brutal at times. One thing is certain - if you play this game like you would play Dark Souls, you are most likely going to fail. From Software made sure, that even though this game still feels like classic Souls title, everything will feel fresh enough, to be a different game. As a shinobi, you won’t fight with numerous slashes and dodges. As a shinobi, you will fight through the usage of parries and deflects. There's almost no room for error. And there's always your Healing Gourd to heal you, and killing a boss may award you with an item that increases your Healing Gourd capacity. Healing Gourd refills each time you rest.
Sekiro removed the stamina bar, known as being the most important resource in souls-like games. The game exchanged it for a Posture Bar. Your attacks and blocks are not limited in any way unless your posture gets broken. If you get too many hits from an enemy, whether you’re blocking or not, your character will lose balance, being unable to move, dodge or attack for a short duration. And it applies to every enemy in the game. Every enemy that gets his posture broken, will allow you to either kill them instantly or to reduce the number of their available health, no matter their current health pool.
This allows players to fight enemies using two tactics. You can either go old school Dark Souls style, and focus on slowly chipping down the hp, waiting for windows of opportunity, till it reaches zero, or you can focus on breaking the posture and finish the job with one fatal strike, sort of... or maybe two. Depends on the enemy.
Posture is broken through attacking and deflecting. Deflect works similar to Parry from Dark Souls series, with two differences. It doesn’t allow you to counter for a huge amount of damage instantly, and it’s easier to do it, because of the larger window when a block counts as a Deflect. You don’t have to be frame perfect, but it doesn’t change a thing about satisfaction. When you successfully deflect an irregular arrhythmic combo, consisting of 9 attacks, it makes you feel like Daigo Umehara, parrying Chun-L’s super.
This is not the only difference. There are various attacks that require special commands and actions to avoid the damage. While Sekiro has a classic dodge button, that has some iFrames, some special attacks, grabs, and sweeps will ignore it and punish you for playing as you would play in Dark Souls. When an enemy uses a sweep attack, you will have to jump over it, when the enemy plunges at you with a stab attack, you will have to close the distance to step on the weapon, dealing huge posture damage, and if a boss tries to grab you - well, make sure you are not on the path of the grab cuz you are about to get smashed.
There’s some huge risk involved when you decide to just stay on the pathway of attacks, and block everything, and to encourage that playstyle Sekiro adds a helpful revive mechanic that allows players to get up after death, to fight again without enemies coming back to life. There’s a huge window for mistakes, and you will make them for sure, but revive system will let you stay in a game a bit longer, as you learn the patterns of enemy attacks, to deflect them in the near future.
Git gud or git kild
The game is absolutely fair, and any person begging Hidetaka Miyazaki for an Easy Mode is a scrub and should just “git gud”. I guess that most of the negative reviews about this game on metacritic are from the same people, that would rather play Devil May Cry 5, that was actually amazing, but really easy. There are so many releases in the broad spectrum of gaming entertainment that are way too easy. Souls-like games stay entertaining by giving players a chance to overcome their weaknesses. Every death should feel like a lesson, and every victory is a sign of self-improvement. In Dark Souls, Bloodborne, and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, fun manifests through giving players a challenge to overcome, in each enemy they encounter. Characters you play are really responsive, and If you died, you did something wrong, and if you want to progress through the game - you will have to earn it. It's an art to make the game difficult, hard, and tough, especially in this genre of third person action adventure rpg, that is dominated by games that you can literally faceroll through, and still make it fair and engaging. Lords of the Fallen for example failed miserably, despite being a similar product, with a similar formula.
The difficulty is bloody perfect. And there are many elements and features to it. The game forcefully puts you in situations from which you will have to learn. You like to spam block? Look, this enemy will break your posture and deal huge damage after each combo. You focus heavily on deflects? Here’s that enemy with super fast unblockable attack that will deal damage, taking away 75% from your hp pool. Also, there’s a Demon Bell, a location in which you will be able to make all fights about two times harder than they actually are. I used it, I don’t regret it. Kick my ass some more Sekiro.
Also if you are trash, and still have some trouble with beating Sekrio by some miracle, you can find many guides on idk, gamestop, let them guide you through fights and locations, have your mobile near your gaming place and check some tactics in the middle of the fight (it's more handy than checking in in the magazine, like during the early days when I was playing first Resident Evil games). Come on, you have access to a digital sea of information, with latest news updated each day, and other players who are willing to share their ways.
Combat mechanics aren’t the only thing that has changed. In Sekiro player has a freedom of movement, thing certainly unheard of in the world of Dark Souls. Verticality becomes a thing with the use of wall-runs, wall-jumps, and grapple hook. You can climb, you can jump, you can jump between two walls like in Prince of Persia series, or you can get the high ground (and everyone knows that it’s over at this point). Free-roaming areas are designed in a way that lets you choose how do you want to approach your enemies, either run-and-katana (i guess) playstyle, or you can use stealth to your advantage, allowing you to avoid enemies, or assassinate them one by one.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice Review - The bosses you encounter
There’s a slight change when it comes to bosses, as Sekiro offers both normal and mini-bosses. Mini-bosses are stronger enemies scattered around the world, most of the time surrounded with minions. They have larger hp pool (usually 2 bars), use various unblockable attacks that you will have to counter properly or create some distance between you and the enemy. Majority of mini-bosses allow you for one stealth hit before the fight, that takes away one health bar instantly, then you can either kill or posture-break. Killing them rewards a player with special beads, that work as a component for health and posture bar stat increase.
What about Bosses themselves? Gladly, in Sekiro you will spend less time slashing legs of giant enemies, and more time fighting actual human enemies. It’s a good change and I’m glad that lots of bosses offer a fair and technical fight. Boss-count is similar to the one from Dark Souls 3, there’s a huge variety, when it comes to required (or the most efficient) playstyle, and there are some unique mechanics not seen before, like a boss fight in the form of a puzzle that a player has to solve to actually finish the boss. Pretty fun addition.
Human boss fights were one of the best boss experiences in From Software games. They are fast, aggressive, versatile in their attacks, and pose as a great challenge for a player. This doesn’t change in Sekiro. Human Boss fights are still the hardest and the most exciting in this title. Especially the last boss, that puts everything that you’ve learned to the test, with arhythmic attacks, lots of unblockable attacks, and high damage. It took a few hours to finish this fight, and if you spent more time cheesing bosses, or slowly chipping away their health instead of well-timed deflects - then you are going to spend much more time here.
Sekiro might be the hardest game in the Soulsborne: You Will Die Way Too Many Times series, but I wouldn’t call it the hardest, I would rather call it… just different. It requires a different approach and mindset. Sekiro is a fighting game, like Tekken, locked within the gameplay and form of Dark Souls. There were three solutions in Dark Souls games when it comes to bosses, dodge, block, or riposte. When it comes to Sekiro, it has at least six solutions to different situations, and you have to be fast with your reactions, and some attacks require prediction.
Enemy design is absolutely fantastic. With each new location, you will see new enemies with unique, unpredictable movements that will still make your struggle, even when you felt much stronger than enemies from the previous location. It’s amazing, it’s engaging, and it forces you to learn everything from the start the further you progress into the game. Good job Miyazaki and From Software, especially for these flying kite-enemies. I literally rolled on the ground with all of my previous Dark Souls characters, like I was trying to dodge a 10-hit combo.
The setting and story
When it comes to climate - I would advise you to play the game with Japanese sounds, as Japanese voice actors did an outstanding job, making the whole experience really believable. The game takes place in Japan, duh. While other languages are not bad at all (english language is amazing too), you will ruin your immersion if you use them. Sekiro has this slight Japanese horror-like atmosphere. There are courageous samurai guttural shouts, old Japanese Women NPCs sound like deranges witches, with their trembling, shaky voices. This game is truly glorious and should be experienced at its best level. Japanese sounds, subtitles - meh, whatever you’d like, and you are ready to go.
The story is not shrouded at all. From Software is known for hiding lore in item descriptions and silly NPC dialogues. To really experience the epicness of Dark Souls for example, and get to know what is happening and why is this happening - you had to look at the descriptions of items to slowly put together the whole story, piece by piece. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice while embraces the idea of hiding its lore within the item descriptions, it does so to a lesser extent. There are lots of dialogues and cutscenes that explain most things. Everything seems crystal clear about the lore, and if you pay attention to symbolic dialogue and cutscenes, you will have no trouble in understanding what’s going on.
And what about the story itself? It’s right there. Not as complicated as Dark Souls lore, there’s some symbolism, some nice hints in item descriptions, some callbacks to other FromSoftware games (there’s no Moonlight Greatsword though). The story just is. Just right there.
And the locations are amazing. Players that love to explore will feel like home. There are some secret pathways to discover, some hidden items here and there. There’s a huge variety in locations. Some places are dark, gloomy, some will say japanese horror-like. Some are bright, happy, and stained with monkey blood. Whether it’s a journey through Burning Village, The Great Castle Gate of Ashina, or a Buddhist Monk Temple, you will love the exploration.
Some things just don’t click sometimes
As for negatives, there are a few things I would like to talk about, as they need to be addressed. The biggest downside to this game is the replayability value. For those who like to master the game, or to challenge themselves with fancy restrictions this might not be the case. I like to challenge myself with stupid challenges, like removing a save file after my character dies, just because I like the thrill of, potentially, losing hours of progress upon death. But for those who just like to experience the game?
There seems to be close to no reason to replay the game, just to experience something new. Games like Dark Souls, or Bloodborne, even Witcher 3, offer a lot of possibilities of playstyle, that completely change a player’s look on the game. Even without PvP scene, in for example Dark Souls 2, when I played offline I still managed to net about 600 hours, trying out different builds, warrior with greatswords, dual hammers, archer, spellblade, cleric, pyro or faith mage. There’s nothing like that in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. You are a certain character with a certain story and certain skillset and that’s pretty much it.
Another thing to mention: Skill Tree system is disappointing. Skill Trees should, in theory, make your characters unique in some way. Witcher 3 would let you focus on fast or heavy attacks, bombs, magic, and alchemy. And every playstyle felt unique in some way, each was a different and fun experience, as you would strategize your approach for the next fight. Sekiro doesn’t allow any variety. Skill Tree seems very irrelevant in the long run. Yes, you unlock special attacks like Ichimonji or Exorcism, you get special Ninjutsu abilities, but what exactly does that change? Nothing. No skill tree feels unique at all, and they are way too short. I think that making each skill tree a bit longer, and giving the player a limited number of skill points (or just a harder time of obtaining them), would make everything a bit more unique, adding to the replay value.
I will replay it anyway, it’s a souls-like after all.
I won’t talk about the variety of Prosthetic Arm Tools as they are useful, there’s a good amount of variations, each has its use, and it is a tool. It feels like a tool as you can utilize that in special situations only. Maybe allowing the player to focus the playstyle on a tool would make this game a bit more replayable, but I am not so sure if that would fix anything. Maybe. Maybe not. Guess I’ll never know.
The length of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is another issue. The game seems way too short. At least currently, as incoming DLCs will surely bring more story, locations, and bosses into the game. The game seems long only if you struggle with each boss or mini-boss. As for someone that is a Dark Souls Veteran, and actually managed to adapt to fresh environment pretty fast - the game felt really short for me. When you know how to beat each boss, or how to cheese them, and know where to go (as I spent a lot of time searching for a place that would progress me in the story), you can beat the game in about 35 minutes. Which is a little bit disappointing.
I haven’t encountered many bugs during my playthrough, and only two made me feel a little bit uncomfortable. The camera doesn’t know how to behave when you are in close proximity to objects, especially when you are in a boss arena. My eyes are really sensitive to movement, especially when it’s messy, and when you end up between a wall and a boss, your camera will cause you to gradually lose your mind and/or head.
Some enemies love to unlock themselves when you are trying to lead their fast movements into your view. I’ve had some situations, when I would lose the lock-on function in the least expected moments of enemy movement of attacks, and it became really frustrating at some point, especially when boss loves to jump around above you. And while it happened in Dark Souls too, for some reason it wasn’t as frustrating as it is in Sekiro.
The second issue (as I wouldn’t call it a bug) is a “Wall hang” system. I don’t know if there’s something wrong with me, or if someone programmed it that way, or if my fps drops caused it (as I play on a trash PC with fps ranging from 20-40), but a lot of times, when I’m jumping towards a ledge I would like to grab, The Wolf just kicked the wall in the air, not grabbing the ledge, and throwing me down in the abyss below, making me lose hp, even though I pressed that fucking Square. Some people struggle with bosses, some with combat mechanics, I killed Butterfly Lass at my 3rd try but I struggled with grabbing a ledge to hang from it. I got defeated, more than Twice, shouting “ROBERRRRRRRT” into the abyss each time.
Enemy AI absolutely broke my heart. I know that AI in DS series was similar, and Sekiro isn’t a full-on stealth game like Metal Gear Solid series, but sweet merciful Buddha, what the hell is going on with enemies sometimes - it’s just too much for me. If you decide to implement sneak and ninja stealth mechanics into the game, AI has at least to respond in a decent way. There’s more than sneaking though. Snake eye lady mini-boss just following you into the pool of toxic waste, wanders off knee-deep into the poison lake, while you are watching her safely from the ledge, while her hp pool slowly fades away. I don't know how hard it is to code a decent AI system so I guess I can't complain, though I expected something more creative in that regard.
From Software through Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice showed us that things that we love can evolve into something new, while still being true to the entire history of beloved game mechanics, that change throughout the series, even when they are implemented into new big titles. This shows that many games with similar core mechanics, but twisted in some unpredictable ways can easily create the same, sometimes even stronger emotions in players. My Dark Souls loving heart is overflowing with joy, and my need for changes is satisfied as well.
Now, I know that I said, that Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice lacks the replayability, but come on, it’s From Software, it’s a souls-like-kind-of-but-really-not-but-still-is… every Dark Souls veteran old, or young will try to master it, even with limited options for new experiences. And I will spend next few days in april mastering it as well. I think I need to set up some sickness so I don't have to go to work, so I can stay within the walls of my little kingdom, grab my controller, purchase some good edible products with money, launch the game, lower each graphic option out there cuz of my trash rig, suffer through some loading screens (that are quite short), beat the game, type some "git gud" on Sekiro forums
Check the trailer below and watch it if you din't get the memo, or for some reason you didn't read this piece of an article:
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