With their Souls series along with Bloodborne, FromSoftware has certainly made their mark on the gaming industry. While each of these games has had its own quirks, they all tend to follow the strict formula that was established with Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls. Of course, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice has some of the largest departures yet, causing some anticipation from their core audience as to whether this latest game will still feel like a FromSoftware title. Will it be challenging, without feeling overly cheap? Will it feature lore-heavy storytelling that allows players to dive as deep as they wish? After a few hours with Sekiro at a recent preview event, the answer so far is a strong “yes” on all fronts.
You can read my general impressions here, which are based on time spent with the game as part of a preview event for which Activision paid for my flight and hotel stay. At this event myself and a few other writers, YouTubers, and influencers checked out Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, playing through the opening hours along with some other highlights. What was pretty immediately apparent when going hands-on with the game was that it retained the signature level of difficulty that has been a trademark of the Souls series, and From’s most recent releases.
The game is hard. You will die. A lot.
The game is hard. You will die. A lot. Yes, you play as a shinobi who can pull off a lot more maneuvers than your characters in Dark Souls. You can run faster, jump higher, climb more surfaces, and perform some pretty intense attacks using your prosthetic arm. Even early in the game it is clear just how much more you can do in Sekiro than in other From titles. But along with this comes additional challenges to overcome.
Bosses will require, or at least be far easier to defeat when you have specific upgrades. Enemies are now defeated through their Posture, giving combat a back-and-forth feel that requires more patience and strategy. And the world is more expansive, with a verticality that has been absent from other From titles. All of this adds complexity to what at first appeared to be a much more accessible experience. And along with it can come some frustration.
Yes, controllers were almost tossed at the preview event, sometimes by me. We had three hours with the game and everyone there was a newbie, of course. So the opening moments felt tense in both the gameplay and the general vibe of the room. About halfway through my time with the game I actually started to wonder if they’d gone too far. Was the game too hard? Should it have been even more action-focused? Then the feel of the room changed.
By this point everyone had encountered a boss or two, with most being unable to beat them. Some required upgrades or items, others just asked you to be very patient and strategic with your actions. Jumping around and hacking away with your sword won’t get you too far. It was near the end of the event when this started to click. A few people had already left, hard drives full of all the captured gameplay they needed. But this was when a few players started to really get how the game worked.
They’d put skill points into the right abilities and were taking out enemies much faster than before. And a few were taking on a boss that so far noone had beaten at the event. As they got closer to defeating them, small crowds would form. At every successful sword strike, excitement spread through the room. When they looked to have won, with a mid-fight fake out snatching that victory away, the mixture of excitement and disappointment was palpable. Eventually, after many defeats, a few players achieved victory and there was true joy in the room.
We’d all watched exactly what this game, the Dark Souls series, and FromSoftware’s entire gameplay philosophy is all about. We hit a wall, we thought we couldn’t overcome it, we worked harder, and then we beat it. The satisfaction of this is exactly why this developer is so beloved, and if these first few hours are anything to go by, that magic is still here for Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice.