I’ve never been the biggest fan of the Dark Souls series. There, I said it, and now the internet can hate me. I appreciate the games, all three of which I’ve played, as they are brilliantly designed. But they never quite grabbed me like they seemed to do to so many others. The action felt a bit slower than I typically like, and the lack of explanation of the extremely complex systems left me frustrated. With this in mind, you’ll understand why a new FromSoftware game announcement doesn’t hold as much weight with me as it might you. And yet, after seeing Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice in action, I simply can’t wait to play this game.
Yes, Sekiro still looks like a FromSoftware game.
Yes, Sekiro (find out what the word means here) still looks like a FromSoftware game. It’s tough, as the developers pointed out soon and often during our 45 minute walkthrough of the game. In fact, the developer playing through the demo, which he’d already played from start to finish many times before my session, died unexpectedly on two separate occasions. But that challenge comes through the usual way it does in a FromSoftware title. It’s not cheap, and the game isn’t out to get you. Instead it presents you with a conquerable challenge and lets you figure it out on your own. This, according to Activision producer Robert Conkey, gives players a sense of accomplishment (echoing a disastrous PR response from EA, but in a much more appropriate context).
Sekiro does feature the challenge a typical FromSoftware fan expects, but there’s a lot more to the game beyond that. For one, this is a true action title, featuring fast and fluid combat. Your character moves, dodges, and attacks with precision and speed, and you will fight enemies that do the same. Once an encounter starts it’s sword-to-sword combat that looked both intuitive and fun. Before that though you can turn the odds toward your favor by utilizing stealth. This is not a stealth game, as the team made clear, but you will come upon enemies who don’t know where you are and you can use that effectively with your first strike, or by luring enemies into a trap.
There is also a heavy focus on verticality. Your character can jump, for one, and this is very effective in moving around during combat. Just traversing the level looks different though, as you utilize buildings, trees, and cliffs to get around. There was a lot of running along rooftops only to drop onto an unsuspecting enemy walking below. Later in the demo the main character used his many abilities to get onto some cliffs and use them to get further into the level.
As far as the story, you play as Shinobi, a ninja in the 1500’s period of Japan. This is no historical epic though, as was made clear in the reveal trailer. Magic, mysticism, and traditional Japanese folklore are a huge part of Sekiro, and it presents a beautiful world for these larger than life elements to take place.
The first thing that truly shows what this universe is like is Shinobi’s left hand, which he loses in an early battle in the game. Replaced with what FromSoftware’s Yasuhiro Kitao called the “Shinobi Prosthetic”. This new arm is a central part of the Sekiro gameplay, offering unique weapons and tools for your character to use. During the demo we saw a grappling hook, battle axe, shuriken, and more. The arm is just the beginning of Shinobi’s powers though.
As the name implies, death isn’t always the end for our hero. Resurrection is a key ability that can be used to both come back to life, and turn the tide in a tough battle. This is highly limited though, so don’t expect to be raising Shinobi from the dead all the time. Instead it’s used as a last chance revival, but one that can easily confuse the enemy. How often do most dead foes come back to life? The enemy isn’t expecting it, so you can use it to your advantage.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is shaping up to be a true FromSoftware title, with all the high expectations that come with it. The action was fast and fluid, but also stable in that way that only From games can be. Fighting was tactical and enemies were both massive and powerful. Fans of Dark Souls will certainly find things to love here, but those who haven’t been wowed by those games might as well.