The Gameplay Experience
As soon as you walk into the Shinobi-focused game of FromSoftware you will find yourself deeply involved in this story-driven game with stealth and action-packed into one. But this new mutated strain is as much its own stealth-action experience, one that’s more focused, cohesive, and in some ways forgiving, despite retaining its predecessors’ trademark difficulty.
As I rolled credits after days of pressurized-blood-geyser executions, fantastical monster fights, split-second swordsmanship, and sprawling, secret-filled areas, I’m left with a deep appreciation for this amazing journey and the skills it demands to master it. To any Souls veteran, Sekiro’s timing-based lock-on combat of strikes and slashes is familiar, as is the way you weave through the same excellently designed levels that snake, interconnect, and double back on themselves to reveal new shortcuts between little bastions of safety to resupply. Functionally equivalent to bonfires from Dark Souls, or Lanterns in Bloodborne, the Sculptor’s Idols are where you’ll rest, recover your healing draughts, reset slain enemies, access your character progression, and of course, teleport between them for a snappy fast trip.
I certainly enjoy punishing games that test me and my skills there’s a sense of empowerment that comes from Sekiro’s generally more forgiving nature. For example, due to the seemingly smaller, more linear paths relative to the sprawling hellscapes of other FromSoftware games, I never felt like I had to go too far to find the next Idol and bank my progress. That regular cadence relieves a lot of the oppressive anxiety in wondering if all your work will be taken from you before you can make it to the next checkpoint, and once or twice I simply sprinted through an area, assuming an Idol was just on the other side. It usually was. That relieving sense of safety in Sekiro allowed me to appreciate the mechanical complexities of it in a way I couldn’t if I was terrified of taking any chances. It’s not something I’d wish for every game of this genre to embrace, but it’s refreshing and new.
There are some features you will be able to see and use that caught my eye:
- Go your own way– This is not one of those games which give you restricted open-world experience but is the open-world in a true sense giving you, “The Shinobi” complete access to play it. Like you can skip an enemy if you choose to do so but I would advise otherwise as each enemy you face will give some experience boost and different loot and hone your skills.
- Second Chances– As the name suggests “SHADOWS DIE TWICE” you will be giving a second chance if you die but it will cost you half the experience and the loot you gathered.
- Live by the Sword, Die by Sword– When you’re not skulking around looking to get the drop on your enemies to score easy kills with stylishly gory execution animations that spray gushes of blood in every direction like a rotating lawn sprinkler, the emphasis of Sekiro’s combat is on skill-based swordsmanship that requires a mastery of an excellent new rock-paper-scissors countering system. While parries and dodges have always had an organic feel in Bloodborne and the Souls series, in Sekiro they’re much more heavily emphasized and crucial to find any measure of success against enemies big and small.
- Combat Level– Sekiro’s Combat is based on skill-driven swordsmanship that requires the mastery of the countering system- This is the most important aspect of the game as it is not only about attacking but also the deflection mechanism you need to use along with evasive tactics.
- Differential Gaming-You will need to leave the muscle memory you may have from other similar or shooting games to experience the true gameplay this has to offer. It keeps on throwing challenging bosses and fights and the use of various tools to make it extremely interactive. It makes you want to excel in what you have rather than choosing a different weapon from your arsenal.
- World at War– While there’s no shortage of rich Japanese atmosphere in the background, Sekiro’s story is where I connected with it the least. On the one hand, it’s a much more straightforward tale than FromSoftware usually deals in, as your undying, one-armed Shinobi dutifully serves, protects, and endlessly murders at the behest of your master, a child Divine Heir blessed with immortality. On the other, because Sekiro is much more linear in its tasks, because the characters actually speak to you incoherent sentences and give you direction, and because there are ample clues and hints throughout the world that let you draw correct conclusions, it’s easy to blow through the journey without ever needing to stop and ponder, as I’ve come to expect in a FromSoftware game.
About the gameplay
I landed on an enemy grunt, piercing him with my sword and rolling out of my attack in a seamless and deadly ballet. He never had a chance. I turn to confront his terrified friend. I swing, but he blocks my attack with his rifle. His strength fails him after my second attack. He stands exhausted and defenseless. My next move is a one-hit-kill Deathblow. His neck sprays blood like a pierced garden hose as he falls to his knees. I feel like a shinobi god as I collect my loot and move on. Past a large door, there’s another enemy. My adrenaline surges as I see the next few seconds of my life with absolute clarity. I sneak up behind him, run him through, and he’s gone. I am a shinobi god. In the distance, maybe 20 yards away, two more enemies chat near a small wooden building. They can’t see me. This is going to be easy. I crouch and approach. A bull, the size of a school bus shreds the structure into a hundred shards before I can reach them. He roars and stomps and headbutts everything around him in rage. Fences and enemies fall. The music surges. He turns to me and, as he charges, I notice the flaming tubes of hay where his horns should be. I panic and turn away, running toward what I hope will be safe.
This is the joy and agony of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, developer FromSoftware’s new game. It’s a company known for making notoriously difficult games like the Dark Souls series and Bloodborne, and Sekiro shares that lineage. The game is full of masochistic challenges, but it’s also definitely not a Soulsborne game. There’s something new, something intriguing — and a brutal and definitive statement refuting the idea that FromSoftware is a one-trick pony.
Sekiro evolves From Software’s formula into a stylish stealth-action adventure that, naturally, emphasizes precision and skill in its combat. It walks the line between deliberate and patient stealth and breakneck melee combat against threats both earthly and otherworldly. Its imaginative and flexible tools support a more focused experience that shaves down some of from Software’s overly cryptic sensibilities without losing its air of mystery. Sekiro is an amazing new twist on a familiar set of ideas that can stand on its own alongside its predecessors.