Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice feels like a game that would happen if Bloodborne, Dark Souls and Just Cause had a weird threesome lovechild. And I know saying anything is “like Dark Souls” is basically a trigger nowadays, but this is a brand new IP from FromSoftware so if there wasn’t at least some Dark Souls DNA in there, I’m sure the majority of you would be disappointed.
It’s true that Sekiro does have a lot that makes it akin to Dark Souls. There’s still the punishing difficulty and the hulking bosses – you know its hard when the developer dies three times, and not on purpose – but Sekiro is much, much more than just a reskinned Souls game.
For a start, it’s very visually different to what FromSoftware is known for. Gone is the gothic, grey horror in favour of a game that’s intended to celebrate and emphasise the natural beauty of Japan. The boss fight I was shown behind closed doors at E3 2018 showed off an enemy known as the Corrupted Monk, with the fight taking place in an arena surrounded by blossom trees, with branches potentially falling around you depending on how the fight plays out. It’s utterly beautiful, and it feels strange seeing red in a FromSoftware game and it not being blood.
But there is a lot of blood, because after all you’re playing as a Shinobi, basically a mercenary ninja bound to the service of a young lord. The gameplay aesthetic is all based around the noise of clashing swords, so as you’d expect there’s plenty of katana action going on in Sekiro. Rather than the dodging and rolling focus of Dark Souls, the action here seems to be much more about parrying and leaping about to avoid attack. Yes, this is a FromSoftware title you can jump in. Bonkers.
And it doesn’t stop there, because our currently nameless hero has also lost an arm that’s been replaced with a Shinobi prosthetic. This gives you access to a number of different enhancements, including a grappling hook that lets you traverse the world and pull yourself towards enemies in a move that feel very Just Cause, as strange as the comparison would seem.
But it’s the way you can use your katana in conjunction with your prothesis that makes the gameplay super interesting to watch, especially when the developer used an axe built into the prothetic arm to smash through wooden shield, before delivering devastating finishing blows with a katana through the head.
With the bigger bosses you get Japanese symbols pop up warning you of danger – of the moves that you can’t parry and will have to leap over instead. Apparently there’s a range of prompts that you’ll learn as the game progresses, all teaching you how to deal with the more challenging members of the Sekiro enemy roster. Interestingly, there are also stealth mechanics at your disposal, with you able to wall hang and sneak around to tackle enemies from different angles, picking them off one by one. Oh, and also for hiding from the giant monsters that dwell in this land too. FromSoftware’s still about the tactics after all.
And that’s especially true when it comes to the meta game. For Sekiro it’s all about Posture. Both you and everything you fight has a Posture metre. That might not matter for the small bosses, but for the big ones you’ll need to reduce their posture to zero because otherwise you’ll come to a rather swift end. You can build Posture by successfully blocking shots, slipping in the katana blade into enemy flesh and more. You’ll start losing it if you just keep your block up rather that only raising it just before an enemy attacks and successful parrying, or if you just keep getting hit. From what FromSoftware said at my E3 2018 demo, it’s much more nuanced than it sounds here, but it’s good at forcing some seriously precise fighting and recalls Bloodborne’s offensivly defensive drive to constantly parry.
Interestingly enough, there’s another element to the combat that currently seems a bit… cryptic… and that’s resurrection. If you die in battle, you do have the choice to resurrect yourself and carry on from where you left off. It’s handy for picking off a few extra enemies while their back is turned, but according to FromSoftware it comes with “consequences”. It’s not clear yet what these will be, but expect some complications that’ll make resurrection a decision you’ll have to think about.
From what we’ve seen so far with Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice it looks to offer the kind of challenge and complexity that something like Dark Souls would, but with a level of creativity to the combat that will no doubt entice some newer players into the FromSoftware fold. The game is due on Xbox One, PS4 and PC in early 2019.