Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice lives up to expectations

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Ever since Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice was revealed in 2017, I couldn’t wait for it to come out. Sekiro is the newest game made by FromSoftware, the creators of the classic Dark Souls series and Bloodborne, which are also some of my favorite games ever made. Sekiro had a lot to live up to and two years later I think it delivered. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is a stylish, focused, stealth-action take on the FromSoftware formula that’s something amazing on its own. It took the difficulty from Dark Souls and innovated it. It borrowed the fast-paced action of Bloodborne and amped that up with the new additions of a grapple hook and other abilities. Sekiro threw all these together and created a game that is truly unique that still stays true to its previous games.

Though many of the mechanics and level design philosophies of this mystical take on Japan’s Sengoku period are nearly identical to the formula laid out previously, Sekiro is immediately its own beast when it comes to stealth, combat and movement thanks to a swiss army knife of a prosthetic arm strapped to the Shinobi character. While there’s no shortage of rich Japanese atmosphere in the background, Sekiro’s story is where I connected with it the least. It’s a much more straightforward tale than FromSoftware usually deals in, as the undying, one-armed Shinobi dutifully serves, protects and endlessly murders at the behest of its master, a child Divine Heir blessed with immortality.

Stealth is a new feature that has been added to the party mix that Sekiro is. The game is designed so that with a little thought and patience, Sekiro can sneak by or get the drop on his opponent. The atmosphere complements this new system pretty well. With the grapple hook ability, areas gain more verticality, which helps with getting the drop on unsuspecting victims and allows for ways of retreating when being cornered or overwhelmed. The almost open world of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice gives the player a sense of freedom in his actions and allows for exploration. This exploration might lead to a path that might have less enemies or a useful item that might help on Sekiro’s journey.

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 finding any measure of success against enemies big and small. Thrust attacks must be deflected or redirected, sweep attacks must be jumped over, and grapples must be step-dodged. One misclick or deflection may result in the players death. However, as the subtitle “Shadows Die Twice” suggests, that focus on freedom extends beyond death. As an undying Shinobi, the player is gifted with the ability to resurrect yourself upon death. However, this comes with a number of considerations that make doing so a decision one  has to consider carefully each time.

The foundation is essentially this: if the player dies, they just lose half the experience and currency they’ve collected – and no longer have the option to run to they’re corpse to collect their dropped goods, which was a staple of previous games.

When all these elements are used properly, it becomes a regularly thrilling exchange of clashing blades, precision timing and tactics that look as great in action as it feels to execute. And when a 15-foot-tall monstrosity swings 10 times at you in quick succession and you’re able to not just block but deflect the flurry of attacks, there’s a sense you’re the greatest swordsman that ever lived.

Sekiro evolves FromSoftware’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 FromSoftware’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.

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