Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

Armed For Victory.

From Software’s biggest legacy is Bloodborne and Dark Souls. Fans of the studio’s brutal-but-deliberate combat are always eager to learn about its next project. At E3, the studio revealed Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, a stealth action game about a shinobi’s quest for revenge. Sekiro introduces a lot of new mechanics and systems that haven’t been seen in the Souls series before, but after getting hands-on time at Gamescom we’re convinced From Software fans will find a lot of love in this new adventure.

With Sekiro, From Software was heavily inspired by the late 16th century Sengoku period Japan. The environments are filled with pagoda-like structures and grass-camouflaged samurai. However, this world is also filled with every kind of nightmare from Japanese myth, and I was overcome repeatedly by headless warriors, giant snakes, and chain-clad giants.

This lone shinobi’s arm has been stolen. In its place are any number of unique prosthetics, which are actually more useful than an arm in battle (good riddance). One prosthetic is called the loaded axe, and this basically functions as a heavy attack that breaks through shields. Another prosthetic fires off a steady stream of shurikens. When I followed this attack up with a traditional katana slash, the shinobi dashes toward his target, so this combo is a great way to close big gaps between opponents.

However, one of my favorite arm tools was a fire rod that produces a shotgun blast of flame. When I performed a katana combo with this prosthetic, it set my sword ablaze, which increased my damage output for a short while. From Software said the final game will feature an even wider variety of prosthetic weapons players will be able to unlock and rotate through as they progress.

As expected, most enemies have a health bar, but they also have a “posture” bar that slowly fills as you attack or deflect their attacks. This posture bar represents their defense, and when it fills, you can perform a powerful attack that will kill a lot of smaller foes and chip off a block of health from bosses. Of course, you also have a posture bar, and when that fills, you are incredibly vulnerable.

I died several times after losing my posture, but as the title says, shadows die twice. When you die, you can choose to resurrect yourself and get the drop on enemies that don’t expect a dead man to jump on their backs. Naturally, you only have a limited number of resurections, but will earn more as you kill enemies.

One of the biggest changes from the Souls series is a stealth mechanic, but I found this a welcome addition. Sekiro is still primarily an action game where players must commit to deliberate and well-timed attacks, but this stealth mechanic is a tool that allows you to thin the herd before engaging bigger enemies that are hard to sneak up on. Once I learned the demo’s layout, I found it easy to sneak up on most of my foes and take them out with a satisfying slash, but From Software says that players might not want to leave too many foes untouched, because killing enemies ties into the game’s progression system, which the studio will detail at a later date.

Sekiro’s feudal Japanese setting, mix of prosthetic weapons, and stealthily action set it apart from From Software’s previous work. Some Dark Souls’ fans might worry that Sekiro strays too far from their beloved formula, but every second of my demo felt as tense and engrossing as From Software’s previous work. Sekiro is a bold new thing, and that’s great.

by BEN REEVES

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