Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice shows From Software are back with a new I.P and this has been something I have been waiting on for a good while, now. I guess I must be glutton for punishment as I keep going back to their games, Bloodborne being an example forced my hand into getting a PS4 shortly after release…. not forgetting I received the awesome Dark Souls III Press Kit, and I have reviewed the Dark Souls Remaster. For all From Software’s games shred my nerves and test my patience to breaking point, at times I just can’t stop playing them!
Sekiro sees a Shnobi (aka Ninja or Mercenary/Covert Agent in Feudal Japan) sworn to protect a Divine Heir. You will start out doing a stealth-based rescue mission, jumping across gaps, wall-hugging and climbing to rescue them, before working your way back via a different route which teaches you the basics of sword combat. Once you get to the passage after clearing a route, you head through the tunnel and meet up with Lord Genichiro Ashina who is wanting the rebirth benefit of the Dragonsblood and, therefore, the Heir. This short battle is where you will lose your arm, no matter how hard you try, so just go with it as it sets the scene for the story, along with you having to stage another rescue taking out the lords generals and troops.
(DVDfever Dom adds: “Isn’t this The Empire Strikes Back?” 😉 )
The combat in Sekiro is a lot different to From Software’s previous games. You get your Katana back in the opening mission and that is what you use throughout the entire game, but the replacement Shinobi Prosthetic arm is where you will do your customisation alongside a myriad of skills across 3 different trees.
Much like Bloodborne with the firearm counter to stun enemies this is how you will be playing Sekiro for the most part. There is no stamina bar, so you can literally go to town on an enemy without getting tired. Bear in mind, though, that your posture can go up if you get countered, leaving you at risk of being stunned briefly and open for attack. You really need to master the deflection mechanic, which will see the enemy posture meter go up and open them up for a Shinobi death blow.
Alongside your trusty sword you have your Shinobi prosthetic arm which initially serves as a grappling hook to allow you to search and play through the levels on a vertical plane, meaning you can plan out stealth kills and aerial attacks. As you explore your surroundings, you will find extra bits to bolt onto your arm to then take them back to the sculptor at the temple. Afterwards, you can then equip up to 3 of the different attachments which can be switched on-the-fly as Sekiro actually has a pause button once you go into the status screens. So, as an example of this, you will find two fire modifications, one of which is like a flamethrower and the other throwing firecrackers out in front of you.
Beasts don’t like fire and can briefly stun them, so throw firecrackers out at the Chained Ogre or Blazing Bull and it cowers for a few seconds, giving you opportunity to heal or get a few attacks in. There are many attachments available if you explore. I have found a spear which can pull enemies in closer like Scorpion in Mortal Kombat; a steel umbrella which can be used like a shield towards thrown or fired projectiles and can even deflect back if timed right, a short sword that poisons, and an axe for smashing through wooden shields to name but a few. Once you get a bit further into the game, you will start finding ore and other materials which allows you to upgrade the various attachments.
You also have a decent stealth mechanic which can be great for clearing out an area that has a General. Ideally, you need to be taking out as many enemy soldiers quickly, and as quietly as possible before attempting to tackle the big G. The stealth does work quite well, but it isn’t as good as the classics like Tenchu from the PS1 and PS2 era. Slightest mistake and things get extremely messy quickly. The area just after the Chained Ogre as an example, if you get seen and then dash off and hide in the long grass, you will be discovered from a distance, even if they didn’t see you enter said grass. This can add a bit of frustration and I do think From Software need to tweak the stealth a bit to get it perfect.
The gameplay itself very much reminds of of the Tenchu games with a bit of Bushido Blade-style sword combat thrown in for good measure. I do believe that From Software, at one point, held the Tenchu license (they may still hold it now) and I also read that Sekiro initially started out as a new game in the Tenchu series – true or not, you do get a Tenchu-vibe while playing Sekiro from time to time.
Sekiro has a new death mechanic that is completely different from prior From Software games. This time when you die, you lose half the experience gained on the bar (not any acquired skill points though) and a chunk of your money which isn’t overly bad as you can just redo some of the earlier easier sections of the game to recoup any losses. A new death mechanic, though, sees Dragonrot affecting NPCs within the game. You can still talk to them and use their services but if they contract Dragonrot it will stop any side quest progression until they are cured. To cure them, you need Dragonblood droplets of which I have read there are only 8 or so available throughout the entire game, so choosing when to heal has to be timed just right. I believe that once an NPC has been cured, they may not be able to be infected again (no one that I have cured has become infected again on my first playthrough so far).
The visuals on show here really capture the Feudal Japan era, something of which has always greatly fascinated me. Seeing the pagodas off in the distance and huge majestic castles leave you awe-inspired at times. I also have to mention that this is the first From Software game that hasn’t gave me a blinding migraine or caused eye strain which is always a plus!
Annoyances are typical bugs I have seen happen in their previous games. I have had arrows travel through an enemy stood in front of me, then hit me or curve towards me. I have also seen the Chained Ogre suddenly change direction 90 degrees in mid-air, to land a flying jump-kick attack; enemies being able to hit you through wooden blind-type walls in the upper part of Ashina Castle but your sword hits and makes contact with same wall. Bosses spamming a near impossible attack to block or avoid when their health gets low. In death, a boss or enemy literally standing over you as if they know you will resurrect, and as soon as you stand, then before you manage to get your guard up, they will one hit kill you again. At times it can feel a little unfair or unbalanced given how much is already stacked against you!
Much like Dark Souls III when it first launched on PC, I have experienced crashes to desktop without any error code. This usually happens when loading something in after a death, but I have also had it happen at random times. I have been running at 4K resolution on my setup and the game runs silky smooth for the most part. Even dropping resolution to 1080p doesn’t alleviate the problem, so anyone reading this wanting a PC version, then change Drop Shadows and Effects down to High from Max and it seems to have stabilised the crashes. It presently doesn’t allow HDR to be enabled, though, and for this you have to alt-tab out the game and back in to enable it. It’s almost been a week since launch and issues like this should have been promptly put on the to do list or fixed already.
For all its bugs and at times maddening difficulty or gameplay elements, I just cannot stop playing Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. I am pleased to see a new I.P challenging the huge From Software player base, and fans taking us out of our comfort zone of the Souls series and Bloodborne. After 18 hours in, I am only around halfway through the game and I look forward to seeing the rest of it as I push further out. Feudal Japan and Samurai culture seems to be making a bit of a comeback, with the prior success of the excellent Nioh – which is getting a sequel, and there is also Ghost of Tsushima from Sucker Punch which is PS4 exclusive.
The word “masterpiece” certainly comes to mind when thinking about Sekiro, albeit a few bugs and annoyances. From Software really know how to create amazing worlds. Masterpiece….who am I to argue with that statement?!
- Developer: From Software / Activision
- Publisher: From Software / Activision
- Players: Single-player only
Retro at heart and lover of all things ’80s, especially the computers, the music and the awesome movies and TV shows! Crazy huge retro gaming collection spanning the ’80s and ’90s with hundreds of tapes, discs and carts for various machines on top of a 600+ strong Steam library that is ever-growing. No I am not a serial hoarder, just a dedicated retro gamer!