Ever since ending their Souls series, Hidetaka Miyazaki and his chums at FromSoftware have been branching out to new genres. Now that they crafted an action-packed ninja game, let's see how it holds up to their legacy.
As a huge fan of all things Souls, I was looking forward to Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice as soon as its brief reveal dropped in late 2017. Now that I finally played it, I'm both pleasantly surprised and mildly disappointed. For starters, its gameplay is very different to the Souls series which is cool. However, a lot of expected elements are absent. I'll go into more depth about these aspects later. For now, I just want to give a general overview. You play as a one-armed ninja known as Wolf whose missing arm is replaced with a Shinobi Prosthetic that basically acts like an upgradable Swiss Army knife. In his real arm, he holds a katana which is his primary tool in combat. The story that follows is minimal and basically involves Wolf tracking down and killing various Shinobi bosses on his way to confront Genichiro, the samurai who previously cut Wolf's arm off. There's a ton of lore to explore, too, but I didn't find it to be as interesting as the Souls series.
Sekiro's combat is a huge departure from the Souls franchise as it's focused on aggressive action as opposed to carefully executed strategy. More specifically, combat is primarily about tiring your opponent then unleashing a fatal blow once their posture gauge maxes out. In order to do so, you must deflect their attacks by timing the block button when they strike which makes them increasingly lose their balance. As a result, enemy health isn't as significant of a stat as their posture gauge is because once that fills; you can kill them in one hit which usually results in a gory death animation. This reaction-based combat takes a long time to get used to, especially if you were expecting another Souls game but it's super-satisfying once you learn how to effectively master it.
Outside combat, you'll spend a lot of time exploring and stealthily taking out enemies. To help with this, you have a handy grappling hook that you can latch onto certain points with although these are deliberately sparse so you can't travel outside of where the developers want you to which is kind of disappointing. Regardless, it's an awesome mechanic that allows you to quickly scale large structures and escape dire situations. Anyway, Wolf has the ability to crouch and walk quietly which lets you sneak up behind enemies and take them out with one blow. Doing so is incredibly satisfying, especially when you slowly clear out a large area of pesky guards.
Throughout the journey, you'll face plenty of diverse bosses that can be brutally challenging but once you learn their behaviour, you can dispatch them much easier as you deflect their more predictable attacks then land the final blow. That being said, less patient gamers will quickly get frustrated after attempting the same boss countless times in a row so if you're not willing to learn the ins and outs of combat then you'll have a tough time enjoying Sekiro's challenging campaign. Speaking of which, the journey takes place in a gorgeous Sengoku period setting complete with mythical Japanese monsters that collectively create an immersive and tense atmosphere.
Now that I've discussed the aspects of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice that pleasantly surprised me, allow me to describe what made me mildly disappointed. Before starting Sekiro, I had certain expectations which is understandable. For example, right after Sekiro was announced, I expected there to be some sort of online component but this idea was quickly shot down by Activision as soon as they revealed that there would be no online gameplay. When I heard this, I couldn't help but think, "Why not?" Now that I've played it, I'm still annoyed that there's no online multiplayer in any form. I absolutely loved battling and cooperating with players in FromSoftware's previous games and the fact that you can't here takes a ton of replay value and enjoyment out of the equation.
Next, I mentioned that the combat becomes rewarding once you begin to master it but after that, things start to feel rather tedious. In other words, what was once a seemingly insurmountable challenge becomes an easily calculated exchange. At that point, you'll also realise how simple the combat is. Even all of the Prosthetic Arm Tools, Shinobi Martial Arts, and Quick Items that you have at your disposal become mostly superfluous as you find yourself succeeding by merely tapping Deflect, Deflect, Attack, Deflect, etc.
Last but certainly not least, I'm disappointed that there isn't much room to customize Wolf. Before playing Sekiro, I thought it would allow you to have different character builds through comprehensive customization and character growth options yet these aspects are actually dishearteningly linear. By defeating mini-bosses and main bosses, you earn Prayer Beads and Memories, respectively, which upgrade your Vitality (maximum health) and Attack Power. There are also a few skill trees where you can spend earned points on various active and passive skills. The only way to change how Wolf plays is to equip different arrays of Tools and Quick Items as well as a Combat Art and a Ninjutsu Technique. Needless to say, these aspects do not substantially change up the gameplay.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice succeeds in its incredibly visceral combat and stealth all while being set in an engaging game world. However, its linear character growth options and repetitive combat begin to dull the experience after you get over the initial hump.
- + Unique reaction-based combat takes a while to master yet it's ultimately rewarding
- + Immersive Sengoku period setting
- + Fantastic stealth gameplay and bosses
- - Gameplay starts to become quite repetitive once you master the combat
- - Could use more character build options
- - Completely lacks online features