I’ve never played deep into a From Software game before. I’ve probably played 10 hours of Bloodborne and 2 hours of Dark Souls, and that’s it. So let’s clarify what my purpose is here.
I’m here to see if Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice can click for someone who does not have the reverence for the “Soulsborne” games. If you are looking for validation of your tastes or how this game compares to Dark Souls, plenty of other reviews will cover that.
If you are new to From games or bounced off of them, maybe my perspective can help.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is out now on consoles and PC, and it’s definitely an evolution of the From formula. I think I am enjoying it more than the studio’s previous games because of its stealth gameplay and fast-paced combat. But I’m still not far into it, and I feel like at any point I’ll want to put down the controller forever so I can play something else.
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This is a review-in-progress, and I plan to finish it soon.
What you’ll like (so far)
In Sekiro, you play as a shinobi called Wolf. As his job title suggests, he uses sneaky ninja skills to avoid or minimize encountering enemies head on. But this is still a From game, and that means that combat is still central to its mechanics.
But don’t go in expecting duels in Sekiro to go down like Dark Souls. This game plays a lot more like Ninja Gaiden for the Xbox. It is closer to a character-action game than any other previous Soulsborne release.
You can quickly dodge or jump into the air to evade attacks. If you time it right, you can jump on an enemy’s head and then immediately swing down with your blade.
I think this makes the game more accessible, but From is still going to From. Attacks still have animation priority. If you started a sword attack, you’re going to have to go through most of it before you can cancel out of it to dodge. But even when you commit to a swing, it closes the input window for only a brief moment. That feels pretty good until you get too overconfident and an ogre one-hits you into a ravine.
Sekiro treats sword attacks as deadly. So most fights come down to breaking an opponents posture to give yourself an opening for a killing blow. Basic samurai-style villains fill out the early stages. They are easy to take out by repeatedly attacking or by parrying.
And then bigger, more challenging enemies punctuate each area. Unlike the standard samurai, the stronger enemies require two killing blows. They are also require a lot more work to wear down their posture.
But unlike the standard creeps, miniboss and boss-level enemies do not respawn when you rest at the save points.
Stealth gives you a better chance
But you don’t always have to fight. Wolf has stealth abilities that enable him to stay hidden in grass and even in plain sight with certain powerups. This option gives you a chance to thin the enemy ranks before you have to fight.
The stealth is powerful enough that you can even instantly do one of the fatal blows on a powerful enemy that requires more than one. This is crucial to survival and you will want to approach almost every situation with the goal of finding a way to sneak up behind the most dangerous foes.
And I really love this aspect of Sekiro. It feels like developer-approved cheesing. I’m not good enough to fight 10 enemies in a row and then a miniboss, but I can sneak around and take them out and then take away half of the miniboss’s life in with a surprise attack.
What you won’t like (so far)
It deals in two emotions: Anger and confusion
Sekiro has a lot that I like, but I’m still spending most of my time with it feeling angry, confused, or both. I’m not very deep into the story or progression, but I’m completely lost.
Here’s a list of things that I don’t know:
- I don’t know what my current objective is.
- I don’t know where I’m going.
- I don’t know where I’m at.
- I don’t know if I’m heading in the right direction.
- If I’m going in the wrong direction, I don’t know where the alternative routes are.
- I don’t know if I’m missing any powerups.
- I don’t know how to spend skill points
- I do know that something bad is happening because I’m dying too often, I just don’t know exactly what that bad thing is.
I am confused. And when I get to an especially tough enemy that takes literally dozens of attempts, I am often also angry.
And here’s the thing: I don’t mind feeling angry and confused. Those are valid human emotions that games should sometimes make you feel. I just don’t know if the highs of Sekiro really justify feeling this crappy 90 percent of the time I’m playing it.
I can think of certain puzzles in The Witness that were more challenging than Sekiro. But in The Witness, I jumped out of my chair and cheered when I beat the secret room or solved the red door on the ship.
Same thing with a Trials game when I beat a friends time by two seconds after hundreds of tries.
In Sekiro, I feel like I’m just doing trial and error until I learn the right dance steps. And succeeding at that has not overwhelmed me with pride quite yet
Conclusion (so far)
I’m going to keep playing. I’ll make an attempt to beat Sekiro so I can finalize this review and come back with any new or changed thoughts.
I’m definitely having more fun with this than any From Software game up to this point. And I’m going to try to keep letting it win me over. Hopefully, I’ll return to this review a full convert.
For now, however, I’m confident that people who like Soulsborne games are going to find a lot to love.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is out March 22 for the PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. The publisher provided GamesBeat with a digital PC code for the purposes of this review.