Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice - Review
From Software's highly anticipated shinobi slasher has been released, but is it any good?
From Software's Latest game is here and ready to punish its players. From Software has a track record of making difficult games and Sekiro does not disappoint. This. Game. Is. Hard! From Softs' ability to make a game which is difficult but never unfair continues with Sekiro. The game follows a Sengoku period Shinobi known simply as Wolf and is set in a re-imagined fictional 16th century Japan. From Software managed to blend action and stealth together to create a focused, challenging, cohesive and elaborate adventure. The world is expertly crafted; From Software's brilliant world design is at it's best here, from giant period accurate buildings to ghostly forests and heavenly estates, the world does not disappoint. First things first, lets talk about the gameplay.
Sekiro's gameplay is it's strongest asset. The game adopts a third-person perspective and is an action-adventure game with light stealth elements. From Soft have literally created their own sub-genre of action games, resulting in other companies imitating them. They continue to evolve and expand on these types of games and Sekiro, although arguably similar to the 'soulsbourne' games, is it's own beast. The stamina bar has been replaced with a posture bar, which fills when an attack connects, is blocked or is parried. Players are able to attack an enemy in order to deplete their health bar(s) or fill up their posture bar and once an enemies health bar has fully depleted or their posture bar has reached its limit, they are vulnerable to a deathblow. A deathblow is an attack which will instantly kill an enemy, or deduct one of their health bars (some enemies have multiple bars, indicated by red circles above their health bar). A deathblow can only be performed once the aforementioned criteria have been hit or they are attacked from above or behind stealthily. From Soft utilise this to full effect; some enemies may have a huge posture gauge but a small health gauge or vice versa, which often results in the player having to adapt and learn the best strategy to take down each enemy. Stealth plays a role and allows the player to whittle down a large group of enemies before often engaging in a mini-boss. The enemies and world complement the gameplay perfectly, to make every new encounter as exciting as the last. Enemies have a plethora of attacks and abilities that can make even the simplest of skirmishes challenging if the player is careless. The gameplay has a kind of rhythm to it, when the player engages an enemy with melee weapon, an experienced player can make the battle look like a dance, with lunges, sweeps and slices going back and forth between them. The titular character Sekiro also has a large number of attacks, equipment and abilities at his disposal. Sekiro loses his arm and receives a prosthetic one early on, which allows him to equip up to three extra equipment pieces to it. These range from axe's to kunai and are found throughout the game.
From Software have always masterfully crafted their game worlds. From Soft always manage to keep the player engaged and this, in part, is due to their world design. Sekiro's world is varied and unique, each new area feels different to the last which drove me forward to progress. I was eager to see what the next area had to offer and the game never felt repetitive or stale as a result. When thinking about Sekiro, it does not seem to have a lot to offer. Players are simply going from point to point killing enemies but the setting, enemy and world design have been crafted in such a way that the game left me wanting more once I had completed it. This is the first Soulsborne type game, which does not have a multiplayer component and as a result, has a much more apparent narrative. The game does have multiple endings and secrets, From Soft have gone as far as to allow players to miss a large chunk of their game if they play it a certain way. From Software seem to be one of the last game developers that still respects its players, the difficulty has been discussed endlessly since its launch, some people even going as far as to say that the game does a disservice to its players by not having an easy mode. I feel that From Soft would see the inclusion of an easy mode as the disservice to its fans, as they have become known for their challenging games. It can be argued that including an easy option would not take away from the standard (or harder) difficulties. I feel that the inclusion of an easier mode would have given players an 'easy way out', From Soft have mastered designing enemies in a way that is hard but never unfair. I remember playing Ninja Gaiden 2 and constantly feeling ripped off by how fast some enemies could attack you from off-screen. This, to me, at times felt cheap and often caused me to fly into a fit of frustration, I died a lot in Sekiro but not once did I feel like I was ripped off (well apart from the damned Ogre grabs!).
I find myself asking myself "which game is harder: Dark Souls or Sekiro" and think that there is no real answer. Unlike in Dark Souls, in Sekiro you cannot increase your stats simply by grinding an area. Dark Souls allows you to level indefinitely, as long as the player is willing to grind enemies for experience. Sekiro allows a player to increase their stats by using items which are dropped by bosses and sub-bosses. This means players cannot over-level and must face enemies at a predetermined level. Additionally, players cannot adopt different builds, players may have different abilities from one another at the same point in the game, but these are the only differences and these differences mean players will have different attacks or abilities at different points in the game. From Soft did not have to design enemies to take into account different play-styles, so the fights feel a lot more streamlined and deliberate. The Question to ask yourself, when trying to answer which game is more difficult, is: "what was the developers intentions?". Did From Soft expect Dark Souls players to be at a certain level when they got to certain sections or fought certain bosses? A players character in Dark souls can become severely over-powered, making the game a cake walk. Sekiro does not allow you to do this and so every encounter feels like its been hand-crafted to be difficult but possible. The game alleviates some of its difficulty by allowing players to come back to life after they have died. The developers have mastered the art of creating games that are difficult but never unfair or cheap. Whenever I came across a new encounter, I would question how I would overcome it. The more I attempted an encounter, the more I learned about my foe(s) and eventually, understood how to overcome them. This created an addictive loop of trial and error and the payoff was always satisfying. Defeating a difficult enemy or boss in a Fromsoft game always fills me with a sense of immense gratification and elation. I found myself constantly yelling at the screen after I had finally beaten a boss, who had been bullying me for ages. The game is designed in a much different manner than previous soulsborne games. Due to this difference, sekiro feels like a much more streamlined and focused experience. Fromsoft had to accommodate a large number of potential builds, weapons and play-styles when designing their previous games, which would have dictated the way that enemies and bosses were designed.
From Soft continue to release amazing action games. They have had a solid track record of stellar action games, set in amazing worlds with interesting and challenging enemies. Sekiro has become my favourite action game of all time due to its breakneck combat encounters, unique characters and interesting world. Fromsoft have created a unique and original fusion of action and stealth, set in an imaginative, fictional, edo period japan. sekiro proves fromsoft are able to create action games which feel different to their other action titles and is good enough to (hopefully) become its own series. This is a must play for all action video game fans and fans of difficult games.