FromSoftware, the titans who gave us such milestones as Dark Souls and Bloodborne, are due to release their latest project – Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, an RPG-esque action adventure title set in feudal Japan.
Dark Souls became the memeable comparison marker for a plethora of projects over the last decade, as it transformed the RPG format, and minute details of its paradigm could be found in many subsequent releases. As exhausting as these “just like Dark Souls” comparisons have been, they are indicative of how influential the game became in its genre. Plus, in most cases, all the comparisons were also largely unfounded.
With Sekiro, however, the community had genuine concerns about whether this game would be way too similar to its developer’s original format. I will attempt to dispel some of these concerns, as I found that although Sekiro shares some DNA with Dark Souls, it is very much its own stand-alone development.
In this well-told narrative, you embody the eponymous character Sekiro, nicknamed the Wolf (which sends some definite Witcher vibes, and I love it), a shinobi who is charged with protecting a young lord. The latter subsequently becomes abducted, in a distinctly grisly manner, which compels you to set out for rescue, justice and revenge.
One of the few aforementioned similarities between Sekiro and its predecessor is the save points. In Sekiro you unlock and respawn at Sculptor’s Idols – akin to bonfires. The major distinction in the respawn, however, comes from the title’s name – Shadows Die Twice.
Here, you get the option of being respawned immediately back into the action following your death, which becomes a unique battle tactic of its own, giving you the opportunity to gain new ground and the element of surprise against your enemies. Or, you can choose to respawn at your last save point and try a different approach.
Also, thankfully, you don’t lose any of your XP when you die, so you don’t have to make any more of those annoying corpse runs following a respawn.
Some standard RPG elements have also been simplified in Sekiro – you don’t need to worry about inventory size or weight, and you don’t ‘level up’ in the traditional sense – rather, you can unlock different new abilities and skills from your tree, depending on what your game style preferences are.
Speaking of which, I’m glad to see that the game incorporates a pretty sophisticated element of stealth into it, which is apt, considering your character’s era and location. Whereas in Dark Souls you would perhaps be lucky to sneak up on some of your foes, or jump on them from above, here the luck element is taken out and replaced by skill.
You are absolutely encouraged to use the environment to your advantage, with numerous ways of camouflaging yourself and dispatching an enemy silently and strategically. If stealth is your preferred mode of approach, you’ll unlock some fantastic and nuanced new abilities along the way, involving your grappling hook, the environment, or other enemies.
On the other hand, if you like to jump in head-first with all guns, or katanas, blazing, this approach will yield fun new feudal-era Japan weapons (some of which are steampunk-esque works of art), poisons and explosives to help you out.
The battles are also more streamlined than in either of Sekiro’s predecessors, I’d say. There is no lag between button press and action, the swings are more accurate and the blocks also more precise. There is no need for constant rolling and jumping in order to evade attacks. Overall, the battle sequences are a lot less frantic, and a lot more intentional.
The bosses, however, are just as interesting. You will most likely not encounter tentacles and demons, but you will battle both men and mythical deities alike, as well as giants and monstrous reptiles.
And let’s not forget the gorgeous golden-hued world you find yourself immersed in, replete with cherry blossoms and temples, and set to a great score. Some of the villages dotted around the map are rendered true to history, so take some time to sight-see your way around.
One of the only things I didn’t particularly enjoy, especially after prolonged gameplay, is the new ‘posture’ element in enemies’ armour. Essentially, during a battle you are encouraged to attack your foe in the most sneaky or unexpected of ways, forcing them to block which lowers their ‘posture’ and will eventually open up a window for you to deliver the final blow. This sounds good, and its intricacy is pretty well executed, but it is exhausting, particularly if you’ve got numerous battles back-to-back.
Chipping away at an enemy’s ‘posture’ is both lengthy and, in some cases, only partially effective. However, I believe this is intentional as it encourages the player to use stealth to his advantage, and either dispatch or mortally wound an enemy before the battle even starts. So take heed of your environment and use all the elements provided before you engage in open conflict.
Overall, this is a clean and interesting project – it still resonates with RPG enough through its UI and lore, and is on-par with a good action adventure due to its simplified ability tree, varying battle approaches and occasional linear storyline. There is something to be had for everyone here, whether its wreaking havoc in feudal Japan you’re after, or channeling your inner ninja.
Release date: March 22.