From Software, a company best known for the Dark Souls trilogy, released their newest title Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice on 22nd March. Of course, being a fan of the company and having played all the previous titles I had to pick up a copy on launch and test my skills in 1500s Japan. Would I have the skills required to become the best Shinobi in the lands, or will I fall to the sword of the enemy?
After a long weekend of dying, resurrecting and some minor accomplishment, I am finally getting a feel for Sekiro and learning the best ways to play. With knowledge of Souls games and hearing this new game was easier than previous From Software titles, I thought I stood a pretty good chance of getting through a large chunk of the game. Oh how wrong I was.
Straight out of the gate you are met with ‘standard’ enemies you see all across the map. Assuming these will be of similar skill level to the Undead from Dark Souls, I ran headlong into the fight, swinging in with my Kusabimaru (Katana) expecting to slice right through this guy only to be met with a block and parry. This took me by surprise and I had to recompose myself. It was clear to me right away this was not gonna be the walk in the park I expected.
Many blocks, dodges and parries later I feel myself learning how to play Sekiro. A big disadvantage I had over the weekend was my previous Souls knowledge – expecting to be able to slash and roll my way through enemies with little resistance, not having to worry about an enemy being able to block 95% of the attacks I threw at them. This was not the case. It is still too early to know if this game is on the same level as Dark Souls for difficulty but it definitely has the potential. However, from what I have encountered so far, I feel someone with no prior Souls experience would be much better off with this game. Bold statement I know, but hear me out.
Playing Dark Souls over the years you learn the style of play required to be able to beat the game. You know what sort of attacks to expect from basic enemies. During boss fights you are met with much more resistance, but can usually figure out how to beat them (only after dying countless times). Sekiro on the other hand brings a whole plethora of new enemies, attack patterns and skills to learn, with gameplay features unique to this game. If you’re new to From Software’s games, you will know this and only this. You won’t be battling your own muscle memory and will be learning from the start how to beat this game. For an old Souls fan you almost have to unlearn everything you know about a From Software game to be able to beat Sekiro.
However, it wasn’t all doom and gloom over the weekend. This new experience brought a lot of fun and enjoyment as well. One feature added into Sekiro I cannot get enough of is the grappling hook. I mean, what game isn’t better off for having a grappling hook? Being able to reach heights previously impossible is a real thrill. Struggling in a fight and need a moment to compose yourself? Grapple up onto a tree to give yourself a few moments of calm before the inevitable onslaught you’re about to be greeted with. Also, being able to jump is a feature I welcome with open arms. Allowing you to jump over low sweeping blows and get a few hits off on the enemy can sometimes be much more rewarding than dropping back. But beware, it won’t always work in your favour.
So what have I learned over the weekend? Well, Sekiro is definitely up there with Dark Souls in terms of enjoyment, frustration and the feeling of accomplishment when finally beating a named enemy. Dying of course is inevitable and brings with it a new type of punishment. A plague can spread over the land killing off NPCs, so don’t rely too heavily on resurrecting, no matter how tempting it may be. Stealth has never before been so needed in a From Software game. Sneaking through long grass to hit an enemy with a death blow to deal massive damage and give yourself the upper hand in a fight, is pretty much essential to success. NPCs are as helpful as ever, giving you specific items to be used throughout the story, so be careful not to infect them all with Dragon Rot.
Trying to become a Master Shinobi is no easy task. Learning the ways of the Kusabimaru and mastering the prosthetic arm will take time, patience and lots of dying. But hey, it’s a From Software game, so embrace each death, learn from your mistakes and vanquish Japan of the enemy.