Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is the latest action game from Japanese developer FromSoftware, which has earned a reputation for making challenging games.
As a veteran player of FromSoftware's previous games (namely, Demon's Souls, the Dark Souls trilogy and Bloodborne, collectively known as Soulsborne by its fans), I approached Sekiro with equal amounts of dread and anticipation.
I knew it would be tough. But the difficulty would make beating the game all the more satisfying.
What I had not expected is how FromSoftware changed things up, making my previous experience with its games almost a liability rather than an asset.
My instincts and muscle memory had been geared towards the Soulsborne style of combat, which favour either an defensive approach reliant on shield blocks (Souls games) or an aggressive (Bloodborne) approach where you can regain health if you manage to hit enemies shortly after being injured.
Sekiro, though, introduces a new posture system whereby you fill up an enemy's posture gauge by deflecting attacks. Once this bar is filled, the enemy is open to a fatal deathblow.
Enemies, too, can deflect your attacks, so combat becomes this dance as each side trade blows. There is an ebb and flow to the combat, punctuated by the ringing sounds from the clash of blades. When you deflect all incoming attacks without taking any damage, it is akin to hitting all the notes perfectly in a rhythm-based music game.
But the crutches that I rely on to complete previous FromSoftware games, such as summoning help from other players to take down tough bosses together, or over-leveling my abilities, have been taken away.
There is no multiplayer in Sekiro and while you can grind enemies to unlock useful skills, the game ultimately requires a certain amount of skill and perseverance to progress. Or in gaming lingo, you need to "git gud".
Dying a "true death", which means dying shortly after using Wolf's resurrection ability - hence the game's "Dies Twice" moniker - will result in the loss of experience points and money.
It also spreads a disease called dragonrot to helpful non-playing characters (NPCs). This puts additional stress on you to avoid dying repeatedly, until you learn that there is a cure and NPCs won't die from the disease. The sickness simply suspends their individual quests, which, in the case of a merchant NPC, may mean he would not have new items to sell you.
To be fair, the game lets you level the playing field using stealth. Your character, Wolf, has a prosthetic arm with a grappling hook that lets him leap onto rooftops, hang on ledges and basically surprise enemies from behind for an easy one-hit kill.
- Relatively accessible for newcomers
- Thrilling and memorable boss fights
- Posture system encourages trading of blows
- Wonky enemy AI
RATING: 9/10 ST Tech Editor's Choice
PRICE: From $64.90 (PC; PS4, version tested, Xbox One)
GENRE: Action adventure
Enemies can often seem fairly dumb for failing to spot fallen compatriots, yet at times, they can be ridiculously persistent at tracking you over long distances.
The game world itself feels open even if it is not - an alternative route becomes available early on and the game lets you explore multiple areas at your own discretion.
Those new to FromSoftware games are in for a treat. It is undoubtedly the developer's most accessible game ever. For once, there is a proper tutorial that explains the gameplay while useful hints appear before you reach boss fights. There is even a trainer NPC that lets you practice combat moves.
The plot is also more straightforward and less cryptic than past FromSoftware games. The game itself looks stunning with plenty of imagery that is desktop wallpaper worthy, while the Japanese voice acting - recommended by the developers - is excellent.