Title: Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
Genre: Action / Adventure
Release Date: 22.03.19
Price: £59.99 – The reviewer purchased this game himself.
What the Developers say
Enter a dark and brutal new gameplay experience from the creators of Bloodborne and the Dark Souls series.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is an intense, third-person action-adventure set against the bloody backdrop of 14th-century Japan. Step into the role of a disgraced warrior brought back from the brink of death whose mission is to rescue his master and exact revenge on his arch nemesis.
Exploring a vast interconnected world, you’ll come face-to-face with larger than life foes and gruelling one-on-one duels. Unleash an arsenal of deadly prosthetic weapons and powerful ninja abilities to bring down your adversaries and combine steal and verticality to deal death from the shadows.
Full disclosure, I am a huge fan of FromSoftware. Dark Souls and Bloodborne consistently sit amongst my favourite games from the last decade, and I have trawled through their dark and challenging worlds multiple times. Fans of the developer have been waiting patiently for new material since 2015, so when Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice was officially revealed during last year’s Microsoft’s E3 press conference, it instantly became my most anticipated game for 2019.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is set in 16th century Japan, in the Sengoku period (a time of almost constant military conflict). In the land of Ashina, you play as Wolf – a master shinobi tasked with protecting a significant young boy named Kuro. Early in the game, Kuro is captured, and the story unfolds from this point. The world is deep and immersed in lore, so I recommend taking the time to interact with NPCs and listen carefully to unravel their true intentions. As is the way with FromSoftware titles, the more you put into learning about the characters and the world, the more you get out.
Audio and Visual
Sekiro’s score is beautifully balanced. Traditional Japanese instruments are used to create an atmospheric setting that builds suspense and tension to great effect. Intense drumming represents the conflict of the Sengoku period and is juxtaposed perfectly with flute and string instruments during moments of reflection and serenity. Death is inevitable in this game, and Sekiro’s audio design makes sure you never forget it. Enemy shrieks and howls plague you throughout your adventure, creating a world full of imminent danger. The audio resulting from encounters is similarly well designed; swinging the katana is made to feel powerful and weighty, and successful deflection is rewarded with a piercing clang.
Once again FromSoftware has proven their worth in environmental design with a range of breath-taking and well-varied landscapes. From beautiful snow-topped mountains to poison infested villages, I found myself stopping regularly to gaze upon the wonderful vistas. Enemy design is equally varied and, while the bosses are not as physically massive as in Dark Soul titles, they retain that signature mix of majesty and utter grotesqueness.
While frame rate issues aren’t uncommon in FromSoftware titles (Blighttown, anyone?), their presence in Sekiro is worth noting. When several enemies littered the screen or when I was quickly navigating an area to reach a boss encounter, significant drops in the frame rate became glaringly obvious. Though it happened on several occasions, it never occurred to such an extent that it overshadowed my enjoyment of the game. I played this on a base-level PS4, so those with higher models may have a smoother gameplay experience.
Gameplay and Replayability
FromSoftware’s stamp is ever present throughout the land of Ashina. Alongside the dramatic vistas, atmospheric music and melancholic characters that players have come to expect from the developer, Sekiro also contains familiar gameplay mechanics. Sculptor idols serve as the bonfires and lamps of their previous titles, offering a resting place to heal and save your progress. They also result in most of your slaughtered foes respawning. While the similarities with Dark Souls and Bloodborne are clear, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is overall a more streamlined experience. The land of Ashina has optional areas to explore, but the world isn’t as vast as Lordran (Dark Souls 1) or Yharnam (Bloodborne). This can also be said for the level of interconnectivity; Sekiro has more of an obvious mainline route to take than its predecessors. This is particularly refreshing, as in previous titles it wasn’t uncommon for players to feel overwhelmed by what to do or where to go.
Sekiro’s high-intensity combat system is exhilarating and one of the game’s highlights. Rather than having a typical stamina meter, both you and your opponent have a posture gauge that fills when attacks are blocked or when blows land. Once the posture meter is full, you can initiate a deathblow. This is a devastating attack that will see your opponent meet their demise in a satisfying and grisly manner. While dodging and evading still has a place in Sekiro’s combat system, I found parrying and deflecting to be far more crucial in overcoming a challenging fight.
When you’re not meeting your combatants head-on, stealth is a viable and extremely helpful option. Wading through tall grass allows you to eavesdrop on conversations, learning more about the world or picking up tips for defeating a particularly challenging opponent. It is also incredibly useful for thinning out the herd when an overwhelming number of enemies obstructs your path. Sneaking behind a foe allows you to draw the kusabimaru (katana) and assassinate them with a deathblow.
After completing the introduction, you gain a prosthetic hand with an important item for traversal – the grappling hook. Using the hook to grapple up ledges or onto buildings gives the world a great sense of verticality and allows for faster, more fluid movement. From an elevated point, you can survey the land and navigate it more effectively, while maintaining the advantage of higher ground. As you explore the world and interact with NPCs, you unlock new tools that can be fitted onto your prosthetic. These tools are diverse and bring new mechanics to combat. For example, the ‘flame vent’ coats your katana and enemies in fire, and the ‘loaded umbrella’ (literally an umbrella) helps to block incoming attacks and deflect melee strikes. In total, there are ten unique and cleverly designed prosthetic tools to collect, and you can have three equipped at any given time. By collecting upgrade materials, you are also able to modify each tool, making them more powerful and bestowing them with additional abilities.
While it is possible to improve your health, posture and attack power, there are no other available upgrades for your attributes. I found this to be a welcome change to the typical formula, as I wasn’t spending an endless amount of time deliberating whether to level up my dexterity or strength. You receive skill points by gaining experience from killing enemies, and these points can be put into an expansive skill tree that offers both passive skills (effects are always present) and active skills, known as ‘combat arts’ or ‘martial arts’. This allows you to personalise your character and select skills that fit your play style. My favourite skill was the ‘Mikiri Counter’. This allowed Wolf to counter an enemy’s thrust attack by dodging into the thrust, stomping down on their weapon and dealing an incredible amount of damage to their posture. Very satisfying.
Staying true to its predecessors, the boss battles in Sekiro are gruelling. Each encounter feels unique, and the bosses are well varied in both their design and approach to combat. These enemies are challenging (at times, extremely frustrating) but the sense of elation I had when overcoming them was second to none. Mini-bosses also come at you in abundance and defeating them rewards you with items that can be exchanged to upgrade your health and posture. Overall, the bosses in Sekiro are fantastic.
Completing Sekiro is difficult, and for many players, the credits could be out of reach. The only piece of advice I can personally give is to be patient. Take your time to learn the complex combat system and practice the basics with the NPC in the main hub. Understand that most boss battles won’t be overcome on the first attempt and learning from your mistakes is the key to success. In terms of replayability, there is a lot of content on offer. Sekiro offers multiple different endings, with two unique sets of boss encounters, and completionists will be keen to take on the challenge. For those interested in speed-running, the record for completing the title currently sits at under half an hour. Mind-boggling.
Despite some minor shortcomings, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice sits amongst Bloodborne and Dark Souls in terms of overall quality. The new approach to combat and traversal is spectacular, and Ashina provides a dramatic and beautiful setting for the title. Sekiro is a challenging, and at times daunting, mountain to climb but for those who can reach the summit, the sense of achievement is second to none. FromSoftware has created, in my eyes, yet another masterpiece.
Rapid Reviews UK Rating
You can purchase Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice on the PlayStation store at the following link, https://store.playstation.com/en-gb/product/EP0002-CUSA13801_00-SEKIROGAME000001?smcid=pdc%3Aen-gb%3Apdc-games-sekiro-shadows-die-twice-ps4%3Aleadproductinfo-buy-on-playstation-store%3Asekiro-shadows-die-twice%3AEP0002-CUSA13801_00-SEKIROPRE0000001