A FromSoftware title is something I always get excited about. They’re always immersive, atmospheric, and pushing the player to be better if they want to experience the beauty of these titles. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice has surprised me in a multitude of ways through its layered mechanics, tight level design, and strong differentiation from titles past.
I immediately noticed the focus on verticality and freedom of movement when I picked up the controller. Perched on top of a tree, I grappled from rooftop to rooftop which provided a satisfying sense of freedom that’s absent in past titles. This system gives way for a more streamlined and user-friendly mechanic for aerial attacks, which rewards stealthy and patient play. Stealth takes a more prominent role, with an entire section revolving around avoiding a giant snake. It was as terrifying as it sounds but felt straightforward and short in retrospect. While sneaking around in bushes and waiting for unsuspecting enemies is fun, it’s not a strategy you can rely on.
At first glance, Sekiro’s combat seems like a hybrid of Bloodborne’s speed and the calculated dance of Dark Souls, but it quickly reveals itself to be far more complicated than that. Both you and your enemy have a posture meter, which is filled by failing to effectively deflect attacks, getting hit, and by being perfectly parried by your assailant. It slowly drains over time, but when it fills up, the target is left in a stunned state for a critical attack, which will either kill or do massive damage to a powerful enemy. It’s a tricky risk-reward system that encourages the player to get up in the face of an enemy instead of resorting to dodging. Perfectly timing deflects to score some attacks of your own is satisfying in every sense of the word.
The prosthetic tools only add to the depth of combat, allowing for numerous options in and out of a conflict. A successful axe attack can break shields, stack up loads of posture damage, but you’re locked into the animation as soon as you press the button, leaving you open to quick counter-attacks. The fire blast attachment enables you to stun larger enemies while igniting your blade for additional damage, but how effective it is varies based on what you’re fighting. While I’m sure there will be more prosthetic tools in the full version of the game, what was on show at PAX displays how simple mechanics like these can drastically affect how a battle plays out.
Dispatching enemies charges the ability to resurrect upon death. Despite coming from a developer notorious for how hard their games are, I didn’t find Sekiro too challenging. There were a couple of mini-boss enemies that posed a threat, but nothing that precise play couldn’t handle. When I reached the boss of the demo, this changed entirely. After getting through the first health bar relatively simply, I was quickly demolished by the changes that were brought in during phase 2. The extent of these multi-phase boss fights is currently unknown, but if the one I tried is anything to go off of, some encounters are going to be challenging.
I played Sekiro on a standard PS4, and while the environments are gorgeously detailed and expansive, the same love hasn’t been given to models. This is a pre-release version of the game, so this will likely change, but it stood out to me during my time with it. The performance wasn’t particularly impressive either. The game would stutter when grappling to higher ground, and I even experienced a crash at one point during my first demo. This is all stuff that can and most likely will be changed before launch, but it’s still worth mentioning.
I feel like I’ve spoiled PAX for myself a little bit by jumping on Sekiro as fast as I did. Like most FromSoftware titles, it’s a compelling and captivating world with what could be the best combat system they’ve done yet. Despite its technical flaws, my time with Sekiro has only heightened my expectations for the full game. It’s a title ripe with potential, unique mechanics, and gameplay innovations that give it its own identity within the pedigree of quality that came before it.