E3 2018 Preview: Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice Shows a New Direction for FromSoftware
FromSoftware games are usually known for their brutal difficulty that levels up the player through experience, knowledge, and learning how to overcome the mechanics present in each fight. While Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice may be stepping away from the gameplay loop espoused by the Soulsborne games (fight, die, return to corpse), it will still challenge players to learn complicated combat. You’ll be dying a lot more than twice when it comes to mastering this game and getting through even the simplest of fights.
Sekiro is a surprising new property to come from developer FromSoftware partnering with Activision for publishing. That teaser image we got last year wasn’t actually Bloodborne 2, as many thought. It was a close up of the Shinobi prosthetic, the multi-tool our hero has in place of his missing arm. Set in late 1500s Japan–or at least a world inspired by that time period–Sekiro is a brutal and dark game set against the soft beauty of old Japan.
The titular lead character is a ninja who has been defeated, lost his arm, and is searching for his kidnapped master, known only as “The Young Lord” at this time. This mysterious quest puts Sekiro on a collision course with an evil force called the Rival. Sekiro’s goal is simply to save the Young Lord and get revenge for his missing arm. Missing an arm isn’t all as bad as it sounds, however, as the Shinobi prosthetic is full of useful tricks and tools to help him move forward.
One of the primary functions of the Shinobi prosthetic is the grappling hook, which allows players to quickly reach otherwise inaccessible areas. Sekiro is far more vertical than From’s previous fare. Verticality–including scaling objects in the environment and simply jumping–plays a role in both traversal and combat, opening up a lot of options for players. Options are something that were never really present in the Souls games. Defeating enemies traditionally relied on a single learned pattern that had to be executed without flaw. While Sekiro remains extremely difficult, multiple paths are open to the player in determining how they want to approach an encounter. It’s a lot like Assassin’s Creed in that way, as the ninja perches on roofs and walls, waiting for the perfect opportunity to slip in and stealthily strike.
Ready the Blade
Once combat does begin, prepare for a tough fight. While I didn’t get to go hands on myself, simply watching the live gameplay demonstration showed how tough the enemies were. One of the developers even failed a couple of times, which showed off another interesting aspect about Sekiro, especially considering it’s a From game. Death is not a gameplay mechanic, at least not as we’ve become used to from this studio. There are definitely some interesting things to play with, such as surprise resurrections from the player that can catch enemies unaware, but when you actually die in Sekiro, you simply restart at the nearest checkpoint to try the encounter again.
Posture is key in open combat as both Sekiro and the enemies are trying to lower each other’s posture enough to perform a devastating finisher–often a brutal and violent killing blow. This isn’t a hack and slash game. You’ll be guarding and parrying a lot. The block button will become more worn down than the attack buttons as you chip away at your enemy’s posture and look for even the smallest opening.
The demo’s mid-boss gave us a chance to see some additional Shinobi prosthetic skills in action. Firecrackers effectively blind the enemy and open them up to an attack. You can also light your sword on fire, which in turn lights enemies on fire. There’s also a pretty nasty haze of blood that disorients those who walk into it. Where is the Shinobi prosthetic pulling that blood from, From? Shuriken and the “loaded axe,” (a massive axe that emerges from the elbow of the Shinobi prosthetic) rounded out the abilities that we saw, and also showcased some deft combo moves that can be used in combat to subdue enemies.
Combat isn’t the only option however, and sometimes stealth will be required. Cat-and-mouse with larger enemies will see Sekiro hiding a lot. The developers showed off an enormous and terrifyingly realistic-looking snake that Sekiro had to repeatedly hide from, taking even the smallest openings to reach his destination. I’m sure we’ll fight and kill the big nasty thing at some point, but for now, stealth was the key to staying alive and reaching the end.
The demo ended in a battle against a creepy wraith that tested everything we had learned up until that moment. Dodge, parry, find an opening, attack, rinse, repeat. The whole battle was set on a bridge with beautiful pink petals falling from the trees all around us, really showing off that feudal Japanese beauty and contrasting it with the brutal horror that lies in wait on Sekiro’s journey.
There is undoubtedly a lot more that we have to learn about Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice before its 2019 release, but we can be certain of one thing from our demo: this is definitely FromSoftware. It may be a slight departure from the games that we’ve come to know, but my brief look at Sekiro showed that From is really keen on evolving beyond what they are known for. It still retains some of those key FromSoftware aspects that players have come to love, yet feels wholly original and fresh, an interesting mixture of the usual and the unknown.
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