Sekiro Shadows Die Twice Review – A Brand-New Beast
I knew I was going to like Sekiro Shadows Die Twice, but I didn’t know I was going to like it THIS much.
Like isn’t even the right word. I LOVE this game. I adore it, I want to take it home to meet my parents, wait the appropriate amount of time, ask it to marry me and then live happily ever after.
Sekiro Shadows Die Twice is the latest From Software title from the brilliant mind of Director Hidetaka Miyazaki and let’s get it straight right away; it IS a Soulsborne. All the differences aside, at its core, Sekiro Shadows Die Twice features the same basic building blocks.
That being said, Sekiro Shadows Die Twice is an all-new Soulsborne. One that shakes up the formula so drastically and so perfectly that I’m not sure if I can ever go back.
Sekiro Shadows Die Twice Review
You know the basics of Soulsbornes right?
You’re cast into a dangerous world, filled with deadly and murderous villains all set on ending your life. You’re slow-moving, weak and prone to running out of stamina. As you fight your way through these hordes you earn in-game currency used to level up and when you die you lose it. The only time you’re safe is when you reach a special location, however, when you do reach a safe location you’ll reset all enemies.
Obviously, there’s much, much more to these games, but I think that covers the basics. However, Sekiro Shadows Die Twice changes and iterates on these basics in clever and surprising ways.
One of the most noticeable differences is the way your character moves. Sekiro, the One-Armed Wolf is fast and moves with a fluidity that only comes with being a shinobi. There’s no stamina bar to monitor and you’re free to sprint around the game to your heart’s content.
Unlike other playable characters in Soulsborne games, Sekiro is acrobatic and athletic. You won’t be slowly meandering through ancient Japan, nor will you be checking around every corner for lurking enemies. Instead, you’ll be running, jumping, flying through the air with your grappling hook and taking to the rooftops to sneak around.
Freedom of movement is a huge part of what makes Sekiro Shadows Die Twice work so well; it controls flawlessly. And it only felt more refined, the longer I played. As I started to get a handle on the game and unlock skills I grew more and more confident in both my traversal and combat skills.
It wasn’t uncommon to play a short sequence that would see me sprint into a leap, then grapple onto a tree branch. From there I’d jump down and execute an unsuspecting enemy, deflect an attack from a second enemy before stamping on his sword and driving my blade through the nape of his neck.
While blood spewed from him like a geyser, I’d have grappled onto a building, jumped down and crouched in the long grass. All of this would have taken place in the space of about 10-15 seconds with most of the game made up of sequences like this. There are brief moments of downtime in between, but they only last as long as you let them. Should you not want to wait around, you can go for a frontal assault and see how your combat skills stack up.
Oh Yeah, It’s Hard
Sekiro Shadows Die Twice’s brilliant traversal mechanics can’t be overstated enough; Dark Souls fans are going to be blown away by just how much freedom they have in movement.
That being said, just because you can move around the world more easily doesn’t mean you’ll be able to survive. At first, I thought Sekiro Shadows Die Twice was going to be easier than Bloodborne or Dark Souls. The way you can move, the change in combat mechanics, the ability to resurrect; it all had me thinking this was going to be a walk in the park.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
While I’m not sure if it’s harder than other From Software games, it’s certainly going to test you. Mostly because of how different it is. The stamina bar is a thing of the past and has been replaced with the posture bar.
This represents Sekiro’s (and your enemies’) ability to remain focused, upright and in a defensive stance. Take too many hits, deflect at the wrong time or be distracted by dust, fire etc, your posture bar will fill. Once full, you’re open to attack and the same goes for your enemies. When you do stagger an enemy, a large red dot will appear on them which signifies it’s time for them to die.
Simply press the attack button and you will perform a deathblow. This will see Sekiro carry out all manner of violent, gruesome attacks causing blood to literally spurt from wounds. You don’t need to chip away at a health bar in Sekiro Shadows Die Twice, instead, you just need to get the enemy off balance so you can finish them off with one perfect attack.
That being said, some enemies (bosses) have multiple health pips and will require two or more deathblows before they finally drop dead.
Instead of attacking, blocking, waiting, dodging, and attacking ad nauseam, Sekiro Shadows Die Twice’s combat is far more dynamic. In order to survive you need to learn the way each enemy attacks, the timing of their swings, and more. You’ll also need to be ready to deflect their attacks while hitting them with your own, dodging, jumping, counter-attacking and inflicting death blows.
You may have felt like you had to always be ‘on’ while playing Dark Souls. Well, you REALLY have to be on for every nanosecond of combat in Sekiro Shadows Die Twice. And that’s only part of what makes it so satisfying.
Bust A Move
What really gets your blood pumping is the special skills you learn; where Sekiro Shadows Die Twice is at its most videogamey. Sekiro is able to learn skills across three categories and these afford him special abilities. Some are latent, like stealthier movement, some are tied to the Shinobi Prosthetic and some open up all-new ways to attack.
For example, some enemies perform special attacks. These can be lunging, horizontal sweeps and grabs. Initially, my only option when it came to avoiding these attacks was simply that, to avoid them. As I levelled up and unlocked more skills I was able to turn these attacks against the enemies.
For lunging attacks, I could press dodge at the right moment and step on the enemy’s weapon, forcing it into the ground. Most baddies would have their posture gauge filled then and there, leaving them open to an instant deathblow. Other, stronger baddies would take a few more hits.
If I was facing an enemy who used horizontal sweeping attacks, I simply needed to jump at the right moment and Sekiro would use their head as a springboard. Pressing jump again would launch Sekiro into the air. If this was enough to fill the posture gauge, I could perform a devastating aerial deathblow. Not all abilities are related to deathblows though.
One of my favourites is to press attack while I’m mid grapple which sends Sekiro into a spinning helicopter attack. Then there are the special Combat arts that are performed by pressing deflect and attack at the same time. You’re only able to have one of these equipped at a time and they’re quite situational, but as you learn the levels you find which one works best for you.
These Combat Arts include things like the Whirlwind Slash which is just like it sounds and Ichimonji. Ichimonji is a massive forward strike that renders most enemies staggered and open for death. However, it’s very slow to perform, so you’ll need to time it well.
Your other special attacks come from the Shinobi Prosthetic and are two-fold. Firstly, as you find upgrades and attachments for your arm, you’ll have the ability to do special attacks. By pressing R2/RT you can shoot shurikens or fireworks, use your arm like a flamethrower, hurl a retractable spear or axe and more. These attacks are mostly used to fill an enemy’s posture gauge, though some of them can do a fair bit of damage.
To use the skills, you’ll also need to have Spirit Emblems. These are dropped by some enemies and fuel all of your Shinobi Prosthetic Abilities and some of your Combat Skills. If you run out, you won’t be able to use anything other than your grappling hook until you find more.
The second facet of your Shinobi Prosthetic’s attacks are follow-ups you do after using their main function. If you have your Shinobi Firecracker equipped and you fire it, sparks shoot out and blind your enemies for a second. If you have the Chasing Slice skill unlocked you can press attack right after firing the Prosthetic to follow-up with a powerful sword attack. I’ve found that the Firecracker/Slash combo is especially good for crowd control.
There are tonnes of these skills and combos to unlock too, so you’ll never be short on strategies when coming up against new baddies. Well, except initially, when you haven’t got much unlocked. Unlocking these skills is all well and good, but how do you actually go about unlocking them? Again, it’s not like Dark Souls.
Fifty Percent Off
Well, it kind of is.
As you defeat enemies you’ll be awarded XP and Sen. XP fills the experience bar and once full gives you a skill point to spend. Sen is used to purchase items and pay for upgrades to your Shinobi Prosthetic.
In Dark Souls and Bloodborne, when you die, you’re able to return to the location and attempt to collect your dropped Souls/Blood Echoes. In Sekiro Shadows Die Twice, when you die, you lose half of you XP and half of your Sen.
That’s right. HALF!
This means that if you’re carrying around a massive wad of cash or a tonne of skill points and you die, you’re going to be very upset. Sekiro Shadows Die Twice doesn’t want players to hoard their collectibles. It wants players to spend them, to unlock new skills and to get more powerful. The more you spend, the better you’ll be and the more you’ll earn. It’s a very rewarding loop on top of the already incredibly addictive gameplay loop.
There is a chance that when you die you won’t lose half of your XP and Sen, but this is rare. In the menu, you’ll see ‘Unseen Aid’ and a percentage. This is your chance to receive said Unseen Aid and not lose your stuff on death. This also comes with its own twist, but it ties into the story, so I’ll leave it at that and let you experience it for yourself.
And On the Third Day
Another way to avoid losing half of your XP is to resurrect. In Sekiro Shadows Die Twice, when you die, it doesn’t always mean the end. If you have a full resurrection pip, if you lose all of your health, you can press attack to resurrect. You won’t have full health and you’ll be in the exact same situation you were when you died, but you can at least try to escape or beat your enemies.
The longer you play, the more of these pips you’ll acquire, though filling them takes a long time and requires you to kill a lot of enemies. One is automatically filled when you visit a Sculptor’s Idol (bonfire) and after you’ve resurrected once, it takes quite a while before you’re even able to do it a second time, should you need to. Sekiro Shadows Die Twice actually locks the ability for a time after a resurrection, so you’d best be able to survive long enough if you think you’re going to need it.
Ressurection is a handy tool and it comes in most handy when facing off against bosses.
Obviously, these are the biggest baddest guys in the game and they hit very hard. They always have multiple health pips and are incredibly tough to stagger. My strategy was to make sure I had enough resurrections and health items to stay alive long enough. That, and I always took out their first health pip with a stealth backstab.
On the subject of bosses, that’s really my only complaint when it comes to Sekiro Shadows Die Twice. They’re not all that memorable or interesting. I mean, they are, but not when compared to the likes of the monstrosities I fought in Dark Souls and Bloodborne. I suppose that comes with the setting though.
It’s not that the bosses are bad because they’re not. They just didn’t blow me away or wow me.
Aside from the minor issue I have with Sekiro Shadows Die Twice’s bosses, I can’t fault it.
Mechanically, it’s simply one of the best, most playable and most rewarding video games to be released this, or any other generation. The level at which From Software is operating in crafting Sekiro Shadows Die Twice is absolutely mind-boggling.
And it’s not just the gameplay.
The level design is best in class. Like Dark Souls and Bloodborne before it, Sekiro Shadows Die Twice gradually unfurls before you, wends in on itself and throws layer on top of layer on top of layer. The depth and volume in the level design are phenomenal and I can’t get my head around how someone even begins to create a world like this.
From Software titles aren’t known for being the most visually pleasing, but Sekiro Shadows Die Twice looks great. It’s a step above Bloodborne and Dark Souls III and the smoothness of the framerate is sublime. And although it might not be the most technically impressive game in terms of visuals, the art-direction stands side by side with the level design as absolutely top shelf.
I feel bad for any other games releasing in 2019 because as far as I’m concerned, Sekiro Shadows Die Twice has game of the year all sewn up.
Sekiro Shadows Die Twice was reviewed on PS4 using a digital code provided by Activision.
Game title: Sekiro Shadows Die Twice
Flawless, Engaging, Brilliant Gameplay - 10/10
Intense, Difficult and Rewarding Combat - 10/10
Unparalleled Level Design - 10/10
Far More Accessible than Other Soulsborne Titles - 10/10
Incredible Pacing and Sense of Progression - 10/10
Slightly Underwhelming Boss Fights - 9.1/10