Not since Dark Souls has a game been so stubbornly obstinate in stopping my progress. Well no wonder as Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is conveniently made by FromSoftware, the same team behind the Souls franchise. After lining up for just over an hour on Sunday, I finally got a chance to play and it did not go well.
FromSoftware has captured an almost unbelievable beauty in Sekiro as you stealthily traverse your way across Sengoku era Japan on a quest for revenge and rescue. You play as the ‘one-armed wolf’, a disgraced warrior who is bound to protect a lord, within whom ancient blood runs.
Did I know any of this before I jumped into Sekiro? No. Nor did I know any of the controls, so even without me telling you that it went badly, you can probably guess that it went badly. With the familiar grip of a PlayStation controller in my hands, I immediately began to run through the basic movement of our hero. Utilising the katana was fairly intuitive, with standard attacking and blocking functions. At least it was when I was fighting imaginary samurai.
The real thing tended to be a tad more challenging. So challenging in fact that the only time I seemed to win was when I stealthily crept upon the less armoured enemies and performed an assassination, leaving them to drop lifeless from my blade. Standing on a rooftop I looked down upon a flight of stairs where a particularly daunting looking samurai waited.
In what could only be narrated as a superhero landing, I leapt down onto the stairs and charged right in. Quickly I learned that this wasn’t the right way to go about it, and I started to falter under the barrage of blade strikes coming my way. For Sekiro has a lovely dodging and parrying system, that I was completely unfamiliar with, and so it essentially turned into a controlled button mash. The one consolation I had was retreating back to higher ground, onto the roof where the samurai couldn’t get to me.
But then another problem loomed. There is no health regen, of course there isn’t. Sekiro isn’t playing, so you better be on your A-game. Health is returned through subtle floating health pickups, which restore a trifling amount of lifeforce, as you cross your fingers all the way into the next battle.
So there I was, now creeping around the side of a beautifully detailed building, towards those stairs and the waiting samurai. “I’ve got this” I thought but as I closed blades with my clandestine foe once more it was clear that no, I hadn’t got this. So in a last attempt at bypassing the samurai, I bolted straight past him, further up the stairs only to encounter more warriors. Each step I took brought more of them out of hiding, so I was quintessentially surrounded. With a shrug of my real-life shoulders I charged in, but as you could probably tell by my recounting above, I was once again felled.
Despite my lacklustre fighting skills, my favourite part of Sekiro was the freedom that his rope provided. Used to reach new vantage points or to traverse smaller canyons, this rope can be thrown out, launching the player ever onwards. Aside from the sword, Sekiro also gives players the option of utilising secondary tools/weapons, such as thrown projectiles that can deal damage, break guards etc. Even though I really should emphasise how terrible my aim was.
From the brief time I got to spend with Sekiro, it is so glaringly clear that it is such a beautifully designed game, emanating with a sublime beauty that compliments the stark challenge of the combat. And that challenge is one of the things players keep coming back for, and one thing that FromSoftware delivers exceedingly well. This is a game worth picking up if you are a Souls fan.