I managed to log some hours with Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice this weekend since its release Friday, and while I’m not nearly far enough in to put up a full review, I want to share my initial impressions of the latest exercise in masochist gaming by From Software.
While I know that there’s more depth to explore, and plenty more plot to unfold I want to consider in a final review, gaming comes between and after a number of other things I occupy my time with, so it could be weeks or months before I reach the end of that road. Unlike other From Software games plot is explicitly front and center as a robust narrative rather than a mythos or lore that has already taken place a la Bloodborne.
The first impressive thing about Bloodborne to me was From understanding the style of gameplay they’d drawn out of players of Dark Souls, and created an ecosystem of enemies, health systems, leveling and more that fit their overall toolbox, but mandated a completely different style of play. In Dark Souls, you defend and dodge. In Bloodborne, you have to be ferocious and attack far more.
Bloodborne had a system by which if you parried certain attacks at the right time, you could launch a ferocious riposte. The risk of such timing was so high that I hardly bothered with it. In Sekiro, From demands that I live on that as my basic bread and butter. The combat in Sekiro feels closer to Bloodborne than Souls, which is great for me since I loved Bloodborne more, but From deftly changed the system in such a way that I still have to play completely differently than I did before. I can’t just attack through damage to overwhelm my enemies, I have to time out parries and find my enemy off balance.
There are other subtle changes to the systems behind the gameplay that bring it closer to Souls: healing items are at more of a premium and need to be rationed. One wall I’ve run into that was not an issue with previous From games: I can’t just grind my way through to success, so this game feels like the first of the developer’s family that lives fully and completely in the Action genre, rather than Action/RPG.
To me, the line between the two is that if I’m dying to a boss repeatedly (which I currently am), I should be able to grind out levels and improved stats by practicing on the small fry. I was able to do so in Dark Souls and Bloodborne, but Sekiro? The leveling/stat progression is controlled by items you only get from certain enemies. The only things I can gain by grinding are additional moves and abilities, but turning my character into more of a tank? From Software wags a finger and says: you’ve gotta beat bosses for that.
I’ve had a weekend with the game now, and it’s been a spectacular experience. The gameplay is tight. I’m enjoying the challenges posed by both the combat and new systems, and the mythos being woven around the shinobi Wolf is engrossing. Bloodborne kept me going with its mix of challenge and the mystery of its lore. Sekiro is doing the same but with a more explicit story I want to take Wolf down the bloody road of. If you’re on the fence about this one, get off that fence and get on the sticks. It’s another From Software masterpiece.