We were fortunate to get to play FromSoftware’s new title Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice at length during Gamescom 2018. We went into the demo with an open mind, wondering if our interview with Yasuhiro Kitao the day before would set our expectations too high, but we were pleasantly surprised to find something uniquely satisfying, if not visceral about the game. Read on to find out more in depth information about this ninja Souls game that may be “THE” game of the show, and make up your own mind about something a little different, but more the same than you’d think, from our favorite developer. We will not re-cover the details from yesterday so make sure to check out the interview as well.
Sekiro Gameplay and Hands-on Gameplay and Impressions
Describing Sekiro is not an easy task by any means, especially when it’s been compared to Souls at every turn (even by us). However, the differences between it and FromSoftware’s legendary franchise are not hard to see and are perhaps the first thing you notice when playing.
The biggest disparity, which you feel immediately, is simply the way you interact with the environment, and how much you are expected to. Coming from a series where even just jumping effectively was sometimes problematic, now not only are you flying around using a grappling hook to higher and higher elevations, you also use crouching and tall grass for cover, or even hang from ledges or hug a wall. It’s hard to quantify, but it has a definite “ninja” feel to it that honors Tenchu, and the implementation of stealth reminded me of games like Uncharted or Tomb Raider to a lesser degree.
The environments look well-crafted, complex and, above all, accessible. You can go to the places you see. You dominate rooftops and sneak within the broken hallways. This world is beautiful, dangerous, filled with horrors and lonely all at the same time. But the feel that you are on a mission, and that you will see it through, sets an atmospheric approach to every step you take.
Stealthy Souls in Sekiro
Beyond the environmental interaction, you quickly find that Sekiro has a much much heavier focus on Stealth than any of the Souls games or Bloodborne. Not only can you crouch by clicking L3 to hide from enemies and become quieter, but you can hang from ledges and even hug walls to peer around them without being seen. You are encouraged at every turn to use the landscape to take down enemies before they even become aware of your presence, allowing you to thin crowds and plan your approach. Stealth finishers allow takedowns from above or backstabs when approaching from behind, and you can even use items to lure enemies to a location to make it easier to sneak up on them.
Further reinforcing this is the fact that enemies have sort of a “detection indicator” above their heads that changes colors as they become more aware of your presence, warning you that you may about to be spotted. Again this was somewhat similar to Uncharted 4.
In the Sekiro demo there was an old lady enemy that would ring an alarm bell if it saw or heard you and all the enemies nearby would come running in your direction, making it incredibly challenging to get past. Encounters will be more difficult for the player who forgoes Stealth in favor of the more traditional Samurai playstyle, so embrace Stealth or…just Git Gud.
Combat, Give and Take in Sekiro
Controls are familiar, but different, particularly in that you’ll find that the menu item seems to pause the game, as do tutorial tips. This may not make it to the full version, but seemed to be the case in the demo. The camera controls feel familiar and fluid, and swapping from one lock-on to the next was right at home.
Combat happens when you aren’t able to kill everything without being seen (which you won’t), and it reminds me a lot of Nioh in that players not only attack with their Katanas but also use them for defense. Blocking and Parrying are both done with your sword, and you can only block so many strikes before you have depleted your “Posture” which is somewhat akin to “Ki” from Nioh and has a poise-like effect.
Once an enemies’ Posture has been depleted enough, players are able to perform a finisher and gain an instant kill. In terms of effectiveness, this is the best way to to deal damage to your average enemy, but not all enemies are easy to drain.
Some fights are more focused on chipping away at the opponents health, which are usually tougher enemies, and ones that have large Posture and Health pools. In these skirmishes players will have to play much more efficiently and look for openings and weaknesses, staying patient and not playing overly aggressive until the right time. You will not get through the game just mashing R1, so you must adapt and learn when to go on the offensive and when to take a defensive stance.
You are rewarded for your efforts with a variety of finishers that vary by the remaining health threshold of the enemy, not just its posture.
The combat in Sekiro is fast, fluid, reactionary and daunting. You must plan out your target priority, and execute attacks with guided perfection, risking it all in your life-or-death gambits against stronger enemies. There are dodges, jumps, blocks and parries, but there’s also the need to learn attack patterns and react when a “danger” kanji flashes. The verticality and seamlessness of Prosthetic Tool swaps allows for a beautiful feeling of momentum and adds a wonderful dance-like pace to combat.
There has been much concern over the lack of weapon variety, and players may find themselves wondering how playing the game with mostly the same weapon will feel and if it will get boring or repetitive. To this I can say that the Prosthetic Tools you are given and acquire through out the game are more than meets the eye. Not only do they feel unique and excel at different things (like the axe breaking shields of enemies into pieces), but they also allow for some great follow up attacks that are different than your standard ones. One of the tools is called a Flame Vent, and it lets you set your blade on fire, which not only looks awesome, but strikes for increased damage. Players cannot use their tools infinitely, however, and must replenish their White Spirit Emblems in order to use them more. These are usually obtained from defeating enemies, but can also be found around the map as well.
Something we noticed and can confirm is that there are Status Ailments, and both enemies and players can be afflicted by Burning and, looking at the trailer in detail, Poison. These effects are certainly weaknesses for enemies, and using the right tool to apply the ailment could turn a battle around versus powerful opponents.
In addition, the thing that really took me by surprise was the amount of moves that some of the enemies had, and how unpredictable this made some of the combat as some of them even had rifles. It really feels like some of the missing elements to the game (no Armor or Online, limited Weapons, etc) that players might have really liked are instead transformed intof a more focused polished gameplay experience where each enemy is deadly in its own way. You are definitely giving up some of the things that made Souls games great in Sekiro, but it is not without gaining something in return.
Things That Are Souls-Like in Sekiro
Checkpoints, called Sculptor’s Idols in Sekiro, act much the same way as Bonfires in Dark Souls, allowing you to revive there if you die (twice), replenishing your health when praying to them and respawning defeated enemies. In the demo there was what looked like something that will become a menu, but there was no text, so I am assuming there will be some other sort of interactions available there in the full version of the game.
Bosses are larger-than life and in dedicated arenas that give a specific feel for the location and enemy, with unique movesets that go into phases as you fight. As with everything, the grappling hook adds verticality and versatility to the battle, allowing you to challenge the Corrupted Monk’s sweeping attacks by swirling via the nearby treas.
Players do have consumables that they can swap through, and these do various things from healing you and granting you defensive buffs, to being projectiles you can throw. These Items are obtained from looting items around the map, as well as defeating enemies. How many different types are not currently known, but I think it’s safe to say there will be a variety.
Players who are fans of Bloodborne should feel right at home here, because the speed of combat is much like Bloodborne, and in some cases perhaps even faster. Dodging, striking, dodging, parrying, and then attacking again, simply feels great when you do it successfully, but it will take time to master. There is a learning curve, much like there was playing Bloodborne, as players get used to the new mechanics and “feel”, which I think players will really enjoy.
We found a lore note, that could be interacted with by pressing X (square) and read “Beware, we will behead all those who enter”
Final Thoughts for Sekiro’s Gameplay
Sekiro, while boasting a “refined” Souls-like combat, is really much more than just a bare bones/enhanced version of From’s style. What sets Sekiro apart is the heavy focus on the world and not just the things in it. You’ll run, jump, climb, swing, dash, roll and sneak your way to victory, which are frankly things we are not used to in other From titles. Not only has From created a beautiful playground for you to admire, but now you really get to “play in it“. There is an exploration element to it that you just can’t find in other From games, not because it didn’t exist, but because it’s just that much more superb in Sekiro. I think players are really going to love this without even knowing that they wanted it.
In terms of difficulty, I found the game to be tough. As mentioned above, there is a learning curve and I definitely need more time with the game, but suffice it to say that you will die Twice, and then some. There are more “difficult” enemies in between check points, many boasting large movesets that aren’t as easy to memorize, increasing the challenge that I would say most Souls games deliver. Add on top of that you cannot switch weapons or summon other players and I think you will find that there will be some players who struggle for sure. It’s too early to say with certainty how it will compare in this regard with other From titles, but I definitely don’t get the impression it will be easier.
We have more hands-on time scheduled for later today, so if you have other specific questions or things you wish me to investigate please post in the comments below and I will do my very best to get them answered!
In the meantime, check out the recent Collector’s Edition announcement, Lore reveals, E3 Sekiro Preview, Sekiro To Have Eavesdropping: Famitsu Interviews Miyazaki – Translated, and our Dark Souls Remastered Review. You might also want to go check out the Sekiro Shadows Die Twice Announcement Trailer.
And of course, there’s the Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice wiki.