Ownership of a major IP is a blessing, and if not exactly a curse, it is certainly a major challenge. The blessing is, obviously, the financial and often critical success. The challenge is creating new titles with enough innovation to be fresh, without deviating too far from what the fans want. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice has a high bar to leap to say the least, and in this article we’ll explain where the game is going and how it arrived there.
Sekiro: The Evolution of Souls
FromSoftware has created a unique experience and intensity with the Souls franchise, not only because of the difficulty and cryptic nature of these games, but also because of the distinct sense of loss you feel when dying. How many other games did you ever get half way to a Boss, turn around and head back the way you came thinking:
I’m not ready yet and I have such a small chance of beating the Boss, I had best not risk my Souls and instead use them before trying again.
Sekiro is somewhat different because you don’t lose anything upon defeat, and can also revive once, making your demise a much less horrifying inevitability. In fact, one could say that From is encouraging the player to more willingly risk death in the name of exploration, discovery and growth. While this will ultimately lead to success, it does not mean that you won’t find relief at the sight of a Sculptor’s Idol, as progressing through the levels is by no means an easy feat.
Why Has From Removed Stats?
If you are a souls veteran, this game was designed with you specifically in mind. You might think it’s not so, and it took me a few hours to really explain why this was the case to one of my colleagues who has not played Sekiro, but in doing so I really understood what From was going for with this game. Let’s explain it as simply as possibly:
By the end of Dark Souls II, I was so well-versed in mechanics and death that in Dark Souls 3 I had almost no fear of loss. Losing Souls was not a big deal, and I already knew what weapon I wanted to use, so what was there really left to play for? FromSoftware, realizing the answer to this question, has taken things up a notch:
OK: so you feel you know our mechanics? Fine, how about we challenge your skill next?
Builds Are Gone. But Are They?
Being a very min/max player, I have focused a lot on creating Builds for games that I have found interesting, such as Divinity Original Sin and Pillars of Eternity. Surprisingly, I found answers to my Sekiro questions when comparing my builds from these games.
In games like Pillars, Divinity or even Dark Souls, players will strive to create the best Builds they can to overcome the challenges they are presented with. But what’s particularly interesting about this is that often you cannot complete your Build until a certain portion of the game has been reached. This is either because you must be a certain level, must find the right mix of equipment or some combination of these factors.
While there is definitely value and interest in creating the anticipation to reach this conclusion, imagine for a second if you could start out with those Builds from the very beginning of the game. You’d probably feel very over powered indeed. But then let’s add that the game was tuned to compensate for your maxed character, and that your Build would be taken to the limit from the earliest moments. This will give you some idea of what playing Sekiro is like, and why I believe it was created with veterans in mind.
In order to succeed, you won’t summon or grind. You simply have to Git Gud.
Sekiro is a Combat Exposé
With the removal of Stamina, players have more freedom to operate within the structure of From’s well-crafted combat, which makes sense when having no attribute progression. You are no longer limited by an arbitrary bar, one that you spend a significant portion of the game increasing, just to get it to the point where it almost becomes irrelevant. There’s thus a higher focus on the combat mechanics themselves, rather than getting your character to a point where it can do the moves you want at the frequency you want it to.
If players can beat Dark Souls with a Soul Level 1 character, then why do we need levels at all?
Sekiro operates on the premise that the character has reached its max potential, and now just has to learn to use the tools available at the right time. What this creates is a heavier focus on reading the movements and actions of your enemies, rather than on your own characteristics, damage and moveset, which will be memorized quite rapidly. Sekiro assumes that you have already mastered your weapon from the very beginning of the game, and the difficulty is in line with a player who has.
Because of Stealth and the ability to tactically thin groups of enemies without alerting others to your presence, each encounter becomes not only about the execution of the combat mechanics, but also about playing intelligently and taking advantage of the opportunities presented. These might not seem obvious at first glance, and patience and understanding of the battlefield will play a vital part in your success. While Dark Souls 3 and Bloodborne were at the top in the terms of rewarding the aggressive player, Sekiro is very much at the bottom.
Defense Wins Championships
With the introduction of the Posture system, the Souls combat formula has shifted much more heavily in favor of a defensive style of play. Players are better served depleting an enemy’s Posture than they are by aiming to kill them outright, and indeed tougher enemies can’t be defeated in this manner anyhow. Because you can drain Posture from your opponent by Parrying attacks at the moment you are struck, you can actually vanquish enemies without every landing a single blow until their Posture is completely gone.
However, you cannot just Parry enemies every time they attack, or the game would have almost no difficulty whatsoever, and would become boring and repetitive quickly. Many enemies feature attacks that are unblockable and require a special dodge, to force the player into an elegant dance of Parrying, Attacking, Dodging and Blocking that you will find in few games. The challenge comes from reading enemy attacks and patterns, that have a much wider range than Souls, causing the player to remember more and pay closer attention.
The average player will have to get better in order to succeed in Sekiro.
Is Sekiro Harder Than Dark Souls?
This is a very good question, honestly one that is difficult to answer and it very much depends on the sort of player you are, and there are many when it comes to Souls games. Players who consider themselves to be somewhere in the middle in terms of skill, like myself, will have to excel more within the game’s combat. However, you will be more focused because you don’t have to worry about many of the things found in other From titles.
Sekiro will be harder for some players, and easier for others, but the gap between the best and worst players will be much smaller than is typical of Souls games.
Why it Could Be Harder For You
- You Cannot Summon – The lack of Co Op play means that you cannot rely upon other players to help get you through tough areas or Bosses. You will in fact have to learn the mechanics of each Boss yourself, master them or die trying.
- No Traditional Weapon Upgrades – This means that you will always deal about the same damage to each enemy and cannot simply upgrade it to such a point that you can destroy a boss with relative ease.
- No Traditional Weapon Variation – In Souls games some Bosses were in fact easier with certain weapons or spells than they were with others, giving you the option to use them as a last resort if you couldn’t beat them with what you had. Since there isn’t a variety in Sekiro, you not longer have that possibility.
Why it Could Be Easier For You
- You Only Have to Master 1 Weapon – Because you will be using the Katana for the entirety you will gain proficiency with it rather quickly, allowing you to be a pro by the time you reach a difficult Boss.
- The Addition of Stealth – Because you can now pick off enemies 1 by 1, if you play patiently and with some wits about you, you might end up with an easier time in many cases.
- You Are Less Overwhelmed – The Amount of things you need to learn are not as many as you’d think, and new Tools and Techniques are added over time, giving you a chance to become familiar with them before you learn more.
Should You Be Hyped?
If you are a veteran of FromSoftware games that played them not only for the unique experiences they present, but also the sense of accomplishment and pride that comes from defeating some of the gaming world’s toughest bosses, then the answer is a resounding yes. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is meant for that player specifically, the one that appreciates what Souls games truly are at their core, underneath the customization and fashion.
While Co Op, PvP and a variety of weapons and armor certainly add longevity to video games, it doesn’t always make them “better”. When you strip away these things from a Souls game, you are left with the combat, the world exploration and connectivity, the lore, and of course the challenges you face along the way. Remember that not only do these aspects remain, but all the time and energy that was dedicated to the things cut has been reinvested into these instead.
If these are your favorite things about FromSoftware games, then I think Sekiro will shatter all your expectations.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice will releasing next year on March 22nd 2019 on Playstation 4, Xbox One and PC.
If you’re looking for more Sekiro don’t miss out on our interview with the developer in Sekiro: Sengoku Meets Dark Souls Interview With From: Weapons, Armor, Resurrection. You will also not want to miss out on our Sekiro Gameplay And Hands-On Information And Impressions. If you’re looking for details of the special edition find here in Collector’s Edition Detailed.