We haven’t come across a game that fills us with as much uncontrollable rage as this From Software title in some time. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice will be a challenge for most who decide to pick up the game. Whether you’re a Dark Souls veteran, an accomplished speedrunner, or a newbie — you’ll likely struggle at some point. And threaten to feed your controller/mouse/keyboard to the dogs more than once.
Nevertheless, you’ll always go back for more. Just because of the pure thrill of accomplishment when you finally beat that humongous troll. But you’ll never get those hours of your life back…
Prepare to die again and again
Sekiro has sparked debate about game difficulties and the accessibility issues that arise from seemingly impossible-to-win games. Well, From Software are known to put out games that lack an ‘Easy’ difficulty, or any difficulty scaling at all. These titles include its range of hard af (for lack of a better phrase) games in the Souls series. This include Demon Souls, Dark Souls, and Bloodborne. If you’ve battled through one of these, get ready for another challenge. This time, as a samurai.
Sekiro continues the tradition, but this time players don’t have the added benefit of levelling up as the game progresses. And enemies become increasingly harder to fight. The game does offer assistance in the form of new attachments, items and training. However, nothing other than many hours of gameplay can prepare you for each boss fight.
It’s safe to assume this From title is something of an acquired taste. If you’re a newbie to the developers’ style, you’ll drown in absolute frustration for the first hour of play. If you like a real challenge (and some bragging rights to accompany it), this is the game for you. Let’s get into the details of this marvellous masterpiece of a game.
Don’t step on the Wolf’s tail
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice follows the journey of a Shinobi during Japan’s war-ravaged Sengoku period. Your character is left for dead early on by a samurai commander, who cuts off his arm and kidnaps his boy-master. Never fear! Because the Shinobi – known only as Sekiro (‘one-armed wolf’) – is rescued by a peculiar sculptor who creates a prosthetic arm for him.
Without giving away too much of the story, you’ll have the responsibility of saving the Divine Heir — the young master who goes missing at the outset. Don’t worry — it’ll be as bloody as you’d expect, no doubt.
From here, the majestic world created by From Software is your playground. Not exactly an open-world environment, but there’s just enough space and secrets to keep you from feeling guided. It features a ton of verticality — appropriate as your first attachment for the prosthetic arm is a grappling hook. You don’t have to play around on the rooftops, but it does keep you out of the enemy’s path most of the time.
You’ll find parts and upgrades that can be added to the prosthetic arm as secondary attack options. The good ol’ sculptor at your base temple will gladly imbue them into your arm free of charge…
If you wish to test these new abilities, then you’ll find the unkillable samurai pretty useful. This dude is a resident of your base temple and is a willing duel partner that cannot die — the perfect subject to test new attachments and basic combat on. He proves particularly helpful as the game’s difficulty ramps up. You’ll find yourself wanting to practise parrying or new moves or upgrades you have unlocked. It’s a great way to work on your timing – especially if you struggle to deflect at the correct time (ahem… we… didn’t struggle with that at all).
Blindly beating them bloody
As you’d expect from a From Software title, you are given little to no direction about where to go or what to do. However, the game remains fairly linear until about mid-way through, after which it opens up into a more open world. From here on out you’re ‘allowed’ to travel wherever, and upgrade at your leisure to fight the enemies you deem fit. Spoiler: they’re all fit. You’re a weekend jogger.
Although you’ve got this fancy prosthetic (which we’re pretty impressed with, considering the historical time this game is based in), your Kusabimaru katana is your staple and this becomes extremely evident in one-on-one combat.
You’ll have to parry, a lot. If you don’t know how to effectively parry in combat — go back to the zombie-guy and practise your freaking parries. Because without them, you will more than likely die. Or, as From describes it, ‘learn something new about your enemy’.
See, sword combat in Sekiro relies heavily on dealing Deathblows to enemies. In order to follow through to a Shinobi Deathblow, you’ll have to knock an enemy off their posture, which will leave them open to a lethal attack. If you’re a Soulsbourne fanatic, you should be familiar with the stagger-and-stab mechanic. Some of which include some gloriously gory animations that even Mortal Kombat would be proud to feature.
Defeating them on the 200th try
You’ll likely start off quite confident, with weaker enemies being substantially easier to block/deflect than the enemies you’ll encounter later on. Once you start to encounter unblockable attacks and very quick enemies, the training with zombie-man becomes increasingly helpful. Luckily you’ll also acquire special abilities which will help against certain enemies.
One thing you would’ve learnt from the Dark Souls series is that bosses have specific vulnerabilities — the challenge is figuring them out while continuously dying for hours on end. Most of your success is reliant on patience, timing and dodging. And a little bit of skill, by the end of it.
Most boss fight attacks requires a specific response, such as diving when a thrust attack comes your way. It seems fairly straight-forward until you’re in a blur of combat, trying to remember which response you need for each attack. Sometimes going into a frenzy of quick avoidance and attacking an enemy in the back could be the best way out… but don’t take our word on this.
Become one with the shadows
Not all combat needs to be head-on and bloody. Stealth plays a big part in Sekiro. Not everyone’s the brute-force type, apparently… and considering the game doesn’t have a map or mini-map, you’ll need to strategise every little move. For that, you need space and time.
Stealth can be used for a variety of ‘invisible’ tactics, like opportunities for distraction, ambush and avoidance. Sometimes, Sekiro can eavesdrop on enemies — this is mainly used for mission hints when you might feel stuck. These hints will help you decide how best to approach a situation. Don’t underestimate the tips.
Another thing not to underestimate is your prosthetic arm. Your grappling hook gets you up on rooftops — ideal for spotting escape routes and strategies. Prosthetic upgrades such as firecrackers allow for some nifty distraction techniques too.
Prosthetic skills can be upgraded in the skill tree using skill points. As you kill more enemies, you gain skill experience which then becomes skill points. These skill points are also used to upgrade stealth-based Shinobi Arts and combat-heavy Ashina Arts, honing your combat style with techniques such as Ninjitsu and Ichimonji and creating new ways to use current weapons.
Although your inanimate arm will enjoy some up-skilling, your character will not level up, which means you’ll really have to hone those skills for the later battles. You won’t have the added bonus of levelling along with the enemies as the game progresses.
But, just wake up again
All hope is not lost once you breathe your last breath — only half your skill experience and your money will be permanently lost. And it really hurts.
You’ll have the option of resurrection — which gives you the ability to gain life after death. But only once! And you can regain the ability by resting at the sculptor statues. This can be used as a strategic advantage — once the enemy turns his back, bam! You resurrect and slice his back. And, hopefully, not die twice.
There’s a feature called ‘Unseen Aid’ to watch out for, in which the gods decide you’re worthy enough to not lose half your experience and money. This is a super random feature, though — so don’t count on it saving your bank balance.
Sekiro tries to make many aspects as challenging as possible — you won’t get through this game without questioning your own sanity, capability and self-worth. It’s gonna be a challenge more than a fun time, most of the time.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice Verdict
Although a hard-as-nails game to play, From Software manages to create a hauntingly beautiful masterpiece with Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. Not that we expected any less from them. Sekiro has so many plains and weathered temples to admire, that you’ll just sometimes feel the need to stop and look around you for a minute. It’s a mesmerising world where you really don’t mind trailing off the obvious road in search of something new.
The whole experience feels as visually authentic as we’ve seen for that time period (till Ghost of Tsushima launches). A war-torn Japan with beautifully blood-stained landscapes? From Software really deserves a pat on the back for visuals.
However, we found that playing on the PlayStation 4 was considerably less breathtaking than when we previewed the game on PC. Don’t get us wrong, it still looks wonderful but, for the truly immersive Japanese experience, playing on a PS4 Pro or PC is advised.
If you’re looking for a chilled, fun-to-play game, rather look past Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice next time you’re in the shop. But if you enjoy a challenge that’ll more than likely bring out the rage-quitter in you, this one’s an ideal choice. You’ll just need to accept that you may never finish Sekiro.