Shadows Massacre Thousands

HIGH Landing Shinobi Executions on some vicious bosses.

LOW I miss finding new, fashionable types of armor in the world.

WTF The memory sequences are a time paradox just waiting to happen.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice takes place during Japan’s Sengoku period and centers around the exploits of our hero, a master Shinobi known as Wolf. Found on the battlefield at a young age and trained to kill his enemies in whatever method is most convenient, he soon has to trot off and rescue his kidnapped lord — who just so happens to have the secret to gaining immortality.

Things don’t go particularly well for our hero, though, and it isn’t long before he winds up having his left arm cut off and replaced by an unrealistically awesome prosthetic that can catapult him across vast distances and have numerous nasty implements fitted to it in order to give him an edge during combat. While use of these tools are limited to prevent spamming, having a spring-loaded axe shatter the enemy’s shields or launching firecrackers to blind nearby foes are better than ever compared to his old, fleshy human arm.

It’s a good thing too, because most of Wolf’s enemies aren’t screwing around. In traditional From Software fashion, even weak enemies can quickly murder players who aren’t paying enough attention. That’s where one of Sekiro‘s main gameplay twists can be found — when Wolf dies, he can resurrect immediately and continue from where he dropped dead if he’s got the ability fully charged before going down. These charges can be replenished, but if he’s defeated without one, it’s back to a save statue.

While it’s possible to kill enemies in the traditional manner of simply emptying their life gauge, most fights come down to breaking their “posture” by continually deflecting their attacks, battering away at their guard, and avoiding (or countering) unblockable attacks. Once they’re off balance, they open up to an opportunistic deathblow that tends to end fights in a hurry.

Deathblows look awesome, incidentally. The whole posture system leads to spectacular finishers being performed on nearly every foe players encounter – instead of a dainty little slice across their face as in most games, the Wolf is more likely to ram his sword straight through their throat before wrenching it out sideways in a quick, elegant (and violent) kill animation reminiscent of Ninja Gaiden 2‘s Obliteration Techniques. These never got old for me, even after five playthroughs.

The boss fights are great too. Ranging from monstrously-skilled samurai to supernatural horrors, each one has a distinct moveset and range of weaknesses for players to overcome. Small mistakes can be deadly, and even casual attacks can inflict major damage to Wolf, but learning their blind spots and weaknesses is immensely satisfying. From a mounted samurai with a massive spear to an Ogre who’s apparently watched too much professional wrestling, there’s a solid group of powerful foes to overcome.

However, for those hoping that From has finally cracked the secret of a solid lock-on system and a camera that doesn’t go straight to hell when things get busy in tight quarters though… yeah, we’re gonna have to keep waiting on that one, unfortunately.

As a ninja, the Wolf doesn’t have to take on his enemies face-to-face all the time, though. It’s actually a great idea to swing around from ledge to ledge on a grappling hook, dragging isolated guards into bushes and slitting their throats, or leaping from rooftops to plunge a sword through their hearts. There’s plenty of opportunity for skulking around and picking off potential foes before they’re even aware of Wolf’s presence, and it’s a lot easier dealing with two peasants in a fight after whittling down their numbers than an enraged mob of samurai.

Many will compare Sekiro to Dark Souls given From Software’s recent legacy, and the influence is clear to see. That said, this isn’t an RPG — it’s a stealth action game, and despite having a reasonably large open world to explore and multiple treasures to discover, it also cuts out a lot of the trademark things Dark Souls and Bloodborne were known for.

Sekiro is a single-player adventure from start to finish, with no invading or summoning other players for backup. Wolf also only gets one outfit and one main weapon throughout his journey, so there’s no experimenting with various movesets or changing his build. The Shinobi tools are handy, but they’re not as wide an array of techniques as players familiar with From might expect.

That said, there is some leeway in what the Wolf can learn throughout his quest. Certain skills can be unlocked with experience points — things like attacking from the grappling hook, additional healing from medicines, or replenishing health on successful deathblows. It’s not possible to grind out more health, so options are definitely more limited than in From’s other work, but these additional tricks can help a lot.

Whether this more focused approach will appeal to fans of Souls or Bloodborne will differ from player to player – personally, I love the renewed focus on combat and traversal, but I also missed creating a custom character and hunting down cool outfits. Also, the derelict temples and snowy mountain passes of feudal Japan may be beautifully rendered here, but the world is more one-note than their previous work and offers less inventiveness to discover throughout.

Those are small niggles however — and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is simply not those games. This is is a challenging and finely-tuned ninja action title with an emphasis on split-second timing and attacks of opportunity, and features one of the best combat systems I’ve seen in years. I’m not sure it’s enough to topple Bloodborne for me, but I do know that it’s a damn fine experience for those who’re willing (and able) to adapt to its punishing rhythm of combat. It may be too difficult for some, but I’ve been starving for an adventure like this for a long, long time, and it delivers exactly what I was hoping for.

Rating: 9 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by From Software and published by Activision. It is currently available on PS4, XBO and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via retail store and reviewed on the PS4 Pro.  Approximately 45 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed multiple times with the platinum trophy achieved. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated M and contains Blood and Gore and Violence. There’s a lot of pitiless murder constantly happening throughout, so as awesome as it is, maybe keep the kids away from this one.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: While Sekiro can be played from start to finish with subtitles (they cannot be resized) and there are numerous onscreen prompts displaying enemy behavior, I can’t help but feel that it will be a harder game for those unable to hear audio cues that lack visual components — I mean, that bastard on the kite is one obvious example.

Remappable Controls: Yes, this game offers fully remappable controls.

Darren Forman
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4 years ago

This is an amazing game, yet hard as nails and will punish you for not paying attention and/or playing sloppy. Fromsoft really pushed the boat out with this one, and everything from the visuals, worldbuilding, level design and combat mechanics are top notch. Highly recommended, ONLY if you enjoy tough challenges. Even if you are a souls vet, this game will chew you up and spit you out. Git Gud will be your god damn mantra in Sekiro.
I also want to share my own review of Sekiro based on my experience while playing it [link removed – sorry!]