I apologize for getting this review out so late. It’s just that I couldn’t really put out this review without going through everything that I could in the game, which meant finding every item, killing every boss, and reaching the best ending. Now that I finally accomplished that, 60 hours later, I can say that Sekiro: Shadows Die twice is an amazing adventure. Sure, I could have assumed that because Fromsoftware and Hidetaka Miyazaki were at the development helm. Still, I had to experience it for myself and what an experience it was.
Game Name: Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
Platform(s): PC (reviewed), PS4, Xbox One
Release Date: March 22, 2019
Price: $59.99, $99.99 (collectors edition)
Hours Played: 60+ (I got the best ending)
Let’s get one thing out of the way, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice isn’t Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls, or even Bloodborne. Yes, there are a few similarities, but that’s it. This is a completely different beast, and if you attempt to play Sekiro like you would in Dark Souls or Bloodborne. Well, you’re in for a rude awakening and a frustrating couple of hours as you get acquainted with the combat system.
Ok, I shouldn’t need to say this, but I’m going to. Yes, while this is from Fromsoftware, it’s not like their previous titles. There’s nothing in Sekiro: Shadows Die twice that is similar to those other games outside of the checkpoint system. While heavily dependent on parrying, if you want to get the most out of fights, the combat system is a breath of fresh air. Attempting to play Sekiro like any of the aforementioned games isn’t going to be enjoyable for you. It could even put you off the entire game, so it’s best not to do that. If you’ve played those games, forget them when jumping into Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. Trust me, and you’ll thank me later.
The star of the show is the introduction of the Posture Meter. This meter starts empty. However, as you start to block hits, you’ll start to take posture damage. While you won’t take physical damage, the posture meter will build up, and if it maxes out, you’ll get stunned. Needless to say, that’s a bad thing; however, you can avoid this by dodging, perfecting specific counter moves, or parrying, which is key to mastering combat. Successfully parring a move is crucial to just about every boss encounter and even some random enemies in the world. Doing poorly at it, you’re going to be seeing the “You Died” screen a lot. But mastering it changes how you play the game. This ain’t the block and attack gameplay that many of us, myself included, were used to. I wasn’t really sure about the parrying system and how it would make me a better player. Or make the experience better, but damn, it really does. It’s satisfying to deflect the incoming blows, adding posture damage to them, and depending on what abilities you have, dealing massive damage to your enemy.
The prosthetic limb weapons were also a nice change of pace. While you’re stuck with just the same blade through the game. The prosthetic weapons you find not only spice up the combat but can make some encounters trivial, such as using the flame vent on the giant ogre that could pummel you into the ground. Just a little oil and fire, and he turns into a baby. Or finding the shinobi firecracker that gives you some much-needed crowd control and can stop even the toughest of bosses in their tracks. That said, I found that every weapon you find definitely has its own uses, and they didn’t feel like they were just tossed into the game. They’re also not required, and you can easily ignore them or not seek them out and still make it through the game.
Combat is definitely a lot of fun, that is, until you start getting hammered or attract multiple enemies. However, this is where the game shines even more as you aren’t completely screwed. You could give up and let the mercy kill happen in other games, but in Sekiro, you have options! Parry until you can’t anymore, or even better, escape. Yes, the verticality of Sekiro also is helpful in combat. Surrounded with no way out? Take to roofs and hide until enemies are out of range or they give up. Or use that same verticality can get the drop on enemies, or as I like to call it, playing “Sengoku Spiderman-Style.”
You’re also able to upgrade your character as you progress through the game as you earn skill points that can be used to acquire new techniques and passive skills. While taking down bosses and mini-bosses will provide prayer beads, collecting 4 will increase your health bar, while memories can be used to increase your attack power. Outside of that, your prosthetic weapons can also be enhanced, but only after you met the requirements and if you have the items required to do so. But that’s it, so if you were looking for an RPG system, you won’t find it here.
The world of Sekiro: Shadows Die twice takes us back to the Sengoku age of Japan, and Fromsoftware has done a great job creating this fictional likeness of the long-gone area. The landscapes, the buildings, even the designs of the enemies and their armors look as if they were pulled through time and placed into the game. This goes double for the soundtrack that places throughout the game. The soundtrack for the game is haunting yet beautiful at the same time. It’s pretty much the perfect counterpart to the visual style of the game. I found myself putting down the controller to bask in the splendor of it all.
What’s that? Is the game hard? That’s really objective as what is hard for you may not be hard for me and vice versa. However…. hell yes, this game is tough, but that’s why I love it so much. It’s brutal, where even the simplest of enemies can ruin your day. Arches with pinpoint accuracy (more on that later), dogs that are fast as hell and can tear you limb from limb. Unspeakable horrors around every corner and the bosses. Ah, the bosses that will show you no mercy and have you cursing in all sorts of different tongues. Yep, it’s really rough but rewarding.
I’ll be honest and say that I’ve never felt the way I did when I finally took down Lady Butterfly, the Guardian Ape, or even the last boss. When I finally performed that last death blow, throwing my hands up in victory, it felt good—damned good, with a wicked smile forming on my face. The game isn’t hard just for the sake of being hard. and it does try to ease you into the combat. It doesn’t just toss you into the deep end say good luck, like some other games either. Each encounter is basically “let’s see what you learned and if you can apply it,” and I feel it works well. Sure, some people may not like it, and that’s to be expected.
Death Isn’t The End, But It definitely Hurts.
Thanks to the Young Lords’ Dragon’s Heritage, whenever you fall in battle, you don’t get that dreaded game over screen. Instead, you’re blessed with the unique ability to resurrect on the spot, and depending on your current status, you may be able to come back to life multiple times. By default, you get one redo. Die again, and it’s over. You can be revived twice before you actually do take a dirt nap. Above the health bar, the bottom left of the screen are two circles in the lower-left corner. When these are full, you can resurrect. The one on the right is replenished each time you rest at a Sculptor’s Idol, while the one on the left is refilled by defeating enemies.
Ah, I see what you’re thinking. But these aren’t your average get out of jail card, as you can’t use them in quick succession. When you revive once, a black mark appears over the other. The only way to gain access to it is by damaging your enemies, both big and small. Once you’ve done enough, the mark will be removed, and you can use that revival.
At first glance, death would seem not to be as punishing; however, my young Shinobi, looks can be deceiving. Anytime you die and are forced to respawn at an idol, you will lose half of your experience and Sen (currency) gathered. This continues every time you’re defeated and find yourself back at the idol. Occasionally you’ll receive some assistance in the form of Unseen Aid, which is a small chance you don’t lose half of your money and experience. However, the more you die, the smaller that chance gets.
That’s not the only downside. While the Dragon’s Heritage brings you back, its power is limited, and when you draw upon it too much, it runs out. You won’t stop being resurrected; instead, the Dragon’s Heritage will draw your revival life essence from the world. Which, in turn, spreads a sickness called Dragonrot. This sickness will affect any NPC’s that you’ve spoken to or are in the area that you are in that you will eventually speak to. Excluding the Young Lord and the enemies. This can change certain NPC’s dialogue or not have them speak with you at all if it becomes severe. The NPCs can even die on you if you don’t keep Dragonrot in check. I thought this was a nice touch, as it added the element of “Death isn’t the end,” and it rewards players who understand the system. Plus, just because you can revive doesn’t always mean that you should, especially if you’re starting a boss fight and die in a few seconds. Or having that second chance to finally down that boss that took you forever to get down to a sliver of health. It goes both ways.
This runs great on the PC
I played Sekiro on the PC, and damn, was it good. The game was mostly locked to 60FPS, at both 1080p and 4K, the input delay was minimal, and the game ran well. Unsurprisingly, there were more than enough options available to cater to my experience, allowing me to adjust settings as needed. We saw this with the Dark Souls 3 PC port, and this port has been much the same, perhaps even better. There was no hitching/stuttering, and the game scales very well from my testing. On three different PC setups, ranging from High-end, mid-range, and lower-range, the game was playable even if I had to lower some settings. Impressed with the PC port I am. Of course, I have to talk about the mods that were released for the game as well. Not only have there been several mods to change the look using Reshade but there have also been several cosmetic mods that change the look for the sword Sekiro is rocking, as well as his clothes. I’ve checked out a few of them; I was impressed that they were available quickly.
I would have loved an unlocked framerate, but having the 60FPS option shouldn’t be understated, especially since the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions are locked to 30FPS.
Sekiro: Shadows Die twice is almost the perfect game to me, almost. There are some issues I’ve encountered that ticked me off a bit. Some more than others, such as had stealth is handled. At the start of the game, while it’s possible to use stealth as an advantage, it quickly gets diminished, and enemies will see you a mile away. You’ll be able to upgrade the stealth abilities that help you become nearly completely unseen except for when it comes to certain enemies, mainly the ones with bow and arrows and guns. I swear they can see a blade of grass move and know you’re out there, and they never go away. You could be hidden behind a wall or ducked down on a roof, and they’ll still see you. C’mon, guys put the wallhacks away.
In the end, Fromsoftware took what made the Soulsborne games so good and then decided to abandon it all nearly. Sekiro is a completely different beast, and the game is perhaps better for that. By implementing a new combat system made me rethink how we had to approach the game. At the same time, removing the RPG system, forcing us to rely on our skills more than trying to power level past an encounter. While tossing in some fascinating encounters, lots of interesting boss fights, and a beautiful yet dangerous world that only a shinobi would love. Sekiro: Shadows Die twice, well, hell, I love this game. That’s pretty much all I need to say about it.
Lastly, the posture/parry systems are amazing yet hard to perfect. Please don’t get upset or frustrated that you can’t get it down on your first couple of tires. It’s a complex system that rewards gamers with taking the time to analyze the different swings and telltale signs. Patience Daniel-son, patience!
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get started on NG.
Review Disclosure Statement: Review code for Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice was provided by Activision for review purposes. For more information on how we review video games and other media/technology, please go review our Review Guideline/Scoring Policy for more info.
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Fromsoftware’s gamble to put down the sword and shield and take us to the Sengoku Japan period, with a lovable one-armed Shinboi, has paid off. Simultaneously, being a fantastic hack and slash title with an outstanding combat system that forces you to do better that’s only matched by visuals and amazing sound production. Lots of action, with even more content to play through. Sekiro is one of the best gems of 2019, and I can’t put it down.
- Posture system keeps battles engaging and interesting
- Loving being able to travel via the grappling hook
- Exploration is rewarding
- Damn, this game looks beautiful
- Damn the soundtrack is just as good as the visuals
- Those damned ranged enemies can see me no matter what
- The game can definitely be punishing at times
- Stealth mechanics are a bit busted