When Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice was revealed at E3 this year I couldn’t have cared less. I heard ‘FromSoftware’ and immediately tuned out. Over time this opinion began to change as I looked a bit deeper into its media coverage. I became excited over the prospect of a souls-esque game with a combat system and unique gameplay mechanic that I would find fulfilling. As it turns out, my excitement was justified because I actually had fun playing the Sekiro demo at PAX 2018!
The demo on the show floor was the same as the one above, so I began it with a bit of inside knowledge, though, that wasn’t enough to see me through to its completion. Side note, that massive Samurai is a real bastard. It didn’t take long for me to get a grasp of the combat, and its fluidity between contextual finishers and standard attacks is immensely satisfying. I have to admit, it was weird seeing stealth detection triangles in a From Software game, but I love stealth so it was also exciting.
Ostensibly, the action revolves around a core stance meter which raises on your target as you parry and land hits. When that meter is full you can attack the enemy with a devastating finisher. It’s a tense system as dodging in and out is simply not a very feasible option; you need to take a risk, parry and find the proper gaps in enemy attacks. This new bar replaces the traditional stamina meter of your own character, meaning you can dodge and swing as much as you want, but you’re also susceptible to destructive attacks from the enemy AI. Augmenting the action is your bionic hand which turns into a heavy axe, can shoot chakrams, and breathes fire that enflames your sword.
Then there’s the disappointing grapple hook. Even in the small demo, there were more places I couldn’t grapple to than I could, so I mostly had to wall jump up onto ledges. If the demo indicative of the larger game, I think the implementation of the grapple hook will be lacklustre. That being said, there was a certain level of stress associated with leaping for grapple points that was oddly satisfying. You need to be in range of a highlighted hook point which often requires a leap of faith and mid-air sling, making you feel awesome.
Another point of concern is the game’s performance, as it was dipping under 30FPS on a launch PlayStation. I suppose that could be expected, but it also looked quite grainy and it was odd not to see it running on a Pro. It’s a bit of a bummer because the environments and their drastic biome-like changes are very appealing, I mean even the massive serpent model (viewable in the above walkthrough) looked plasticy and silly.
I walked away from Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice with a refreshed perspective of the souls-like genre. Stamina encumbrance from the Souls games has always irked me the wrong way, so the stance bar offers a unique twist to a similarly difficult game.