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Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice First Impressions- Dark Souls On Crack, On Crack

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Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is the newest souls-like from Metal Wolf Chaos studio From Software. Thanks to the guys at PlayStation Asia, we got some hands on time with the prosthetic shinobi in a demo build of the game.

A lot of early impressions of Sekiro talk about the mobility in the game. That’s for a simple reason- moving in Sekiro feels great. From a purely mobile standpoint, Sekiro feels entirely unrelated to From’s previous works. The lack of a stamina bar means there’s little stopping you from running, jumping and dodging to your heart’s content. Your grappling hook lets you move between branches, rooftops and ledges.

Speaking of that stamina bar, its absence is one of the most bizarre features in Sekiro. At first glance, it seems wise. One of the weird failings of Bloodborne was its insistence on aggressive play despite its restrictive stamina bar, especially when the A.I are seemingly unbeholden to it. In Sekiro, that restriction is gone, but it holds you to a higher standard than Bloodborne and Dark Souls. Against non-jobber enemies, you have to play the game wants you to, which is very aggressively. A good half hour was sunk trying to unlearn the Dark Souls keep-away style to get anywhere.

Instead of stamina, you have a posture meter. As you block your opponent’s hits with timed guards and retaliate with the obligatory souls-poke, you deal damage to their posture. As the enemy loses health, their posture recovery slows and when it passes the threshold, the enemies become vulnerable to visceral attacks which finish off the enemies.

As the removal of stamina allows you to guard and dodge and retaliate with ease, the resulting combat can feel jarring. Jobbers are very easily rushed, and can be killed easily with gory, cinematic finishers. Meanwhile elites will bounce the very same attacks, meaning crowd control is important. The system works best with the boss fights, however, as being one-on-one with a giant corrupted monk lets you truly understand the otherwise obtuse combat system.

As far as gripes go, the game has several. Sekiro’s features a ninja prosthesis, which act as power-ups to use in fights. In the demo build we were given the loaded axe, a shuriken launcher and a flame weapon. The weapons are impressive, but restricted by a consumable item. Unlike healing in this game, which refills every time you die, these items do not and so, after several epic duels against a boss, your ninja prosthesis becomes essentially useless until you beat the boss. Alternatively, you could become so scared of this eventuality that you avoid using the arm, making it useless from the get-go. It’s 2018, stop punishing players for using the cool thing in your game.

The other gripe comes from one of the game’s strengths. Sekiro contains two ideas found in many popular games- side roads and finishers. Unfortunately, this means that Sekiro contains every open world’s favorite gameplay mechanic, stealth segments. While not mandatory, the game does telegraph that it would really appreciate you not charging in and ripping off heads like you were a Tarantino Ninja. When you inevitably screw up and you see the yellow attention arrows fill up, it’s hard to not feel disappointed as you’re playing a mechanic so ubiquitous in gaming already.

The final gripe with Sekiro is the playstyle. In the other Soulsborne games, some degree of customization was given to the players. In Dark Souls, you could essentially build your character any way you wanted, from lumbering tank to agile dex-build. Bloodborne had that to a lesser extent, but at the end of the day you were still playing a style you chose. Sekiro does not appear to have many different ways to play. The UI made no attempt to signpost that we would ever get a different weapon, which means if you’re not a fan of sidestepping and souls-poking with a dinky little sword, you’d probably not have fun in this game.

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Final Thoughts

If you’re a soulsborne fan, you’d probably enjoy Sekiro. It’s different enough from the Souls games,  but rewards you for its core ideology- learning from your mistakes. If you don’t dabble much between different titles, the learning curve may seem steep, though your mileage may vary.

Of course, all the speculations are simply built on the demo we were given to play. Maybe I’m wrong, and you get a chain-katana after the first boss. Maybe the moonlight greatsword is usable. We can only tell when Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice drops March 22nd, 2019.