Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice Review

Dan Webb

A lot has been said about the Soulsborne sub-genre and its perceived difficulty over the years. They're generally classed as unforgiving beasts that leech upon the last remnants of one's patience and propriety, rendering most of those who kneel before them quivering messes. Honestly, I didn't actually think they were that hard. The Nameless King aside, which had you fighting an airborne boss as well as battling the camera and the game's pitiful lock-on system, I've pretty much breezed through all that FromSoftware has thrown at me - humble brag maybe, but it ain't nothing but the truth. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, however, kicked my ass. Again and again. Repeatedly, until I was screaming out for no more.

Sekiro is a bit of a departure for FromSoftware in some respects. On the one hand, instead of managing stamina and slow rolling out of combat, Sekiro allows us to play as Wolf, a ridiculously agile character with a grappling hook, able to swing a sword forever without so much as a complaint - not like these US baseball pitchers moaning about RSI, am I right? Look! The Brit made an American sports reference, miracles can happen!


Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice even has an actual plot, one with well-built characters who have personalities and actual real-life flaws, some fancy cut-scenes and a story that is delivered to you, rather than buried in some description of an item that is easier to miss than deserts miss the rain – and now a 90s reference (even though it doesn’t make much sense). I’m on a roll, folks!

On the other hand, Sekiro has the Soulsborne DNA running deep through its veins. The combat, blocking, dodging, etc. you can instantly tell it’s a FromSoftware game within minutes of picking up the controller. There are bonfires (called Sculpture Idols this time), a lot of the items are clearly direct descendants of those found in From's other titles, and you even have an Estus Flask of sorts, dubbed the Healing Gourd.

From has changed just enough for the game to feel really fresh and original, though – from a gameplay perspective, that is – instead of losing Souls when you die, when you die in Sekiro you lose half your coin and XP towards the next level, and replacing the stamina system is a posture system, designed to entice players into toe-to-toe duels with whoever may cross your path. Unlike other FromSoftware games, however, stealth is actually a viable option in Sekiro, whether you’re stalking enemies from rooftops using the grappling hook or creeping around in the bushes, sticking a blade through someone’s neck has never been more satisfying. We just wish there were a few more execution animations.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, weirdly, might be the best rhythm action game that actually exists because of the way the combat works in tandem with the posture system. You’re actually encouraged to get in there and start wailing on an opponent, and when the tide of the battle turns and you’re on the defensive, timing that parry is almost akin to finding the groove in a musical beat. It’s the key to being successful during combat. If Dark Souls was about the blocking and Bloodborne was about the dodging, Sekiro is all about the parrying. The swordplay. The clink of sparking metal on metal. It’s beautiful.

Instead of spending Souls on levelling up in Sekiro, when you 'level up' you receive a skill point that can then be spent on combat abilities, special moves or latent abilities. That’s what makes Sekiro so hard, because the only way to boost your attack power – well, until right at the end of the game – is to beat one of the main bosses. From effectively controls your attack power so you’re never overpowered. No more going away to farm mobs of enemies for attack power, oh no, you’re stuck with what you have, and as a result, that makes Sekiro FromSoftware’s hardest game to date… and possibly one of the hardest games I have ever played. It actively encourages you to go away and 'git gud'.


Sekiro's combat is sensational.

Could you argue that Sekiro is too hard? Absolutely not. The argument about whether a game is too hard comes down to fairness. Is Sekiro fair? Yes. When you die, it’s your fault. You got too greedy. You didn’t read your opponent’s patterns. Sure, there are the odd times when you have to battle the lock-on system, the camera or enemies clipping their attacks through a wall, but for the most part, if you die it’s all on you. It still blows my mind, however, that the aforementioned issues are still part of FromSoftware's games… ten years after their first Souls game! Ten. Years. After. How is that even possible?!

There’s no disputing that Sekiro is an excellent video game. It’s fiendishly difficult, supremely stylish and no other game out there grants the kind of satisfaction you'll feel after you defeat a boss who at first you never thought'd you’d be able to beat. That evolution from facing insurmountable odds, to cutting your opponent down with ease is one that is unrivalled in video games. It still boggles the mind though that after ten years and five games there are still the same persistent camera issues, instances of clipping, and that wonky lock-on system present in every FromSoftware game. Aside from that, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is FromSoftware’s most stylish title, one that oozes class and flair from the moment you pick up the controller to the moment you embed that very same controller into the drywall.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is effectively the offspring of what would happen if Dark Souls and Tenchu got frisky under the covers on a weekend trip out to the lake. It’s devilishly difficult, supremely stylish and fantastically realised. It’s just a shame that FromSoftware still hasn’t fixed the camera issues and shonky lock-on system a whole ten years after the first Souls game.

Form widget
90%
Audio
90%

Everything from the score to the voice acting is just an absolute pleasure. We recommend playing it with Japanese voices. Do it, you won’t be disappointed.

Visuals
85%

Sekiro isn’t one of the prettiest games around, but FromSoftware’s grimy art-style is second to none. From incredible enemy design to some stunning environments, it’s a game you just want to soak up.

Playability
85%

Sekiro is a pure, responsive joy to play, let down only by camera issues, a wonky lock-on system and some major clipping issues. You know, FromSoftware issues, basically.

Delivery
90%

A touch more linear in terms of open-world than traditional FromSoftware games, but still as deep. With lore to be discovered, bosses galore and plenty of cool sub-stories to follow, Sekiro delivers genuinely brilliant content in spades.

Achievements
50%

Multiple playthroughs needed, many missable ones, and just a whole lot of grind. The answer is four, by the way, for how many playthroughs you’ll need to do.

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