Sekiro: Shad­ows Die Twice

More Hot­line Mi­ami than Dark Souls


What I would’ve tip­toed into in DarkSouls is what I sprint into in Sekiro

If Dark Souls was de­signed around the ten­sion that builds over long jour­neys into un­charted and dan­ger­ous ter­ri­tory, Sekiro is de­signed around some­thing much more fo­cused: The ten­sion that erupts when two swords clash. En­e­mies crowd the dense com­bat are­nas, and the most re­ward­ing way to rip through them is by plan­ning a swift John Wick ma­noeu­vre us­ing your sword, stealth and a tool­box of deadly pros­thetic arm at­tach­ments. But I am not John Wick. Death is the nec­es­sary re­hearsal, soft­ened by gen­er­ous check­points hug­ging the more chal­leng­ing are­nas in the demo. As I look out onto the court­yard of the war-torn Ashina Cas­tle grounds, I can see two armed guards keep­ing an eye on a mas­sive troll of a man chained, shack­led and moan­ing away. I don’t think he’ll stay there. On the fortress walls bor­der­ing the yard is an­other armed guard and a woman hold­ing a bell. If she sees me, ev­ery­one will know of my pres­ence. An­other guard or two pa­trol the perime­ter. There’s plenty of fo­liage for hid­ing and mul­ti­ple grap­ple points for stay­ing out of sight. I need to take out that bell lady as quickly as pos­si­ble. I plan a route.

I take one guard out from the bushes and sneak my way around the perime­ter. A guard on the wall spots me, but I throw enough shurikens into the bell woman to make sure she doesn’t an­nounce my ar­rival. I hear the mas­sive man rip free from his prison. Ap­par­ently the guards be­low saw me mur­der their two co­work­ers, and now ev­ery­one in the en­tire arena is on my ass. I try run­ning, but a flurry of blades put me down. I can res­ur­rect on the spot once and go for a stealth kill af­ter the en­e­mies re­sume their pa­trol, but the odds aren’t on my side, so I em­brace death. It has to be clean.

A few at­tempts in and my odds have im­proved. Through close study of where I can hide, and where each en­emy is, I sweep through most of the arena with ease, tak­ing out half a dozen en­e­mies in just over a minute. Stealth stab from the bushes, walk around back and shuriken the bell ringer, jump-stab the guard be­low, grap­ple up to the cas­tle wall and leap down onto an­other. Like Hot­lineMi­ami’s sim­i­larly de­signed pock­ets of ac­tion and swift it­er­a­tion, I cre­ate an op­ti­mal path.

Dif­fer­ent beast

The fi­nal test? The two guards and the troll man be­low. There’s no way to clear the area with­out tak­ing on at least two of them at once, so I leap down and plunge my sword through one guard. The troll breaks free and comes at me with the other. He kills me twice be­fore I take him down, but fig­ur­ing him out isn’t too frus­trat­ing thanks to a nearby check­point.

What I would’ve tip­toed into in DarkSouls is what I sprint into in Sekiro, safe in the knowl­edge that I’ll only lose a few min­utes of progress as op­posed to ten or 15. The slow-burn­ing ten­sion of inch­ing through the Un­dead Burg for the first time with shit ar­mor and a bro­ken sword has been sup­planted with fiery ag­gres­sion and em­pow­er­ment. But it’s not any eas­ier. You’re a glass can­non.

FromSoft­ware has found yet an­other way to make third-per­son lock-on com­bat in­ter­est­ing, fo­cus­ing on the clash and bang in­ti­macy of sword fights and the at­tri­tion re­quired to win a duel. With­out a tra­di­tional ar­mor and weapon sys­tem, ev­ery­one will be play­ing and mas­ter­ing the same playstyle, so I’m hop­ing the level de­sign, en­emy ar­range­ment, and yet-to-be-re­vealed arm at­tach­ments al­low for vari­abil­ity in com­bat beyond per­fect sword­play. I’m con­fi­dent in Sekiro’s abil­ity to test me, but I re­ally hope it’s just as will­ing to sur­prise.

It’s bleak, like any other mod­ern FromSoft­ware game.

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