Back when walking simulators were the indie fad du jour, there was a tendency to dismiss criticism toward the genre by saying that “not every game has to be for you.” Sure, I suppose, though responding by saying that if a game isn’t for you then you aren’t going to buy or play it was rarely received well. Today, applying the same logic to the FromSoftware Souls titles isn’t received especially well either – the idea that if a game is too difficult maybe it’s just not for you is considered elitism.
Yeah, nobody’s surprised about double standards in gaming commentary these days. We shouldn’t be surprised when Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice comes out and eats a ton of criticism from the usual suspects about How It Needs An Easy Mode and How The Souls Fanbase Is So Toxic and so on. That doesn’t make this refrain any less tiring, of course, but at least we’ve got yet another solid Souls-style game to enjoy.
When the Divine Heir is captured, it’s up to the ninja bodyguard Wolf to find and rescue him. Wolf doesn’t have such great luck with this initially, though, losing an arm and nearly his life in the process of seeking the boy. Now, equipped with his trusty katana, a grappling hook and an advanced prosthetic arm containing a variety of weapons, Wolf needs to rescue the Divine Heir, taking out every opponent in his way.
Sekiro represents a more action-focused take on the Souls games’ action-RPG setup. Wolf only has a few stats and doesn’t level up in the traditional way, though he can collect items and earn skill points to enhance his powers. Likewise, while you have an HP meter, Wolf remains incredibly fragile for essentially the entire game.
That’s relevant to how the gameplay works. See, this isn’t a game about taking hits. You can build a pretty tanky character in the Souls games and a relatively tanky character in Bloodborne, but in Sekiro that’s just not going to happen. If you take more than one or two clean hits, you’re simply going to die. Instead, Wolf needs to dodge, block or parry his opponents, and they’re going to focus on doing the same. A solid hit is rare in Sekiro and often represents the victim’s immediate death; even bosses can’t stand very many attacks, but you need to get through their defenses by landing multiple strikes and keeping up your own guard. There aren’t a whole lot of games like it, especially given that the best option is often just avoiding the enemies with stealth.
Add in an expandable skill tree and numerous weapon options for the Shinobi Prosthetic and you’d be surprised how deep this combat system can be. You won’t be surprised, though, to hear that Sekiro’s a pretty tough game. Dying costs you a significant chunk of experience and money and can have other, more serious consequences besides, so you’ll want to put in the time and practice if you want to get through this game.
Sekiro continues the tradition of Souls and Souls-adjacent games with a dark, moody aesthetic. The aim here is medieval Japan with a demonic touch, something Sekiro lands pretty effectively. Particularly difficult enemies look intimidating enough to give you pause, making it even more satisfying when you finally conquer them. It’s a pretty well-presented game, all in all. I played on PC and found that version to be perfectly acceptable, with the only hiccup being some minor controller issues that were corrected in the day-one patch.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is pretty difficult. You’ll die a lot. It can be discouraging. As with any single-player game, however, you’re going to win; the only questions are when and how. Practice and patience will carry you through to victory (though you’ll still die plenty in the meantime). If you’re the kind of player who can deal with that, or just long for something – anything – that will scratch that particular Dark Souls or Tenchu itch – you’ll do good to check out Sekiro as soon as possible.