Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is a Bloody, Relentless Ride

There’s a moment in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice where I veered off the beaten path and discovered an ominous cave nestled underneath a steep mountain pass. Getting to the cave was no small feat. I had to use my grappling hook to propel myself to a tree and then hop onto the side of a mountain. I grabbed the edge of the rock at the last possible minute, fearing an embarrassing, untimely fall to my death. I hung on that edge for about a half a minute as I contemplated my next move. I turned the camera around and to my left was the cave opening. I lifted myself up, my back to the rocks as I scaled my way around until I was just a short leap from the cave opening. I was not sure this was going to work, and for a split second wondered if this was even a finished part of the demo, but I leapt and finally landed on the base of the cave.

Before I entered the cave, I turned the camera around and spotted the area from where I came and smiled. That was your typical From Software exploration, but with a hint of actual platforming that netted me a reward. And so I turned back to the pitch-black cave and wandered inside.

As I explored the cave, I noticed a miasma of some sort swirling throughout the space. And then a headless half-samurai half-oni appeared before me. I attacked it with everything I had, but in the end I succumbed to whatever the deadly fog was; my HP dwindled with every swing. Before I could figure out a strategy to combat the fog and take on the headless creature, my demo time was up and all I had left was the burning desire to jump back in and exact my revenge.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice at a glance may look a lot like a Dark Souls set in feudal Japan. When you spawn into a world, you have your typical location text appear forebodingly with that classic Souls tone. You pick up enemy drops after killing them, you pick up consumable items, and you even get the classic “You Died” text after each death.

But Sekiro couldn’t be anymore different. When the demo began, I was perched atop a beam and then had to use the grappling hook to get to solid ground. This already set the tone gameplay-wise for what to expect. The grappling hook allows you to cover substantial ground and gives you opportunities to drop down on enemies and execute a possible one-hit kill takedown. If you somehow screw this up, then it’s time for some swordplay and Sekiro truly shines in the combat department. At times it feels like you’re in a Ninja Scroll movie as the swords deafeningly clash together and you’re hopping left to right, grappling to safety or executing a counter attack.

As you attack enemies you build up an opportunity window to finish them, similarly to how the stun system works in God of War. If you hit the RB button in time you can deliver an absolutely, brutal killing blow and it’s gory fun as the camera intimately zooms in so you really get to see the damage you’ve inflicted. On tougher enemies, this short window is even shorter and you’re not guaranteed a finishing blow. When this sword dance commences it is a nerve-wracking and tense, a bloody ballet of timing and cleverness. In 4 demo attempts, I managed to defeat the general in the opening area just once and the feeling of elation hearkens back to some of the most memorable, nail-biting encounters in the Dark Souls series. What’s more remarkable is the fact that the general wasn’t even a boss fight but a larger, tougher enemy guarding the entrance to another section.

After my first death, I was given the option to either die or resurrect and so curiously i resurrected and instantly got back into the action. The general had killed me so I figured this was my shot to win back my dignity. He promptly stomped me and delivered me back to the beginning of the demo. But in classic Souls fashion, i was more than eager to jump back in. A feeling From Software has got down to a science.

I’m not sure if the resurrection mechanic has been finalized yet but it did have a timer and when I came back a few times I noticed that killing the enemy who slayed me before gave me back my fighting chance which reminded me of Bloodborne’s rally system. However, it is also a strategic roll of the dice because it may be wiser to just restart the area fresh than coming back unprepared and unsure if you can prevail. I would imagine coming back just to come back and dying will have grave consequences. I’m sure From Software will find a way to make the resurrection decision a hard one to make in just the few short seconds when the full version comes out.

In the 40 minutes i got to play, it’s safe to say that From Software has done it yet again. It feels different enough from the Souls series while also keeping it’s tried-and-true DNA. It is hard as nails but From Software manages to make the combat swift and incredibly responsive so every single mistake is magnified. It’s a game I can see myself pouring hundreds of hours into, and as a Dark Souls veteran, this is the kind of change that From Software needed to make. For those worried about Sekiro not having character creation and all the other bells and whistles of the Souls series, let me reassure you that this is something you won’t want to miss.

Also,  the one-armed wolf is a badass character you wish you’d created if such an option was given.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is slated for March 22nd 2019 for PS4, Xbox One and PC.