The Dark Souls franchise has been a booming success for From Software, both critically and commercially, amassing more than 8 million copies sold since 2015. The franchise is home to one of my favorite games of all time; the original 2011 Dark Souls. While it’s been a monumental success, it has also been a defacto cushion for From Software. Anything with the name Souls in it instantly sells and piques the minds of gamers, even outside the franchise where the term “souls-like” continues to surface and perform really well. Salt and Sanctuary and Hollow Knight are a testament to this.
Has From Software relied too much on the Dark Souls formula? Bloodborne in 2015 strayed away from the slow and methodical combat that had become so tried and true in the Dark Souls series and it allowed for a refreshing take on the formula. Sure we had blood echoes in place of souls and we had blood stone shards instead of titinite shards, but Bloodborne was different enough to remind gamers that From Software can deviate and dominate in different areas of combat all while keeping a sense of the familiar intact. This is where Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice comes in.
From 2009’s Demon’s Souls to 2016’s Dark Souls 3, From Software has had online play their games. From jolly co-operation to notorious PvP encounters, online play has been one of the main staples of the Dark Souls experience. With Sekiro, From Software is doing away with online play altogether and instead is offering a classic single-player adventure. For those that usually play Dark Souls games offline, this is probably not such a big deal but for the rest of us it’s quite a bold change. More often than not, if a boss proves to be too difficult for players there was always an option to summon others for help and vice versa but we no longer have that luxury. In Sekiro, you have to be ready to go toe-to-toe and figure it out yourself. This actually reminds me of Nioh. Before I discovered Nioh’s co-op features, I was doing it all solo and it really makes you pay more attention to enemy movesets and teaches you how to best utilize your resources in a pinch. Another staple I’ll miss is seeing the ghosts of other players as they wander around the map. I just hope I don’t feel helplessly lonely out there.
In the Souls games, players were able to create some truly hideous characters thanks to the generous array of custom sliders and facial features in the character creation screen. I never got too deep with the character creation mostly because throughout the games, the armor I would acquire would cover most of my face anyway so noone would really notice my looks. Still, It is always a welcomed feature and Sekiro looks to strip it away and I’m kind of okay with it. In Sekiro, unlike Souls games, you play as an established character already preset. In a way, Sekiro is like a character action game intertwined with Souls-like mechanics. The one-armed wolf is incredibly badass so I won’t be missing too much of the custom creation but I do always tend to pick female options when available. Can we make him female?
The Souls games have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to weapons. From short swords to axes and magic catalysts, there is always a weapon for any kind of player. In Bloodborne, From Software dramatically reduced the total number of weapons but thanks to each weapon’s transformation, one weapon was really two. With Sekiro, From Software reduced it even more. You have one fixed primary weapon which is your trusty katana and its with you throughout the whole game. From Software compensates for this lack of customization and variety by making the left hand slot your prosthetic tools which are upgradeable and can vary from flamethrowers to other elemental choices.
With Sekiro, From Software is venturing into the action adventure route rather than the traditional action RPG route and It’s an exciting time for gamers to see a developer try new things. It worked with Guerrilla Games when they launched Horizon: Zero Dawn, it worked for Naughty Dog when they went dark with The Last of Us and now From Software wants a piece of the pie. One could argue that if Sekiro succeeds, we might just get more of these and who wouldn’t want more single player adventures with a few hardcore traditional Souls games thrown into the mix? Dark Souls isn’t over but Sekiro could pave the way for other new, innovative IPs. Perhaps something in line with sci-fi at some point? It all rides on Sekiro and if it checks all the boxes we might be on the verge of a new From Software renaissance. Dark Souls creator and now president of From Software Hidetaka Miyazaki said during a Polygon interview, “-we were very keen to show people what we could do with Sekiro. We believed people would enjoy what we could do without the limitations from our previous games.”
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice launches on PS4, Xbox One, and PC on March 22nd, 2019.