by Thomas Johnson ‘19
Software, the developers of the critically acclaimed Bloodborne and the Dark Souls game series, have once again struck gold with their latest game “Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice.” Sekiro takes place in 15th century feudal Japan, during the height of a conflict between warring clans. The player character finds himself caught in the middle of this struggle, as he attempts to protect his feudal lord from those trying to exploit him for their own gain.
A core gameplay feature of Sekiro, hinted at in the title, is your player character’s ability to “die twice” before actually losing. This mechanic is not only a much needed tool for the player to help offset the extreme difficulty of the enemies, but also functions as an essential element of the story. Every time your character dies, the world around you changes slightly with friendly NPCs throughout the world contracting a deadly illness. Essentially, the more times your character dies in a playthrough, the more people the sickness spreads to.
Similar to other games from From software, Sekiro has only one, non-adjustable difficulty setting, crushingly high. The game allows players to get a firm grasp on its mechanics, but soon after presents them with challenge after challenge, eventually ramping up to sadistic levels. Despite being extremely challenging, Sekiro never feels cheap or unfair. The player is always presented with visual and audio queues for incoming attacks, but maintains difficulty due to the sheer speed and frequency of correct inputs demanded of the player. This harsh but fair difficulty approach makes the game feel extremely rewarding to overcome, and is integral to the overall experience.
While story and difficulty are certainly important, Sekiro’s true crowning achievement is its combat. Similar to Dark Souls and Bloodborne, Sekiro takes a high-damage approach to combat, meaning both the player and enemies will die after taking only a few direct hits. To counter this, damage in Sekiro is always preventable, so long as the player reacts in the corresponding way to incoming attacks. Additionally, the player has access to 11 unique prosthetic tools, including spears, shields, and a flamethrower. Each tool also has combos, upgrades, and enemy weakness to exploit making them almost essential to use. Similar to games like Assassin’s Creed, Sekiro integrates stealth with its combat, allowing the player to insta-kill most enemies so long as they can successfully sneak up behind them. The result of all of these different mechanics is a game with an immensely satisfying and deep combat system that will keep the player challenged and engaged for multiple playthroughs.
For all the praise Sekiro deserves, it’s certainly not without its missteps. The enemy AI in this game feels somewhat primitive when compared to other AAA titles. The most notable issue this causes is with stealth, where enemies will occasionally be unable to see a sneaking player even when they are in plain view, or right to the sides of them. Another aspect of the game that slightly disappointed me was the lack of online features. Sekiro has no co-op or PVP modes available currently which does negatively impact the game’s longevity. However, in light of what Sekiro gets right, these issues are negligible and barely affect the game’s quality.