Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice review: You gotta hand it to them

Activision /

Activision provided us with a copy of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice post-release, and it’s been quite the grind to get through. But I’ve done it, and now I’m ready to talk about why it may be Hidetaka Miyazaki’s finest work to date.

Title: Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
Developer: FromSoftware
Publisher: Activision
Platforms: Xbox One (version reviewed), PlayStation 4, PC
Release date: March 22, 2019

Let’s get the obvious out of the way; this game is hard. That’s typically been the MO for most of FromSoft’s past titles, often provoking the outcries of casual players who are left discouraged by the difficulty of these games. That hasn’t changed with Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice in the slightest.

If you have yet to play Sekiro but are familiar with the mechanics of Bloodborne and the Souls series, allow me to forewarn you; this game, at its core, is nothing like its predecessors.

While button mapping, level design, the checkpoint system, and a few other minor details remain similar to previous titles, how players are forced to approach combat will take even the most devoted Souls veterans some time to get used to. Sekiro demands players to learn by failure, throwing them to the wolves with minimal assistance and laying the burden of progression upon you and you alone.

Simply put, you cannot play this game like you would Dark Souls. Tactics such as circle-strafing and backstabbing either don’t work or don’t exist entirely. The combat in Sekiro is built to organically manufacture intense, intimate battles with every single enemy.

Simply put, you cannot play this game like you would Dark Souls.

Both players and enemies are assigned two bars; one for health and one for posture. On most occasions, the enemy’s health bar is irrelevant; players will see much quicker results from putting the pressure on their opponents and filling their posture meters through the use of well-timed attacks and deflections. Once an enemy’s posture meter is full, the player can then perform a deathblow that either instantly kills them or takes off a bar of health.

Learning to deflect is by far the biggest hurdle players will have to overcome, and it is absolutely vital to progress through the game. Many early-game enemies vary from one another in size, weapon, and attack pattern, making it incredibly difficult to naturally learn on the fly. Patience is an absolute must, and if you aren’t willing to take the time to struggle and learn from your failures, this isn’t the game for you.

Activision /

From combat to stealth, to mobility, everything in Sekiro relies heavily on precision and leaves very little room for error. It’s an unforgiving world for the game’s main lead, and the player is meant to feel every bit of the reality in that.

At the very least, FromSoft is fairly generous in giving you tools to succeed. There is a healthy dose of Sculptor’s Idols (Sekiro‘s version of Bonfires) in each area, with several conveniently placed ahead of boss rooms. There is also an NPC in the game’s main hub area that offers a training mode for all of Sekiro‘s combat mechanics, similar to an in-depth fighting game.

Death isn’t final in Sekiro. At least not immediately. Players can resurrect after an initial defeat, which restores half of their health. It can be used as a strategic tool for how you utilize your healing resources, though it’s likely to simply serve as a mulligan on most occasions.

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  • Dying does have more of a negative impact on your entire playthrough than it ever has in any other FromSoft title, though. Each death you tally will heighten the chance of spreading Dragonrot to every NPC you encounter, inhibiting your ability to proceed with side quests or obtain special rewards, adding to the pressure of succeeding early on. However, this system has been a bit overblown, and some of its effects can be rectified in the later stages of the game.

    The world of Sekiro is filled with death at every corner. Basic enemies are relatively easy to handle on their own but are often accompanied by a crowd that will gang up on you in an instant. Stealth is incredibly key to maneuver through each area, especially in the early hours in the game when players are given very limited healing resources.

    Your combat skills won’t be put to the test until you start to encounter the game’s mini-bosses. Each mini-boss ranges in attack pattern and style, with very few duplicates among them. Some are beasts that require a little more elusiveness and creativity, while others fall in line with the basic Posture-focused sword fights Sekiro has to offer.

    When you successfully defeat a mini-boss, you’ll be rewarded with Prayer Bead. Once you have four of these, you can use them to upgrade your vitality at a Sculptor’s Idol. Similarly, main bosses will give you Memories, of which each can be converted into an upgrade for your attack power.

    Every battle is intimate and captivating. Each loss as devastating as the last, and the eventual triumph giving the player a genuine sense of accomplishment and payoff. Sekiro‘s gameplay is a lot to swallow, but once mastered, it’s truly one of the most satisfying experiences of the current generation.

    Activision /

    Thankfully, the game’s story isn’t as complex as its gameplay. Well, at least in the way it’s presented to you. Unlike Souls and BloodborneSekiro is more direct about its plot. Fully voiced cinematic cutscenes, as well as several interactive flashbacks, help cut down on the number of times players are left guessing about what exactly is going on.

    Like its predecessors, Sekiro does have deeper lore that is revealed through items and missable NPCs but the main storyline is clear and concise and is delivered beautifully. Themes of honor and loyalty serve as the story’s foundation, and the way both are tested by the player’s decisions is masterfully done.

    Sekiro offers the most gorgeous visuals of any From Software title to date.

    Sekiro offers the most gorgeous visuals of any From Software title to date. From stunning mountain backdrops to vibrant foliages, amongst other beautiful details through each area, the development team has captured Sengoku era Japan in such a mesmerizing way.

    Having the option to play the entire game dubbed in Japanese added yet another touch to an already immersive experience. Each performance is handled with care, indicative of the rest of the work that makes Sekiro‘s atmospheric nature so accurate and pure.

    . Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. 9.5. <em>Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice</em> is not the most polished or accessible title on the market, but it’s certainly one of the most well-executed and satisfying gaming experiences I’ve ever had the chance to play. If you have dropped this game or are on the fence about trying it due to its difficulty, I implore you to give it a chance and really take your time with it. It’s well worth the effort.. Activision / FromSoftware

    A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.