Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is the story of a young shinobi (dubbed Sekiro) and his journey through an ancient Japan gone very wrong.
Hot on the trail of his kidnapped master, Sekiro must battle legions of evil, mutated samurai in an effort to rescue his master and seek vengeance on his adversaries.
An action-adventure game, Sekiro revolves heavily around combat and clearing areas of all enemies and bosses in the vicinity before moving on.
However, a grappling hook mechanic means how you get from one of these areas to the next is totally up to you.
Sekiro’s grappling hook-equipped prosthetic arm becomes the perfect tool for zipping between rooftops and forest canopies and is also a handy way to escape conflict when enemies begin to overwhelm you.
Just like your enemies, you too have a posture bar which you must keep a close eye on. Back off to recover your own stamina and you might lose the progress you gained against the enemy’s stance. Stay too close when a foe has the upper hand and your attempts to defend yourself will leave you open to attacks.
It’s a hard formula to get to grips with and perfect as a player, but once conquered it transforms Sekiro’s combat into a fluid exchange of sword blows, making you feel like you’re taking part in a high-end cinematic samurai blockbuster.
Once you’ve mastered the basics of the Katana, other combat options will open up, allowing a variety of attacking techniques to be utilised.
Sekiro’s prosthetic arm can be altered using upgrades which provide ranged and close-combat techniques for you to employ mid-battle.
It’s not just your weapons which can be upgraded but your physical move set too.
Throughout the game you’ll be collecting experience points from every enemy you slay; these points slowly add up until you have enough to trade for combat art skills. Skills like Whirlwind Slash, a quick spin combined with a backslash designed to deal fast damage in a circle around you before an enemy has the chance to react.
FromSoftware’s last game, Bloodborne, was centred around the dark, gothic city of Yharnam. But with Sekiro the developers have shown that they know how to make these deadly worlds colourful, bright and beautiful.
A soft graphical style depicts environments peppered with snow-capped mountains and cherry blossom cascading over traditional Japanese architecture.
Sekiro is a sizable game with varied environments: large grassy plains lead to looming castles, which in turn guard thick forests. Fast travel to each location is unlocked via interacting with the many idol sculptors which are scattered across the land. Touching these idols opens up a wider menu in which the player can travel to other idols, rest and recover health (but also revive all enemies in the area) and upgrade both skills and vitality.
FromSoftware hasn’t strayed from their infamous difficulty levels. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is just as, if not more difficult than, the Dark Souls and Bloodborne games. Without the use of a shield, you’ll be forced to time each attack perfectly so you can transition between attacking with your katana and defending yourself. Get it wrong and you’ll often be killed in one enemy strike.
There’s a diverse variety of enemies in Sekrio, each wielding their own set of moves and weapons. Mobs and hordes linger within dilapidated villages and snowy mountain crags, often accompanied by much stronger warriors. It’s brutal from the opening cutscene.
Though Sekiro feels impossibly hard at times, the level of euphoria you experience when delivering a death blow to a tricky boss or when you finally clear a castle grounds of all enemies is almost unparalleled.
This isn’t a game that feels unfair, it’s a game that lets you know there’s no button mashing or “cheesing it” early on, and then delivers on that promise throughout the entire campaign.
THE VERDICT – 5/5
– Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro
While Sekiro certainly shares DNA with the previous Soulsborne games, fundamental sword-fighting battle mechanic changes leave it feeling fresh.
However, as the old saying goes, when you live by the sword, you die by the sword, and players need to be aware that this is a game that will see you die many, many times.
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