Review Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice - a game more difficult than Dark Souls
Let me tell you a story. When I entered the battle arena with one of the last bosses in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice , I felt confident. After more than fifty hours spent in the game, I had to master the art of wielding a sword and I have already defeated hundreds of opponents in a fair fight. "Time for the final fight," I thought and reached for my weapon. And then the warrior standing in front of me made two light cuts with a blade and knocked me down in two seconds. TWO SECONDS! On the screen there was information that I had died and a question whether I want to use the option of immediate resurrection. Of course, I pressed the button that brought the hero back to life and threw himself into the attack ... This time the enemy needed seven seconds to raze me to the ground.
How to react to this situation? Throw the console out of the window? Switch to a hobby that doesn't require monkey dexterity? For almost every other game, I would choose one of these options. On the other hand, in Sekiro , a new production from From Software, you just take a few deep breaths and return to the arena of boss fight with one goal in your head: survive for more than seven seconds. Because Sekiro is not an action game - it is a study on the subject of human psyche and determination .
The perversion of immortality
What happens when we discover the secret of immortality? End of problems and times of prosperity? If you played any production from From Software, the authors of Dark Souls and Bloodborne , you know perfectly well that there can be no such idealistic speech scenario. In Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, we play the title shinobi named Wolf, who, following the code instilled by his father, is supposed to protect the dragon heir Kuro. This young man has the incredible power of marking people with immortality, which - as you can guess - everyone is striving for.
On the one hand, divine power explains the superior new game mechanics, i.e. the possibility of our hero's resurrection shortly after defeat, and on the other hand he perfectly fits into the favorite theme of the Japanese studio. Perversion, betrayal of one's beliefs, rot destroying people from the inside and an attempt to fabricate divinity - Sekiro's thematic scope is so similar to the flagship From Software series that I will not be surprised when fans start looking for evidence of the functioning of both games in the same universe. These theories may be favored by the fact that Sekiro has as many as four different endings. What's more, one of the choices I made somewhere at the end of the game defined what boss we'll face in a moment. So let's save the game at key moments to be able to check different variants of this story.
We play the role of the Wolf at the time of his fall - marked by a strange mark, the hero rests at the bottom of the well, when suddenly a voice from above rushes him into action. The classic mysterious souls beginning smoothly turns into a story told in a more transparent and coherent way. At Sekiro, we are able to tell what is going on, what we are fighting and what to do next, almost at every moment of the main storyline. Which is a really nice change after Dark Souls , where often integral elements of the story were buried in the descriptions of seemingly insignificant objects. This is partly related to our character, because as a shinobi we specialize not only in combat, but also in gathering information. In certain specific situations, we can eavesdrop on NPC conversations, ask questions of interest to us, and even treat people with other varieties of sake to encourage them to confess.
In the game world there are also a lot of scrolls and texts describing various techniques, secrets or elements of mythology. The overriding directive seems to be that every sentence in the game leads to a better understanding of this universe - and that's really great. The game did not lose anything in the atmosphere, because still many things turn out to be unsaid and require our intellectual work - so most often we use riddles, predictions and guesses. Somewhere under all this, of course, there are many hidden meanings and secondary threads, but here we return to reading the descriptions of the items and combining facts.
Don't be afraid to jump
It is hard not to like From Software studio for their waywardness, because this developer in each subsequent game tries to undermine and redefine the key aspects of his mechanics. In Dark Souls, jumping was terrible, falling meant death, and in the water we could only wade at the waist. Forget all these restrictions, because instead of a hand armed, instead of a hand, the hero Sekiro can quickly get between distant points thanks to the hook cable, jump from high altitude, climb like Nathan Drake and swim. Staying mobile and flexible - also in the context of quickly jumping from one part of the world to another - is the foundation at Sekiro .
Conviction of this system comes surprisingly natural and painless. To achieve this, From Software has reached for a few project simplifications: our character does not die immediately from falling into a bottomless abyss and sticks to some rock shelves. The hook attachment points themselves have also been precisely positioned in the game world. From the armored knight straight from Dark Souls, we transform into an agile ninja, for whom walking over the edge is a natural thing - and this metamorphosis occurs completely painlessly.
Instead of offering a multitude of places where we will only pass , Sekiro takes place largely in Ashina Castle, where we direct our first steps, but also return many times. From here, the roads diverge to other locations, here we are also witnessing the most important feature events. After unlocking the main part of the castle, we can venture out into the world and at the beginning of the game really visit a lot of spots to which the plot will direct us later. Thanks to the central position of the castle, however, we never feel lost, because we know where to return to develop the main plot.
The way the individual exploration sequences and locations themselves are designed is a real masterpiece - the introduction of the hook link opened them to vertical structures. So we jump on the roofs of multilevel buildings, fighting with killers; we storm the fortress carved out of the canyon wall alone, flying over the precipice under fire from snipers; or finally, we climb the mountain with a Buddhist temple, trying not to go crazy from prayer songs drilling into our heads. The world of Sekiro is fascinating, coherent and beautiful - it's one of the best trips that a Japanese producer has given us.
As a consequence, we get a game that may not offer such visually diverse lands, because we are more often wandering around the central segment of the castle. With all this, however, we have a lot of freedom in where we go and with whom we fight. As there are many more minibosses than in the previous games of the studio, at every moment of the game I knew that I had at least a few options that I can use. This comfort helped in the event of a jam on the main bosses or when I came across an opponent that I could not cope with - in such situations, you can just do something else for some time to relax, and perhaps find something useful.
How to kill a boss with one blow
We return to the topic of recalcitrant from From Software studio. In Dark Souls, the Japanese created a great combat system using a sword, armor and shield. And everyone used the sword, armor and shield. Seeing this, the shield was removed in Bloodborn and players were ordered to dodge. Fantasizing, I imagine a situation in which Sekiro producers ask themselves: "How else can we give a pin to the nose of insurance players?". The answer is simple: base the combat mechanics on the most difficult technique from previous games, i.e. parry blows.
In Sekiro, characters outside the standard life bar have a posture bar, i.e. a kind of resistance to breaking our blows. We fill this bar by performing attacks and bouncing the opponent's hits - with a good reflection, requiring the block button to be pressed at the right time, the opponent's posture level increases until he is finally thrown off balance and reveals a fatal blow. In the case of many bosses and miniboss, we must deal a certain number of deadly injuries, usually two or three, depicted in the interface as red balls above the life bar. And here it gets interesting, because to beat the opponent, we can zero his life as standard, but also fill his posture bar and kill him with one brutal cut. Even when it still has a lot of life.
This technique is not universal, because with bosses who have too strong a hit, we still have to dodge, but often it is a way to end the fight faster. For me, this system turned out to be a real revolution, the more that the game resigns from the main element of Dark Souls mechanics , i.e. stamina . We can run, jump and inflict as many blows as we want - all you have to do is do it at the right time.
It all sounds too beautiful - hit back a few blows and the matter is done. Of course, this is not the case, because during the fights we also need to watch out for our own stature, as well as other types of opponent's attacks . We react differently to tricks, undercuts or special techniques marked by the game with a big red kanji sign. The latter, for example, can be countered by stepping on the opponent's weapon, which also significantly affects his posture.
In practice, therefore, we have a game that from the brutal murder of not very clever soldiers from the beginning of the game transforms into a concentration of blows, reflections and counterattacks that require a lot of concentration. Hero arm prostheses, which we find in the game and later modify in the initial temple come with help in surprising the opponent. These are really ingenious toys, some of which have a very specific application - like a shield-piercing ax. Other tools, primarily shurikens and firecrackers, can help in any fight, knocking out bouncing opponents or distracting them for a moment. To make them not too powerful, they were limited by a container in the form of soul symbols that we collect or buy. For this reason, there is a bit of "wealth management" - that is, farms.
When chaos creeps into the game
One of the unusual ideas that From Software has put in place is the regular increase in the number of enemy armies. The game continues the theme of the passage of the day depending on the progress of the story, as it happened in Bloodborn . In the beginning, it is daylight at Ashina Castle. Later, when the night comes, the location literally turns into a war zone between two clans and almost all the castle branches fill up new sets of fighting opponents. A group of soldiers armed with flamethrowers burns enemies on the road, musketeers spit rockets at each other in control of the bridge, on the roofs of shinobi they spin in dance combat, facing the killers of the Raven Clan. In every corner that has been safe so far, there are also new minibosses, most often requiring cunning and perfect mastery of the weapon.
There has never been such an ambitious attempt to introduce uncontrollable chaos into the game world. However, these sequences, even if sometimes difficult to complete, make sense - after several dozen hours of play, we've gained access to many advanced special abilities, such as the ability to drag an opponent to our side, and the whole battle takes place in places we know well. So we have great room to maneuver and demonstrate tactical sense. Incidentally, in connection with these changes, the game has received a case in which important items missed in the "previous phase of the world" are sent.
Unfortunately, going through the same map one time in a row, even if it changes so much, sounds like cheap backtracking and From Software falls into this trap a bit. Minibosses added at the end of the game are often based on simple assumptions: there are two of them or they have a different color and slightly changed behavior. I did not quite like these forms of diversifying the game, but to defend the developer, it should be added that in most cases they are optional. Taking these challenges also requires total perfection - I confess that some of them are simply very difficult and I need more time to meet them.