After teasing their newest project a few months back at The Game Awards 2017, many speculated that FromSoftware would be returning to a past IP such as Tenchu or Bloodborne to make a sequel. Upon being revealed during Microsoft’s E3 2018 presentation, however, it was somewhat surprising to see that the now officially titled Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice would instead be an entirely new venture for FromSoftware, though it still seemed to have a bit of that Dark Souls DNA ingrained within it.
I saw Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice in a hands-off demo at E3 this past week and found that the latest joint from famed game director Hidetaka Miyazaki is both in line with his studio’s previous games while being vastly different at the same time. Elements such as difficulty and boss design look similar on the outside to games like Dark Souls and Bloodborne, though the way in which you traverse the world and the level design as a whole is where things start to depart drastically.
From the first action that was taken in my Sekiro preview, it was evident that things were going to be more different than the same. Seeing the main protagonist immediately jump off of a ledge was jarring compared FromSoftware’s past games. The use of a dedicated jump button along with the new grappling ability adds a level of verticality that the Souls games have never had. This fluid 360-degree range of motion immediately changes every aspect of what we’ve come to expect of FromSoftware and most importantly, makes you view combat in a new way.
One example of this in our demo was that the verticality allowed the player to view where enemies were in the level before beginning an engagement. Taking account of all foes in a region will enable you to pick off lone characters in the environment through the use of stealth kills. While stealth will play a role in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, our guide through the demo referred to this as “light stealth” and made sure to tell us that the game is still primarily action based.
The other most substantial departure that I noticed during my viewing of Sekiro was that stamina no longer plays a role in the game’s central mechanics compared to the that of the Souls games. Instead, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice has a new system that is called posturing. This mechanic is more focused on your character’s stance in combat, and your goal is to damage the posture of your opponent to land a cinematic killing blow. You and your enemies have your posture dropped when taking damage, but you can also hurt your enemies’ posture by timing your blocks properly to riposte an incoming attack. More so than even the traversal differences, it’s this new posture system that I think is the largest difference between Sekiro and the Souls games and I’m curious to see how much depth there will be with it in the full game.
Other notable changes to combat come through the use of your character’s secondary attacks. The left arm of your character has many applications other than that of a grappling hook, and many of these abilities allow you to perform a variety of strikes that are well-suited depending on the kind of enemy you’re facing. One such move that I saw involved the protagonist utilizing a hatchet in his left hand which allowed him to disarm enemies that were carrying shields. Another involved throwing a shuriken to stun a foe before then quickly dashing to close the distance and follow up with some basic strikes. These secondary attacks can all be used in tandem with basic moves to create unique abilities and from what I was told, there will be quite a few to experiment with.
As you can see, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is more different than it is similar to the Souls games, though that doesn’t mean many core elements from the past haven’t made their way into this new IP. The one quick look I got at one of the bosses from Sekiro reminded me greatly of those from the Souls games. Per usual, this boss also evolved and changed its attack pattern once it fell below half health.
Other elements from the past that seem to be making their way into Sekiro would be the difficulty curve. Our demo player from FromSoftware died a fair amount during my preview of the game telling us that his deaths were unintentional and he felt terrible for failing. While Shadows Die Twice does now allow you to revive your character, which is different from the Souls games, we were promised that this ability will be used far and few between. Additionally, we were told that the core leveling of your character in Sekiro will be based around the enemies that you have killed and the XP you receive from them.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice seems more different than similar to FromSoftware’s past ventures but many elements that have become synonymous with the studio still seem to be at the core of the experience. I expect some fans might be disappointed at the changes found in Sekiro, but from what I saw these new additions seem more like logical evolutions of the Souls formula rather than abandoning them entirely. As someone who is usually averse to change, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice has me excited to learn more about its unique, new style of play. The track record of Miyazaki and crew have proven that they deserve this freedom to experiment with something different. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice seems to be an experience that is just as engaging and difficult as anything else FromSoftware has done before and that alone should be enough to entice almost anyone.