Sekiro – Shadows Die Twice: Early Impressions

Last Updated on July 13, 2019

Sekiro is different from the beloved Dark Souls, but still interesting and unmistakably a modern FromSoftware title.

I’m five hours into Sekiro and have gone through everything that was shown in the promotional material, apart from a few bosses.

The key points of interest so far are a few major differences from the Souls series, and how Sekiro is much more of a stealth game.

The differences from the Souls series are both striking and numerous. The controls are familiar yet have been radically redesigned for Sekiro’s differing needs – and it works great. The item quick select is entirely controlled on the D-pad now, the bumpers are for deflect and attack (this can be held down for a heavy attack instead of giving that its own button), and the triggers are for utilities with the Shinobi Prosthetic.

The katana appears to be the only weapon in Sekiro, and is your main stay. To make up for its lack of utility, there are prosthetic weapons such as a shuriken thrower and a shield splitting axe.

The world is still split into what can be thought of as stages, where there are challenges and normal enemies leading up to a boss. But it happens a lot faster in Sekiro as there are many mini bosses.

Also, groups of enemies are more isolated compared to their continuous placement in Dark Souls. The mini bosses are a challenge and will come up often. They’re not too challenging but can certainly stall your progress for a while.

The major bosses are less impressive as they are very difficult to defeat unless you find the right Shinobi Prosthetic weapon which they are vulnerable to – and then they become too easy.

Early on, this is used well with the Chained Ogre that players are not ready for upon their first encounter. This leads the player to follow the alternate progression path and find the prosthetic he is vulnerable to. But for other bosses, it doesn’t always serve a secondary purpose.

The shielded regular enemies are similar as they are quite tricky until you get the Loaded Axe which one shot them, but its long windup animation makes it unsatisfying to use. You must stand near the enemies and hope that they come closer during the animation so it will connect, but not get too close that they will attack and cancel your animation. This sort of dominant prosthetic strategy detracts from the game’s dynamism.

The combat in Sekiro is fast. Regular enemies die quickly once you get a good hit on them, and every character’s sword slashes are much faster than the mean weapon attack time in Dark Souls.

There is also less staggering of enemies due to the posture system. An enemy is vulnerable to a death blow either when its health reaches zero or its posture reaches its maximum.

Posture damage is built up on attacks, and especially by counters and deflections. But posture dissipates quickly, so you must keep on top of enemies.

To break up the flow of combat, there are perilous attacks. These are significant because they deal a large amount of damage and can be countered to deal a large amount of posture damage in return.

There are three types of perilous attacks: sweeps, thrusts and grabs. They each come with their own counter. There is a red kanji that will appear above the player’s head when one of these attacks is about to be executed, but it is sometimes vague about which type is being indicated, and opting for the wrong response in fast combat can mean death.

The biggest change that Sekiro has from Dark Souls is that it is much more of a stealth game than a straight-forward action RPG. To make stealth options more appealing, the combat against groups of enemies is more challenging. Picking enemies off one at a time is an effective way to get through encounters.

However, some encounters put large groups together in places that they can’t be picked apart from, and this is very punishing, particularly when there are archers or riflemen, whose damage is difficult to avoid.

Another issue I have taken with the stealth gameplay is that stealth is about manipulating AI to get enemies to isolated positions where they can be taken down. But the enemy AI’s capability for player detection is weak and inconsistent. A lot of enemies have trouble navigating the environment quickly which is only an issue because you need to try and draw them into certain positions, and you are forced to watch them shimmy up and down staircases or walk into trees a repeatedly.

Returning to stealth after being detected is not very interesting either, it’s just about running away, getting out of sight, and looking for a bush to crouch in. I don’t think any of these issues would be there if the game had less of a stealth focus. The quirks in the AI would not be brought to attention, and besides, dynamic combat is a lot more engaging than looking for a wall to stand behind.

I am hoping that as I get better at Sekiro, these issues become less egregious and as I understand the systems better, operating them will feel more natural.

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