The video game studio From Software has achieved a reputation off of the success and infamy of their famously difficult Dark Souls series. The game that started it all, Dark Souls, came out to high critical review and mixed public opinion. It changed the gaming environment with its return to crushing difficulty and unmatched world building, and impressed critics with its complex RPG elements. The games that would soon follow, Dark Souls 2, Bloodborne, and Dark Souls 3 would only build this reputation, achieving high scores across the board and slowly creating a community of people dedicated to the skull crushing experience provided by these games. So, when a new From Software game, dubbed Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, was announced at the E3 entertainment expo in the summer of 2018, expectations skyrocketed and speculations went wild. These expectations wavered as more information was revealed about the game, such as that it would take out all of the RPG elements such as leveling up and specing a certain build, it would drop the weapon and character variety in favor of a single weapon and single character, and would take out all of the online components to initiate a completely solo experience. Each of these changes built up to complaints that the game would lack its community without online features, the replayability would be gone with the weapons, and the creativity and variety would be lacking without a character creation or the ability to level up into a certain build. So, when the game finally released on March 22, 2019, did it live up to the high expectations, and would the many worries be dispelled?
The first thing noticed when starting up the game are the visual and audio beauty of the game. The graphics aim for a more realistic and bright setting than that of the other games. In one specific area, rain falling on the canopy of a jungle forest glistens beautifully in the fire consuming a nearby estate, creating an eerily beautiful setting. The contrast of colors across the many areas create a distinct look and vibe to each, and all are pretty in their own way. The physics and animations of the environment and NPCs (non playable characters) are top notch, from the water running over rocks in a stream, to the slow moving of a beast in the dim light of a torch-lit cave. Audio and music also sound great, the creak of a tree branch when you land on it sounds realistic, making a more immersive experience. The music is a mix of light Japanese instrumentals when exploring, to great orchestral sweeps as boss fights begin, creating a sense of scale unmatched by many games. But, where Sekiro: Shadows die twice shines is in its combat and world building.
Each area has its own unique story and is interconnected in a complex but impressive way, making the land and its inhabitants seem like they could exist in a fully functioning world. This scale of world building is extremely impressive, and is matched by very few. The intense and tuned combat, though, is what elevates this game above the others in the series. First of all, Sekiro removes the shield, and takes out the choice of weapon, offering only one sword for the entire game. Variety though, is still offered, through the intuitive new mechanic, the prosthetic arm. This arm adds in multiple new ways to move around the world, slay enemies, and survive. It changes the ways in which situations can be approached, slam an axe into wooden shields, tear off armor with a spear, set enemies alight with a flame vent, and even teleport away from attacks. The truly renovating thing though, is the grappling hook that is always equipped. This addition to the wheelhouse allows new movement never before achieved in these games, with the ability to swoop above or away from enemies. It may not sound like a lot, but it completely changes the way that combat and movement work.
Along with this, special moves called combat arts can be learned and equipped that offer an exclusive moveset which can be used to many a great effect. Both of these new mechanics work in tandem with the re worked fighting system that focuses on faster and more aggressive combat. As opposed to the need of dodging and blocking to get in a hit on an enemy to widdle away their health, this game puts an emphasis on deflecting and countering to increase an opponent’s posture. If an opponent’s posture is raised enough, it is broken, and they are susceptible to a deathblow. These deathblows can also be performed instantaneously if an enemy is unaware of the player, creating a stealth aspect never before seen. In most instances, this will result in a one-hit kill. This system of deflecting and posture comes into play with every enemy, making each encounter a dance of sorts. Where skills will be tested is in the epic boss battles sprinkled throughout the game. Bosses require multiple deathblows to finish off, and when the music swells and the fight begins, the intensity grows. These unique, ultra tough fights create some of the most iconic encounters in any game. The game definitely upholds the difficulty that past games are known for, and all will undoubtedly be dying more than twice. The feeling of complete elation and boost of confidence you get from beating a particularly tough boss though, is unmatched, and is what brings people back to these games time and time again.
In conclusion, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is an amazing spectacle of beautiful visual and audio design, lifelike physics and animations, top notch world building, and a spectacular, innovative, and intense combat system. So, while the game holds the brutal difficulty of the past experiences, it also diverts from them in many ways, creating a unique and amazing experience that easily lives up to, and even passes in some fields, expectations.