One of the biggest surprises at Brasil Game Show 2018 was the fact Activision was dedicating a huge chunk of its booth to FromSoftware’s upcoming not-Souls game Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, with lots of playable stations. If you’ve been reading WayTooManyGames for a while, you’ve probably seen Jason’s piece on how Sekiro will shake things up with its new gameplay and level design. Some of his expectations have been answered in the demo available at BGS 2018. By the looks of those brief but intense minutes, Sekiro has everything to become one of 2019’s best games.
First things first, I need to talk about the gameplay. While the controls reminded me quite a bit of older Souls games, there are lots of new elements. Yes, you have your typical light/strong attack buttons, there’s the emphasis on locking on targets, parrying at just the right time in order to stun them, and sidestepping away from danger, but Sekiro‘s gameplay allows you to explore the environment around you in ways Dark Souls and Bloodborne could never even dream of.
It’s amazing how different a game can become just by adding the option to jump at will. Sekiro features a jump button and a grappling hook, turning the huge maps into massively explorable playgrounds. You can jump in order to avoid enemy attacks, performing midair down thrusts just like Link in Zelda 2, go full feudal-Spiderman with your grappling hook in order to escape from enemy attacks, climb atop buildings in order to find secret areas chock-full of items, plus so much more. The demo’s map was linear, but allowed players to explore the frozen mountain setting in more than one way.
The combat is also massively different from your typical Souls games, but don’t you worry, Sekiro is still as challenging as you would expect from a From Software game. The enemy AI is brutal, with foes actively hunting you down and searching throughout the map whenever you escape. They are not only brutal in terms of offensiveness, being able to kill you in just a few hits, but they are also experts in terms of defending themselves. One of the first enemies to be introduced in the demo, an armored samurai, would easily read my movements and block my attacks if I tried to hit him without his guard being down. He could easily block my shuriken attacks from afar as well. Speaking of which…
I had three different prosthetic implants available at the demo. Besides the aforementioned shuriken launcher, I had access to an axe and a flamethrower. The axe looked, performed, and was animated just like using Bloodborne‘s extended saw cleaver’s strong attack. I had to use that weapon in order to attack foes wielding wooden shields. The flamethrower provided me with a short-range, but very powerful attack. You can’t just use those prosthetic attacks at will. You need to find small cross-shaped icons that act like ammo in order to use those powerful attacks. Thankfully, you can farm them by killing enemies, but that isn’t an easy task.
Yes, Sekiro is a hard game. The demo wasn’t that long, but the amount of time it took me to kill one of the first enemies made sure to remind me From Software doesn’t joke around. This isn’t only about parrying enemies and hitting them; the combat is about making them lose balance and finding a perfect opportunity in which to strike them. Health bars work as they should with smaller foes, but bigger ones have a different type of health system. You need to deplete a conventional health bar, then max their balance meter, and then deliver a fatal blow. Depending on the amount of diamonds above their health bar, you’ll need to repeat this operation a few more times and that’s going to be one heck of a challenge.
As you can imagine, you’ll die a lot. I died a lot. At first, I thought the game was downright impossible, until I started exploring the stage, finding new ways to kill enemies in a quick and silent way, taking advantage of the fact the game allows me to instantly revive after being killed by a foe (Shadows Die TWICE, remember?), learning their patterns, and finally managing to overcome them. Just like the Souls games, the game is brutal but fair.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice‘s demo was an absolute blast. It felt both familiar and refreshing, bringing back the best elements from From Software’s last few games and mixing them with a more open space for players to come up with their favorite solutions, as well as a challenging but engaging combat mode. Sekiro is the type of brutal game that murders your character, takes pictures of his severed limbs and sends them to his family, but you can’t stop playing it. I made sure to try the demo more than once and I would have played it even more had I had an opportunity. This might easily be one of the best games of 2019.