TGS 2018: Hands-on with Miyazaki’s Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice comes from the same studio behind classics such as Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls and Bloodborne. Describing the game by FromSoftware’s maestro Hidetaka Miyazaki is no easy task by any means, especially when it’s been compared to “Soulborne” at every turn.
The differences between Sekiro and FromSoftware’s notoriously-punishing franchise are not hard to see and are perhaps the first thing you notice when playing. However, Sekiro still possesses the same DNA, bearing a heavy, precise combat system and a wonderful sense of exploration across a mythical depiction of Japan. Having spent time with a playable build at a closed-door session, I can confidently assure fans worried that the beloved formula is being abandoned can rest easy knowing this: Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice will easily be one of 2019’s finest action game.
Set in the closing years of Japan’s Sengoku period, you play as a mysterious and silent shinobi who has been resurrected and cast out on a mission of revenge on a samurai who attacked him and kidnapped his lord.
My demo began with me perched upon a tree branch, and a tutorial providing instructions on how to plunge my sword into the guard waiting below. After this, I was on my own. Much like Miyazaki’s past outings, Sekiro is all about finding out yourself how the game works – there’s no hand holding here.
10 minutes of good pain
I soon find that Sekiro has a much heavier focus on stealth than the Souls and Bloodborne games. I can now jump around using the grappling hook on the character’s left arm to higher elevations, allowing me to plan my approach patiently, or to sneak down on an unsuspecting enemy below for an instant kill. Jumping is a critical combat manoeuvre in the game, so for fans of the Soulsborne games, where even just jumping effectively was sometimes problematic, this is the biggest disparity you’ll feel about Sekiro.
Combat happens when you are either detected or when the situation prevents a stealth instant kill, and it reminds me a lot of Nioh, where blocking and parrying are both done with your sword. You can only block so many strikes before you have depleted your “Posture”, which is somewhat akin to “Ki” from Nioh and has a poise-like effect. Once an enemy’s posture has been depleted enough, you are then able to perform a finisher move for an instant kill. It’s easier said than done, of course. This is a Miyazaki game after all.
While the standard grunts I faced in my demo were easy to dispatch, either via sneaked ‘instant kills’ or direct combat, I soon came head to head with an armored samurai general. And it’s here, that I understood Sekiro’s “shadows die twice” concept. The samurai general cut me down quite easily, but the game allows me to immediately resurrect upon defeat before facing death. This is a huge departure, giving you a few precious seconds to rethink a strategy before facing an enemy again. The catch is that you can only use the resurrection technique once per checkpoint and you must defeat enemies to replenish it.
There’s a twist here too – enemies such as sub-bosses and bosses can use that technique too. Like the same samurai general, who I managed to defeat once, only to came back to life and promptly cut me down again to show me the dreaded ‘Game Over’ screen.
My time with Sekiro was unfortunately limited, so I wish I’d had the time to explore other parts of the game – including the chance to customise the protagonist’s left prosthetic arm (apparently you can switch out different secondary weapons with it) and a chance to encounter other types of enemies. But I’m already intrigued enough to see how Miyazaki aims to differ Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice from his earlier efforts. The game is still on schedule for a 22 March 2019 release for the PlayStation 4, and I can’t wait to play the final build.