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Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Activision
Developer: From Software
Release Date: March 22, 2019

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PS4/XOne/PC Preview - 'Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice'

by Andreas Salmen on Aug. 30, 2018 @ 12:30 a.m. PDT

Set in the late 1500s Sengoku Japan, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is an action-adventure game with RPG elements where players experience a brutal period of constant life and death conflict as they come face-to-face with larger-than-life foes in a dark and twisted world.

Pre-order Sekiro

In a surprise announcement at the last Game Awards, From Software announced its first new title since the completion of the Dark Souls trilogy two years ago. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is a samurai-themed action game set in 16th century Japan. Sekiro shares gameplay similarities with earlier works by From Software, but it has a more streamlined story that will focus on a set protagonist instead of a player-created avatar.

There are certain traits to expect in a From Software game: combat that relies on skill and timing, an understanding of enemy types, and a difficulty level that is rewarding but not frustrating. In other words, prepare to die a lot. Sekiro is no different in that regard, but it seems to have more pronounced storytelling. It's also the first game without any RPG elements or looting, beyond some potions or items here and there.

Apart from the setting, the main draw is the protagonist Sekiro, who is on a quest for revenge after his lord is kidnapped. Sekiro loses his left arm in the skirmish, so he must wear a prosthetic limb, which is a key element of Sekiro's combat and traversal skills. We were able to go hands-on with the Gamescom 2018 demo on the show floor to get a feel for the gameplay.

We start the demo using the new grappling hook to jump and traverse. Our hook cannot be freely used but latches onto predetermined spots on walls or trees, allowing us to propel forward or get on top of the obstacle. It's unclear whether the demo is an actual level in the final game or if it was purposefully constructed to showcase key elements in quick succession. All we can say is that it is indeed difficult, especially since you need time to get used to the combat, even if you're a die-hard Souls fan.

The showcased level features us infiltrating a stronghold. While the level design is linear, the grappling hook allows us to alternate our approach through the level. Combat is tough, so avoiding heads-on encounters is a valid tactic to ease the challenge. When locked onto an enemy, a red circle signals that we can perform a takedown move to end them quickly. Stronger enemies can be weakened by an ambush attack that won't kill them but gives you a much-needed edge.

Health is not the only bar you need to keep an eye on. With every attack, even if it's blocked, the posture bar fills up. If the bar is filled through constant attacks, you can initiate a finishing move. This bar resets after a while, which means you have to keep the pressure on and be on the offense if you want to use it. Smaller enemies can be defeated easily this way, while boss enemies will lose a tremendous amount of health as a result. It also looks pretty badass and brutal.

The demo we played featured three increasingly difficult enemies, ranging from small to mid-bosses and then a final boss encounter. The combat is somewhat related to the Souls trilogy and Bloodborne but changed up in significant ways. It still emphasizes the three core pillars we mentioned, but speeds it up noticeably and feels comparably fast-paced and dynamic. Since Sekiro can jump quite high or even grapple out of harm's way, this can be used to evade and attack from different angles once you get the hang of it. The right bumper is used to dish out attacks with your samurai sword. The right trigger is reserved for the prosthetic, which can be used in conjunction with certain items. In our demo, we could throw shurikens, use a torch to light enemies (and your sword) on fire, and a slow but heavy ax can easily destroy shields.

The type of combat feels very much at home in the samurai era, with fights being a fast-paced yet still slow and reactionary dance of exchanging and blocking strikes. We can evade attacks or recover from heavy blows by rolling out of the way or blocking incoming strikes. There are certain attacks from stronger enemies that cannot be blocked and will deal heavy damage. The maneuvers are marked with a red Japanese symbol on the enemy, signaling to get out of the way quickly. As Sekiro isn't an RPG, there are no souls or blood echoes to collect or lose when you die. On the contrary, as the title suggests, we can indeed die twice. Once defeated, we have the choice to stay down for good and repeat from a checkpoint or to be reborn to continue where we left off. Enemies assume you're dead and walk away, so this can create an opening to strike unexpectedly.

We were able to get by the first samurai boss but couldn't defeat the second mid-boss (an ogre), so we forged ahead. Unfortunately, the stage layout wasn't as straightforward as I'd hoped. We and other players got lost and wandered around endlessly until an Activision rep pointed us to where we needed to go: a 100-foot drop that looked like a cliff fall to certain death. There were similar situations where immediate progression through the level wasn't instantly clear. Again, this could also be due to the level being condensed for showcase purposes, but we don't know that for sure.

On our way to the final encounter, we also came across a giant snake patrolling the canyon, and we had to avoid it until we reached a bridge where the final, towering boss and his insanely huge samurai sword waited to cut us into pieces. It eventually did just that, as we, unfortunately, ran out of time to complete this challenging encounter.

Our takeaways from the Sekiro demo are positive. Itseems to be a linear experience that combines all that From Software has learned from previous games. It's going to be interesting to see how linear the game will be and if there are more open-level designs. In our demo, we could have easily skipped or run past all enemies to rush through to the final boss without repercussions. We don't know if that is going to be a possibility in the finished product. Rest assured that Sekiro will be a tough experience when it launches Mar. 22, 2019, on PC, PS4 and Xbox One.

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