Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice [ultimate] Review 2020

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice [ultimate] Review 2020

Sekiro Shadows Die Twice, there's no missing the fact that From Software has built its shinobi-focused adventure from the DNA of the Souls And Bloodborne series.


Is Sekiro too difficult?

But this new mutated strain is as much its own stealth-action experience, one that's more focused, cohesive, and in some ways forgiving, despite retaining its predecessors' trademark difficulty. 

As I rolled credits after 50 hours of pressurized blood geyser executions, fantastical monster fights, split-second swordsmanship, and secret-filled areas, I'm left with a deep appreciation for this amazing journey and the skills it demands to master it.

(drums) To any Souls veteran, Gekiro Timing-based lock-on combat of strikes and slashes is familiar, as is the way you weave through the same excellently designed levels that snake, interconnect, and double back on themselves to reveal new shortcuts between little bastions of safety to resupply.

But Sekiro is immediately its own beast, thanks to a Swiss army knife of prosthetic arms strapped to the titular shinobi. The part grappling hook, part gadget kit, part weapon, and all users, this new mobility reinforces the steal elements of Sekiro, allowing you to get into advantageous positions for silent assassinations, quickly escape danger, and explore varied mythical environments of this vast and vertically-designed world.

Whether springing between castle rooftops, zipping through forest branches, or scaling sheer cliffs, there's a refreshing sense of freedom in just getting around. And that freedom extends beyond death.

The capacity to resurrect yourself once per rest permits you another shot at finishing a nearby battle, however you chance to spread a perfect infection among the NPCs of the world if you, end up dying again. There's a deep strategy to knowing when to resurrect and when to let it go and lose half your earnings, but the opportunity to get up and just run away is a literal lifesaver in a game where one small mistake could cost you everything. And a lack of From Software Signature multiplayer means you can actually pause Kiro at your leisure, which is its own sort of freedom.

(mystical music) When you're not skulking around to score easy and stylishly gory execution animations, the emphasis is on skill-based swordsmanship that requires a mastery of an excellent new rock-paper-scissors countering system.

Peppered into the standard fare of attacks are specific thrusts, sweeps, and grapples that are difficult, if not impossible, to simply block or dodge. But these come with the fairness of telegraphed animations, giving you half a breath to recognize what's coming and react. Thrusts must be deflected or redirected, sweeps must be jumped, and grapples must be sidestepped for a regularly thrilling exchange of precision timing and tactics.

There is a steep learning curve to mastering this, but once I overwrote my reactionary muscle memory, I found a simple beauty in being able to stand toe to toe with any enemy.

And in time, Sekiro's combat actually becomes more forgiving than its predecessors. Even towering monsters or impossibly lethal assassins will tip you off to their big attacks.

(grunting) And on top of just beating your enemies into submission with raw damage, Sekiro Shadows Die Twice introduces variety with the idea of posture, composure during a fight.

Dealing damage or blocking and deflecting attacks all degrade an opponent's posture, culminating in an instant death blow opportunity when it's broken. Which route you take to get the kill matters less when facing the rank-and-file threats, but Sekiro constantly throws a variety of unique and challenging enemies at you that continues to ratchet up the pressure and complexity.

It becomes a tricky dance of flexibility. And while there are less than a dozen bosses with a capital B, the world is positively lousy with mini-bosses that serve as skill checks to keep you on your toes. (clanging) Relative to its predecessors, Sekiro's character progression is admirably streamlined.

There are no attributes or numbers to build up. Your health and attack power only increases when finding key items dropped by bosses hidden in the world. There are no weapons to find or armor to acquire. You'll use the same katana from start to finish. Instead,

Game is the last position

you spend earned experience in a robust, multi-tiered skill tree that allows you to unlock passive skills, like more potent stealth, or the ability to regain precious health when performing a death blow, alongside combat maneuvers, like a powerful posture-breaking strike or a lightning-fast slashing technique.

There are a staggering number of abilities to unlock, and incredibly, each one Used felt unique and useful, if only in specific situations. Similarly, the prosthetic limb can be outfitted with a number of different gadgets. Some seem more universal than others, like the always-handy shuriken for long-range damage, or the mist raven feather that lets you phase through enemy attacks for some lifesaving distance.

Others, like the umbrella that lets you block incoming projectiles or the max that lets you smash shields to splinters, are vital, but only for their narrow purpose. These tools also come with their own excellent upgrade tree, with effects that can be combined with skills for some truly ingenious combinations and strategies.

(bell rings) All these efforts support the goal of your undying one-armed shinobi, to serve, protect, and endless murder at the behest of your master, the child Divine Heir, blessed with immortality. While Sekiro starts out as a work of historical fiction in a bloody but atmospheric period of Japanese history, in typical From Software fashion, it quickly takes a hard turn into the mystical and supernatural, telling a serviceable story that's regularly overshadowed by the dense environmental storytelling at work.

All its sights and sounds create a varied world, reinforced by a soundtrack that's as calming as it is haunting. But Sekiro Shadows Die Twice is a less ambiguous affair than Souls fans might be used to, as each arm of the journey is much more clearly outlined and clues are more freely given.

And though you spend a majority of your time working through mountainous terrain or historic castle grounds,occult-infused hamlets, and blizzard-choked fortress, and bottomless pits in the earth are very much a part of the experience, leaving plenty of room for secrets and mysteries to be uncovered and pieced together that should carry over nicely into a New Game Plus. 

[Reviewer] Sekiro Shadows Die Twice evolves from Software's formula into a stylish stealth action-adventure that, naturally, emphasizes precision and skill in its combat. It walks the line between deliberate and patient stealth and breakneck melee combat against threats both earthly and otherworldly.

Its imaginative and flexible tools support a more focused experience that shaves down the Souls games' overly cryptic edges without losing its air of mystery. Sekiro is an amazing new twist on a familiar set of ideas that can stand on its own alongside its predecessors.

For more on Sekiro, check out the first 16minutes of gameplay, our graphics comparison, and our unboxing of the Collector's Edition. And for everything else, stick with IGN.


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