I’m in withdrawal.
I think that’s a good way of putting it. I’m chomping at the bit for more Sekiro. I’ve been excited for this game ever since the first “Shadows die twice” teaser. I’ve been a fan of From Software titles for a while, and hearing that they’ve got a new IP in the works had me scrambling for whatever scraps of information I could find. I was the first person to beat the demo in the Philippines (according to my contact). The weeks since then have been a tense waiting game, with Sekiro on the back of my mind – thinking about things I could’ve done differently, or faster, or better in that 20 minute hands-on.
I was invited to Bangkok to try the game again, this time for 2 hours. It was on the tail end of an event for Days Gone and didn’t even have a presentation attached to it, aside from a general reminder that we weren’t allowed to take photos or videos of anything on screen. Still, I was elated – I’d be able to stay my thirst for this game, even if just for a little while, and with a more complete experience compared to the curated bounds of a demo build. As a fair warning – as a From Software title, it would be impossible to talk about Sekiro without talking about their previous works.
The game opens up with a Dark Souls parallel (and yes, the comparison is tired); Sekiro – or The Wolf, as everyone calls him – is slumped over a pile of debris in a ditch, somewhere. A mysterious figure approaches from above and tosses him something that gives him the will to move on. Then, after a brief tutorial that taught me the basics, I encountered a boss fight and died hopelessly. It’s at this point the real game begins, throwing me into a hostile world of man, beasts, and undead.
Sekiro does, in fact, have a leveling system. Kills grant experience, but you don’t have to rest at a save point to allocate them like in previous From Software titles. Death drains half of your current XP total, which is otherwise an incredibly lenient penalty for dying considering the studio’s pedigree. Acquiring enough experience allows you to learn different gameplay-changing abilities. Unlike the expansive webs of minor stat bonuses of contemporary games, Sekiro’s skill trees are small and simple, granting abilities like a circular, crowd-controlling slash or a devastating counter against opponents with spears. They open up new avenues for combat and allow you to kill ingeniously, as the tagline says.
One thing that sets Sekiro apart is that much of its combat is avoidable. There are named mid-bosses that other journalists encountered that I completely bypassed, and hordes of enemies I either snuck past or killed quickly. While “run for your life to the next checkpoint” was always something you could do in previous titles, their leveling system ensured that you’d be woefully underprepared for any bosses, who would kill you in one hit. From Software’s signature fog walls return as well, marking areas that require you to beat a boss to progress and preventing you from proceeding unless you got better at the game or leveled up. I spent most of the demo at Level 1, learning only one skill in the process – and I managed to beat two bosses using nothing but the basics. It remains to be seen if the rest of the game is like this, however.
Sekiro’s world feels more alive than any other contemporary From Software game. Despite taking place largely in the still-warm remains of estates crawling with foes, they’re a far cry from the shambling undead of Dark Souls or the crazed, blood-hungry villagers of Bloodborne. If you’re perceptive, you can even eavesdrop on conversations that give bits of backstory or hints towards upcoming encounters. The chained ogre may be a difficult fight, but an attentive player might have listened in on a conversation about its weakness to fire and searched the level for the appropriate tool for the job.
And, of course, there’s the shinobi prosthetic. Sekiro may have lost his arm, but he gained a newer, badass one in the process courtesy of the creepy Sculptor. By finding and returning the prosthetics to him, Sekiro gains newer, deadlier tools to unleash against his foes. These prosthetics are hidden throughout the world and have their own quirks and gimmicks that set them apart from one another. Using them expends Spirit Emblems, which can be replenished by finding them across the game world or from fallen enemies, putting a greater emphasis on creative tool usage not unlike Bloodborne’s quicksilver bullets. Their greater abundance, however, means that you’ll be using them way more often than Bloodborne’s tools.
Like I said – I’m in withdrawal. And as Sekiro’s March 22nd release date draws near, I can only count the days when I’ll finally be able to step into the tabi of the Wolf and kill ingeniously.