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The story and mechanics in From Software's 2019 action-adventure game all work together to create one phenomenal experience.
Over the next few days, we will offer further insight into why we picked the 10 games we did for the best of 2019, with each article going live on-site in order of the games' release dates. Then, on December 17, we will reveal which of the nominees gets to take home the coveted title of GameSpot's Best Game of 2019. So be sure to come back then for the big announcement, and in the meantime, follow along with all of our other end-of-the-year coverage collected in our Best of 2019 hub.
With Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, From Software proved it still excels at making incredibly difficult action games that push you to be better. Though Sekiro is built with similar storytelling beats and mechanics as those found in From Software's Soulsborne titles, the game is an altogether different beast to tackle--curating mentally taxing (but highly rewarding) combat encounters that are defined by both stealth and hyper-aggression. Combat is the best aspect of Sekiro, but the game has a lot more going for it, all of which helps make it one of the best gaming experiences of 2019.
Sekiro's setting, Ashina, is loosely based on the Sengoku period of Japan. It's a well-crafted world, one that's supported by its detailed level design and storytelling. Save for a few areas, all of Ashina's many locations are directly connected, allowing you to seamlessly traverse most of the map without the need for fast travel. This further makes Sekiro's in-game world feel like an actual place--one its roster of characters, some of whom are friendly and many of which are not, call home. Lore isn't given to you as an info-dump either; instead, the game encourages you to seek out the answers to its many questions by tying expositional history to useful in-game items or weapons. Your growing strength is directly tied to your growing knowledge of the world, and vice versa.
Sekiro's biggest strength--even more so than its stellar combat--is that everything about the game so seamlessly fits together. The mentally taxing but deeply satisfying combat encounters work because they fit with the overall theme of the game: that, for better and worse, the people of Ashina are all connected with one another. Every challenging duel is a deeply personal affair as you learn how your opponent attacks and defends, and your victories slowly affect the growing conflict between Ashina and the invading Interior Ministry. Your deaths are marked by the spread of dragonrot in the allies you meet and befriend, so your failure to help your friends has a literal impact on their physical health and well-being. The game's story doesn't outright tell you that your actions have consequences; you experience the cost of your failure first-hand through the gameplay.
All of Sekiro's systems interweave together in this way. Even the soundtrack matches with the movements of certain enemies to better inform you of when your foe has entered a more aggressive phase of combat.
Alone, Sekiro's story and its individual mechanics make it seem like another Dark Souls or Bloodborne, and given the shared developer, it's a fair comparison. But Sekiro breaks away from what From Software has created with its Soulsborne games (if only a little) by forcing the player to fight with only one weapon, follow a more unambiguous story, and endure an emotional component to failure that hits almost as hard as losing in-game progression. It creates a more cohesive whole, where all parts of the game are working in tandem to tell one extraordinary tale of a single shinobi risking the survival of an entire nation to save the boy entrusted to his care--all of which is why Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is one of GameSpot's best games of 2019.