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Feature Article

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice Makes Death Both Friend And Foe

Immortality has its drawbacks.

The Shinobi known as the one-armed wolf, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice's protagonist, is always at a serious disadvantage. As he passes through the hostile territory of the castle grounds where his master, the young Divine Heir, is held prisoner, he constantly faces overwhelming odds and foes as deadly as any found in developer From Software's past projects, the Dark Souls games. Combat in Sekiro is difficult and punishing--and death.

Your relationship with death as a player is central to many of From Software's games, from Demon's Souls and Dark Souls to Bloodborne. In those games, death carries a massive penalty, costing you your ability to strengthen your character, and causing every decision in combat to become one of risk versus reward. Should you fight that enemy that could kill you to gain a massive payday in power-increasing souls, or avoid the gamble? Should you press the attack for a risky win, or stay conservative and wait for a better opening but prolonging the fight inviting potential disaster?

Sekiro deals in a lot of the same sorts of situations, with enemies that are exceptionally deadly and combat that's unforgiving; you're going to die--a lot. The difference is that Sekiro handles death differently than other recent From Software games, turning it into a tool in your arsenal, while also making it even more punishing. GameSpot recently had a chance to spend a few hours playing Sekiro, which included its opening area. What was most striking was how the omnipresence of death colors the experience in a new way compared to From Software's other games, creating new strategies and new pressures. In Sekiro, death doesn't just have combat and progression consequences--it alters the game's story.

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That story begins with the Wolf, essentially, dying. After an attempt to rescue the Divine Heir in a short tutorial section, the Wolf is defeated by the Heir's captor, losing an arm in the process. The Wolf awakens sometime later, having survived thanks to a strange power. Coming to in a dilapidated shrine on the castle grounds where the Heir is being held, the Wolf finds that a strange sculptor has fitted him with a prosthetic arm called the Shinobi Prosthetic. It's equipped with a grappling hook, and upgrading the arm over time is one way you'll progress your character in Sekiro. The prosthetic can be fitted with various weapons; we tried a flamethrower and an attachment that threw stunning fireworks in the faces of enemies. Other attachments include blades, and switching between your weapon options quickly makes the Shinobi Prosthetic function a bit like the trick weapons of Bloodborne.

After meeting a few other people hanging around the shrine to help out, including a nurse who won't say who her master is and a samurai who lets you practice on him because he can't seem to die, Sekiro starts to advance like any other Souls game, in which you strike out and explore the world around you. Sekiro's grapple means you can reach high areas like rooftops, from which you can scope things out and plan your route and your combat options, and you can even sneak up on enemies or descend on them from above to kill them without a fight. That's good, because fighting enemies is tough, especially when there's more than one of them; your ability to grapple out of danger, even briefly, is going to keep you alive.

Staying alive is important, but death in Sekiro is more nuanced than in Souls games. If you're killed in battle, the Wolf can use his strange power to resurrect himself. In fact, you can use death as a tool-- enemies will often wander away from you after you fall, allowing you to resurrect and sneak up behind them to deal huge blows.

The caveat is, you only get two chances to revive yourself, and after that, the consequences are dire. Like Demon's Souls, Dark Souls, and Bloodborne, you lose a huge amount of progress if you die and can't be resurrected. As you fight and kill enemies, you gain points you can use in progression trees to buy new skills and abilities for the Wolf to make him stronger; if you die, you lose half of all the points you've accumulated (but not the skills you've already acquired). The same goes for money, which is what you use to upgrade the Shinobi Prosthetic. Unplanned deaths seriously hamper your progression, and unlike the Souls games, you can't return to your own corpse to reclaim what you've lost.

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What's more, death has further-reaching consequences than just slowing your ability to make yourself stronger. The more you die, the more a sickness called Dragon Rot grows in the world around you, and it can begin to afflict the people you've interacted with in the game. When a character you've met in Sekiro gets sick with the Dragon Rot, it'll change the ways they interact with you, possibly even stopping them from talking to you (or helping you, or selling you things, as the case may be). The sickness is represented by an item called Essence of Rot in your inventory, and you'll get one for each infected character. We didn't see what those characters' ultimate fates might be--Activision developers on-hand wouldn't reveal whether they could die in the name of holding back spoilers, but did say you'll be able to search for a cure to the disease to potentially the sick.

Though dying can be a huge setback in Sekiro, there is a chance you won't suffer the full pain of losing half of what you've earned every time. Sometimes when you die, a mechanic called Unseen Aid will kick in. This is basically a chance for divine intervention from the gods and Buddha, allowing you to keep all your experience points despite going to your grave. Unseen Aid has a relatively low chance of kicking in, though, and the more Essence of Rot you're carrying around, the lower the chance of receiving Unseen Aid becomes. The more you die, the tougher on you Sekiro can be.

So even with the revive system, death is a big consequence in Sekiro. Making sure you can avoid death's penalties has a big impact on how you'll play. You get two revive charges, but once you use them, each has a different requirement to restore them. One you get back from resting at one of the many idol statues in Sekiro, which are equivalent to the Souls games' bonfires, complete with the mechanic of restoring enemies you've already defeated to surrounding areas. The second charge comes from actually killing enemies--which means that you'll need to be aggressive when you return to the fight, or retreat to an idol (and respawn any defeated enemies) to protect yourself. Even if you just have the idol charge, you'll need to kill an enemy in order to be able to use it, though; you can't reclaim your own life without swapping one in return.

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Despite death being an ever-present consideration, our time in Sekiro demonstrated how important being aggressive can be. Not only is it essential to make kills in order to restore your revives to deal with bad situations, but aggression baked into all of Sekiro's combat much more than in From's previous games, thanks to the Posture system. Posture refers to an enemy's ability to deal with your attacks; as you strike them or parry their blows, their Posture is lowered, and once it's completely emptied, they're staggered. That lets you get in close for a deathblow strike to do massive damage. While you can do damage with attacks when you parry a blow or break an enemy's guard, deathblows from breaking Posture and stealth attacks are the real way you win fights in Sekiro. Getting them generally requires getting right in enemies' faces, though, because Posture is both about deflecting enemy attacks and landing your own--and it's a constant balance between maintaining your own Posture and breaking your opponent's. It makes for tough, up-close fights where pressing the attack is rewarded, and the hit-and-run, conservative tactics of avoiding damage in Bloodborne and Dark Souls are much less effective.

Though Sekiro offers more combat options thanks to the addition of stealth mechanics like sneaking through bushes to ambush enemies, and the grapple that lets you zip away from enemies or onto rooftops to reposition, it definitely carries From Software's signature difficulty. The systems surrounding death and combat in the game make for a fresh take on what Souls fans are used to, but with effects that might be even more crushing than before.

What's interesting is the way Sekiro is using ideas similar to what fans are familiar with to create fresh experiences--whether it's combining the assassination opportunities of stealth that even work on some bosses, with more aggressive combat; or thinking about ways to both use and avoid death. Sekiro's different spin on From Software's formula creates a new, interesting relationship with video game death for players, while continuing to be just as crushing as fans expect.

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Phil Hornshaw

GameSpot editor in Los Angeles, and the co-author of So You Created a Wormhole: The Time Traveler’s Guide to Time Travel and The Space Hero’s Guide to Glory. Hoped the latter would help me get Han Solo hair, but so far, unsuccessful.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

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Avatar image for javalino

can i use magic ?? if not, it would be like BloodBorne, a hack-and-slash. I relly liked Demon and Dark souls , but i returned Bloodborne in the first day.

Avatar image for kyotoforever

This looks sick. Feudal Japan setting, Souls refined? I'm in.

Avatar image for naryanrobinson

I'll be straight up: I really hate mechanics like this.

The Souls-like formula is all about building up the payoff. Dying and dying and dying, being driven solely by that sweet sweet moment at the end when it says “YOU DEFEATED”.

If the entire gameworld goes a little more to shit every time you die, then you're siphoning off your payoff as you're building it, so that by the time you win all you can think of is how much you lost.

Dark Souls was ultimately not that hard. If you've died to the trap once, you know where it is. If you have patience, you'll overcome any enemy. A nicely tweaked difficulty curve was just one little aspect of a brilliant game. It wasn't punishment at all, all they did was increase the almost non-existent difficulty of modern games until it became fun again. And that was the level people enjoyed. I don't buy Souls-likes because I like punishment or because I need to prove the size of my penis. I play because they're fun. Deliberately reducing fun does not a good game make.

Avatar image for skektek

@naryanrobinson: This sounds exactly like the World Tendency mechanic in Demon's Souls. It actually makes the payout much sweeter.

Avatar image for javalino

@skektek: Indeed. Dark souls is actually simpler than Demons souls.

Avatar image for dadlife14

I can't decide if I should pre-order this or the Division 2. I like both series. Tough call.

Avatar image for srfilk86

I've played at least one Souls game each year since the release of Demon's. I adore the series. And even if this game is hugely different, it seems to have enough of those old ideas in it to grab my attention despite not being a fan of ninjas. Can't wait for this game!

Avatar image for dmblum1799

Given the thousand plus hours I've played since Demons Souls on in these games, it's certainly worth a flier.

Avatar image for ahmetxca

Meeh... As a Souls and Bloodborne fan, I don't think that this game will succeed.

Avatar image for se7enxx89xx

@ahmetxca: Delusional

Avatar image for ahmetxca

@se7enxx89xx: We will see about that...

No stats to level up with experience, no weapon collection and armor during play. No xp from enemies, or use bonfires as checkpoints.

Avatar image for solid_snake1461

Having the name Activision stamped on this made me hold off every purchasing decision until I've fully understood the scoop of the micro transaction that would present in this game.

Avatar image for Renunciation

Predictable scenario.

If this is anything like the other "SoulsBorne" games, I know what will happen already:

I will die a lot for various reasons (challenging game, slow middle-aged reflexes, not primarily an action gamer, etc.) but will continue to play because I appreciate the overall mechanics, depth, and 'atmospheric' environments that much. Then I will eventually reach the end of the game, defeat the last boss, and replay the whole thing with improved skills. My enjoyment will eventually subside ~200-300 hours later, after multiple playthroughs.

At some point, I will read comments about how the game is too difficult. I won't likely respond to any such comments, but will simply maintain my belief that the game isn't for everyone. The cheap (but fun) thrill of overpowered rampaging is not part of the package. Death-associated penalties can set your progress back by double-digit minutes, and this can feel like a frustrating waste of time. The game wasn't really meant to be pure fun.

I accept all of those things as being true, but I don't really care at all. The game(s) may not be for everyone, but they are definitely for me in ways many other games are not.

Avatar image for 93ChevyNut

@Renunciation: Well said!

Avatar image for hansond_jaysond_lee

oh, dang, looks like this game is gonna make a lot of casual peasants cry and run away even more so than the Soulsborne games did.

can't wait for it! XD

Avatar image for Cikatriz_ESP

@hansond_jaysond_lee: This post was brought to you by Mountain Dew X-Treme.

Avatar image for simonbelmont2

@Cikatriz_ESP: Ha, ha it was indeed.

Avatar image for Cikatriz_ESP

So if you’re good and find yourself craving a challenge, the game will instead get easier because you’re dying less. If you’re bad and struggling to survive, the game will actually get harder. Seems like the worst of both worlds.

Avatar image for simonbelmont2

@Cikatriz_ESP: I've heard Demon's Souls was like that as well. I've always felt that Miyazaki was a bit of a troll. He seems to enjoy coming up with ways to frustrate players.

Avatar image for vigariox

I love the Souls games and Bloodborne, the difficulty there was just right, but sounds like it's made for people who like to torment their souls. Lose half of my xp and gold with no chance to retrieve them? That will lead to one of 2 scenarios. 1. cowardly approach and no more taking risks like before. 2. Taking risks and rage quitting since now you can't just go back and fight for your lost xp.

In short, I am still going to get this game like a freaking idiot, FML...

Avatar image for simonbelmont2

@vigariox: I like the Souls games a lot, however I've never been a fan of mechanics like losing stuff upon death.

Avatar image for Cikatriz_ESP

@vigariox: Right. It doesn’t sound challenging, just cheap and frustrating. You’re robbed of the work you’ve done instead of being provided with a satisfying way to redeem yourself.

Avatar image for greaseman1985

Enjoying these games is like enjoying getting your nutsack stepped on.

Avatar image for jaykobwerdnahs

@greaseman1985: Yeah this will be one I watch and not play. Unlike others, I don't play games for masochism.

Avatar image for dynamotnt

Looks interesting, but even as a myazaki fan I'm just not hyped for it at all, and even if it gets a great score I still wouldn't feel hyped tbh, Im not liking the look of the new mechanics, and that parry my god. sekiro looks a bit too far in the wrong direction imo.

Avatar image for Barighm

Still not sure if this is a Souls-like or not. I've seen people say the game doesn't really have RPG elements, and the faster, aggressive pace of combat is actually not what sets Souls part. It's the slower, deliberate, tactical pace.

Dying a lot in a video game was never unique to Souls.

Avatar image for dynamotnt

@Barighm: it has no stat points, attributes to be put anywhere, quite a few enemies can only really be killed at any sort of pace is to learn the new parry mechanics which, I am not keen on at all. and the lack of a stamina bar means, faster combat yes.. but precisely zero damage mitigation so, you have to be painstakingly patient, probably more so then any previous entries from myazaki.

Avatar image for Deedubau

Wow. This seems like a really unique action game and I'm interested in seeing how this game sells compared to DMC 5, which is getting incredible reviews. I love DMC and the dark souls/bloodebourne games, and If I was gonna get either games this month then it will only be 1 because I have no interest in spending money on lots of games at full price anymore. I think I'm gonna go with this one if this ends up being well received, I still need to play and beat dmc 3 and 4 anyways. If not then I'm sure they will go on sale in 3-4 months, if not xmas holidays anyways.

Avatar image for SonicX56

I always love From Software's level design. It actually reminds me of Thief 1 and 2 with how elaborate the levels are laid out. They are all the pinnacle of a scripted design. If you fail, its usually because you aren't being careful, and the notes left by other players help. I do think they all "feel" pretty similar, sometimes too similar. Playing through dark souls "first" level plays a hell of a lot like demon souls "first" level( both games let you choose wherever you want, but there's a generally agreed upon "first area) I'm looking forward to this. Not a day 1 buy, but at this point in the AAA scheme, no game is a day 1 buy.

Avatar image for tsunami2311

Remind me of Nioh at lest look, which was probably the most brutal game I played in long time atlest since the Ninja Gaiden games. Provoding the game will run 60fps on base ps4 I will get this, Along with ghost of tsushima.

Maybe now that ps4 is end life cycle maybe pro will come down in price some more? they might even of fixed the nasty coil whine all pro games suffer from in some form

Avatar image for Deedubau

@tsunami2311: They fixed that with the ps4 versions that came with red dead redemption 2. Not sure if all retail units have it fixed now but at this point might as well wait for ps5 which is rumored to play ps4 games. I'll be getting this game on my pc for sure.

Avatar image for Barighm

@tsunami2311: I doubt this will be 60fps. Like you said, it's an end of generation game. It will likely push the base PS4 to its max, much like most newer games these days.

Avatar image for videogameninja

I’m convinced this year is going to leave me bankrupt. Already a few months into the year and the amount of big name AAA titles that have dropped is already staggering.

I’m gonna’ have to get another job.

-Wait. You mean… you already have one, Ninja?-



Avatar image for Barighm

@videogameninja: Well, duh, he's a ninja! He should be right at home in Sekiro.

Avatar image for DukeGallison

I'd much rather From Software do a sequel or spiritual successor to Enchanted Arms instead of another artificially-difficult Souls games. Yet the Souls games get near perfect scores while EA didn't, more reason I can't trust bootlicking game journalists.

Avatar image for eloepp

@DukeGallison:Oh man, another person using a buzz-word to try and sound smart... Oh, humanity. What is that even supposed to mean? It just sounds like some pretentious and easy to abuse critique for people who are butt-hurt about difficult games.

Souls games aren't even that hard besides some boss fights that can be learned from repetition.

Avatar image for Barighm

@DukeGallison: DS games are massive games with tons of content and replay value, so even if you can't get over the difficulty, which really isn't that bad, it's obvious why the games are so well received.

Avatar image for aross2004

@DukeGallison: EA was meh. The only real notable thing about it was that there weren't many options at all for RPG's on the 360 at that time, (this was before Lost Odyssey and Blue Dragon).

I'll say that it had really good graphics, but the story and battle system just sucked.

Avatar image for deactivated-5d237312e491c

@DukeGallison: Git gud. Or play something else.

Avatar image for srfilk86

@DukeGallison: NONE of the Souls games or Bloodborne are "artificially dificult." Not one. There are playthroughs where people have finished the entire game taking no hits whatsoever. It's called skill. Learn or fail. That's how it is.

Avatar image for PrpleTrtleBuBum

@srfilk86: I'd say artificially because difficulty is about the only thing Souls have so FS really play up that card. If the gameplay was a bit easier then the game would get just roasted as mediocre generic action romp. It would last 8 hours and you wouldn't get any satisfaction besides maybe couple of boss fights.

Buuuuut in the era of Anthems and Fallout 76's even more Souls sounds like a good thing.

Avatar image for xenoriddley


Artificial difficulty is a term people seem to love using for anything that's more challenging than the norm anymore. An example of artificial difficulty I feel would be if you go into a room, and theres an enemy that's extremely difficult to kill, but then 3 or 4 more appear.

Avatar image for Barighm

@xenoriddley: Huh. You might have actually used the term "artificial difficulty" correctly. That's extremely rare on the internet. Honestly, I can't think of any instance where I've seen someone else use it correctly since I probably first coined the term all those years ago.

Yes, artificial difficulty refers to adding an additional layer of difficulty to something that is already very difficult. If adding something would make the situation MORE difficult, but removing it wouldn't make it any LESS difficult, it's artificial (confusing, I know, but it's an advanced concept, so it's okay if you don't get it). The most commonly accepted application of it is bugs. Glitches can make a game more difficult, so that side of it is easy to understand. Non-glitched instances can get a little trickier to understand.