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Review

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice Review - Steel Yourself

  • First Released Mar 22, 2019
    released
  • Reviewed Mar 21, 2019
  • PS4

You see someone that you know and they ask you how you are and you just have to say that you're fine, when you're not really fine, but you just can't get into it because they would never understand.

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While Bloodborne tweaked the combat dynamics of Dark Souls to encourage aggression, Sekiro rewrites the rules of engagement. The building blocks of its combat are recognisable, but this only serves to lure Soulsborne veterans into a false sense of security. Sekiro's combat is incredibly demanding, asking you to study your opponent, find the perfect moment to engage, and execute a split-second follow-up that, if done right, will end the battle in a matter of moments--or if done wrong will end you just as fast.

This might sound akin to what every other From Software game asks of you, but Sekiro pushes these demands further than Dark Souls and Bloodborne ever did. Over the years, From Software fans have become accustomed to the language of Soulsborne games; we recognise scenarios and are wise to the tricks, we can identify viable strategies more quickly, and since the skills are transferable, we can execute these strategies with a measure of confidence. But Sekiro challenges this expertise. It invites you to try and then shows you how little you're actually capable of. Sekiro is affirmation that From Software hasn't lost its bite; that its games can make you feel vulnerable and strike fear in a way few others can. It's a heart-pounding, palm-sweating, and nerve-wracking gameplay experience that instills tension the likes of which I haven't felt since first playing Demon's Souls.

Souls players predominantly hide behind shields and adopt a hit and run approach to combat, and Bloodborne's attack-focused dynamic was a response to this. Similarly, the crux of Sekiro's combat has its origins in Dark Souls. The Poise stat was used to govern how resistant a player was to being staggered or stun-locked by an attack. Sekiro reworks this into a defensive attribute called Posture and uses it to underpin its engagements. Attacks chip away at Posture and will eventually break through the defense, leaving an enemy open to a Deathblow or to having their health attacked directly, which in turn makes their Posture slower to recover. However, this is a very laborious way to wear enemies down, and they will often defiantly counterattack to deal big damage to you. Instead the goal is to deflect an attack the moment before it hits you, which wears down Posture considerably faster.

For low-level enemies it takes just a few encounters to get into the rhythm of it, but as more foes are introduced, it becomes much trickier. Each one has a variety of attacks that have specific tells and counter timings, so spending the time to learn how they all behave and how you should react is vital. Thematically, this style of combat is also coherent with the subject matter of the game in a way that I really appreciate. Battles are measured--a ballet of back and forth movements, the outcome decided by a deadly flourish--swift and precise, as any contest between swordsmen should be.

However, the true test is when you're faced with Sekiro's boss enemies. Calling these encounters "challenging" would be a severe understatement. The attacks these enemies unleash are deadly, to the point where just a single blow can often be enough to kill you. Their moves can be as erratic as they are diverse, and for some of them parrying is simply not an option. Occasionally a red kanji symbol will briefly appear to signal that an unblockable attack is on its way, and in this situation the options are to either jump, dodge to the side, or hope you can sprint away fast enough. In a single second you'll need to identify the attack and execute the appropriate action to save yourself. Bosses have the most Posture and usually require you to land multiple Deathblows on them before they fall, so attempting to simply chip away only draws the battle out. The longer you spend in the battle, the more mentally taxing it becomes. The stress of repeatedly nailing split-second counters begins to mount and just a single slip-up is all it takes to lose everything. As a consequence, these boss battles feel designed to force you to engage with the enemy, to take the fight to them and hope that you've got what it takes. In the moment it can feel unbearably frustrating to keep banging your head up against the challenge, but that frustration pales in comparison to the sheer exhilaration of finally breaking through. After almost every boss battle I completed, I was so overwhelmed by the adrenaline that I had to put the controller down and give myself the time to settle.

Death isn't necessarily the end, however, as Sekiro gives you the option to either submit and die to respawn at a checkpoint, or revive on the spot and continue fighting. This mechanic makes the game just a touch more forgiving by allowing you to recompose yourself and get back in the fight, but it comes at a cost. Each death and each revival has an impact on the world around you. More specifically, it has an impact on the characters you've met on your journey. To explain exactly what that is would be to spoil one of the most interesting parts of Sekiro, so I won't do that, but suffice it to say that death and resurrection has a meaningful consequence beyond just making you lose experience and money.

In battle, your character, Wolf, has his fair share of tricks. He's equipped with a prosthetic arm that is capable of having different sub-weapons grafted to it, and they're essential in giving yourself an edge in combat. There's an axe that, while slow to swing, can break through shields; a spear that allows you attack from further away, and can be used to pull weaker enemies towards you or strip armor; firecrackers which can stun enemies; or a flamethrower that can inflict burn damage.

No Caption Provided

Using these prosthetics comes at a cost, however, as they consume Spirit Tokens. These are scattered around the world and can be purchased using Sen, the in-game currency awarded for killing enemies, but you can only hold a limited quantity of them while in the field. This limitation reinforces the idea that they are to be used as part of a strategy instead of relied on as the primary way to defeat enemies. Using them unnecessarily could mean that they're not available when you need them most. Resources such as scrap, gunpowder, and wax can be found to upgrade your prosthetic arsenal and open up new ways to use them.

Wolf's own shinobi abilities can also be developed by spending experience points gained from killing enemies. Unlike previous From Software titles, there isn't a steady stream of new weaponry; the katana is your mainstay throughout, but new Combat Arts flesh out how the sword can be used, and they have a more active role in skirmishes. Whirlwind Slash, for example, lets you control space, while Ichimonji is a heavy overhead strike that has a long windup but dishes out big posture damage. Again, they're designed as an additional strategic consideration. Only one of these can be equipped at a time, so this forces you to think about what you're taking into battle and be methodical in utilizing it. Shinobi Arts, meanwhile, allow you to access skills such as mid-air deflections, vaulting over enemies to deliver backstabs, and specific counters for deadly special moves that enemies will occasionally execute. These various upgrades aren't diverse enough to support dramatically different playstyles, but they do offer just enough room to find a favourable loadout and then develop its effectiveness.

Wolf also has a suite of Innate Abilities, some of which come into play outside of combat. It's here that Sekiro really distinguishes itself from previous From Software titles by revealing itself to be a stealth action game--one that proudly wears its origins as a spiritual successor to the Tenchu series. Most areas have a heavy enemy presence so the odds are stacked against you. Engaging in open combat will draw attention to your presence, so the smarter strategy is to thin out the opposition by systematically picking them off. In previous From Software games, this would involve an awkward kiting process where you edge closer to a single enemy and use items or ranged attacks to lure it into a safer zone to do battle. However, Sekiro has mechanics to support stealth play more directly. You can use your grappling hook to take to the rooftops and scout out a location, taking a note of enemy placements and watching their patrol patterns. You can skulk around buildings, pressing yourself against surfaces to peek around corners. You can shimmy up walls and hang of ledges to reposition, leap off elevated points to plunge your katana into enemies below, or slither under raised buildings and into grass, creeping towards unsuspecting victims. Innate Abilities such as Suppress Presence will make your footsteps quieter, while the ceramic shard item can be thrown to make noise and manipulate movements to your advantage. Being effective with stealth can allow you to circumvent standard combat encounters entirely, so it's in your best interest to take it slow and steady. Enemy behaviour can be inconsistent, however. Sometimes they'll stare through you as if you're not there, and other times they become hyper aware and capable of perfectly tracking your movements during an alert phase, even when you're behind walls or hiding on roofs. They're not particularly sophisticated, but their lethality means they're not to be taken lightly.

The absence of modern stealth conveniences means you place greater scrutiny on your surroundings, and you'll notice just how thoughtfully they've been constructed

There's a simplicity to Sekiro's stealth mechanics that is refreshing. There's no Detective Mode or on-screen indicators to signify how much noise you're making, and instead you're entirely reliant on your basic senses. The absence of these modern stealth genre conveniences means you place greater scrutiny on your surroundings, and you'll notice just how thoughtfully they've been constructed.

The geography of From Software's game worlds are much lauded, with praise heaped upon the way seemingly disparate locations slowly reveal themselves to be interconnected and part of a cohesive whole. That strength of world design is present in Sekiro, and the fact that it's more immediately visible within these contained locations makes taking the stealth approach even more satisfying. Buildings are placed together to encourage exploration and reconnaissance, with roofs almost touching so that you can leap between them and scope out all angles. They overhang just enough that you can take a running jump and use your grappling hook to swing up and across for better vantage points. Pathways diverge and reconnect, creating that satisfying feeling of venturing into the unknown and then emerging into the familiar. Thick tree branches protruding out from the side of mountains can be grappled to and used to sneak into the heart of an area undetected, or around it entirely. There were more than a few occasions where I spotted a temple in the distance, traced the pathway there back to where I was standing, and followed it to discover a hidden area.

Sekiro takes place in Japan, in a land known as Ashina. As a consequence, it is by and large more grounded in reality than the likes of Lordran or Yarhnam. The location remains both striking and memorable, however. Encircled by an ever-visible snowy mountain range, Ashina is built up of dilapidated temples scattered around, housing mercenary warriors and corrupted monks, among other dangerous foes. Man-made pathways dissolve into perilous valleys, where mountainsides must be scaled to reach remote forests patrolled by club-wielding ogres. Fortified castles tower above abandoned towns seized by an army. Ornate statues fill the homes of royalty, while questionable characters linger in the dungeons below. Without spoiling it, Sekiro also takes the opportunity to delve into the supernatural and pull from Japanese mythology.

No Caption Provided

That juxtaposition of the real and the fantastical is echoed in the story Sekiro tells. It begins simply, with a shinobi that is called into action to save his kidnapped master and uphold his iron oath. But beneath the surface there's more at play--Ashina is a nation on the brink of collapse, its people beset by a mysterious stagnation, and you have the power to decide its fate--familiar themes for From Software. However, the story quickly moves from the realm of warlords driven by ambition to one of mythical bloodlines, demonic monsters, and otherworldly spirits. While the story is undoubtedly told in a more direct fashion than Dark Souls and Bloodborne, there are still numerous nuances to explore, and mysteries to solve, perfect fodder for a rampant community that has built up around From Software's games to mine. Softly muttered lines from Ashina's denizens hint at turmoil from days gone, while item descriptions speak to arcane practices. Talk of far off lands colours in the world around Ashina, while vague mentions of enigmatic figures leaves you questioning what unseen forces are involved in the events that are transpiring.

The unflinching way Sekiro punishes you for missteps and the repetition of trial and error are clearly suited for people of a certain temperament and with a very specific, slightly masochistic taste in games. These are the people that are willing to endure devastating defeats for hours on end and watch as their progress is undone time and time again, just so they can have the intoxicating thrill of overcome a seemingly insurmountable challenge that awaits at the end. In that respect, Sekiro is unmistakably a From Software game--but one unlike any we've had so far. When all is said and done, though, it's the combat that has left the deepest marks on me, for better and for worse.

Atop Ashina Castle I stood before a swordsman. It wasn't my first attempt at the duel; we'd been trading steel for close to six hours, and each time the swordsman ruthlessly cut me down. I became desperate. I started making bad decisions. The losses were really getting to me. But I persevered.

My plan was a familiar one, honed through years of repeated Dark Souls and Bloodborne play: observe, dodge, wait for a slow attack, and use the opening to strike--it never fails. He swung his sword and I was out of range. The recovery on the attack was slow so it was the perfect opportunity to land a blow--I'd done it hundreds of times by that point. Except, this time it was different. As I charged in, he quickly corrected himself and fired an arrow, then chased behind it to close the distance and delivered a crushing blow. I lost my composure and finally snapped.

I picked myself up off the ground and rushed at him. He began an onslaught of attacks and, after six hours of learning his style and developing the muscle memory, I just started parrying on instinct. Each one of his swings and each arrow he fired was met with a perfectly timed raise of my sword. Every unblockable attack he lunged at me with was sidestepped or hopped immaculately. I watched as his Posture deplete, edging closer to the breaking point, and at the same time I could feel my breathing become more rapid, my thumbs beginning to tremble. I wore him down and delivered a Deathblow, backed away, and did it all over again, and a third time. In that final moment when I pierced through him with my katana, I was completely overcome with emotion. After six gruelling hours of failure, the winning battle lasted just six minutes. I'm not too proud to admit that I cried, and I'd do it all over again.

The orchestration of intense one-on-one boss encounters that truly test your mettle, and slower-paced stealth sections that let you take on battles at your own pace, is masterful. More so than in previous games, From Software has honed in on the inherent tension found in the challenging nature of its games, and uses it to incredible effect. Sekiro marries the developer's unique brand of gameplay with stealth action to deliver an experience that is as challenging as it is gratifying.

Back To Top
The Good
Demanding but exhilarating combat
Intricately designed environments that reward exploration
Satisfying stealth mechanics that encourage you to observe and strategise
The Bad
Enemies can be inconsistent in the way they behave during caution and alerted phases
Y'know, sometimes it's just cruel
9
Superb
About GameSpot's Reviews

About the Author

Tamoor has completed Dark Souls numerous times and has the Platinum for Bloodborne. He thought he was prepared to die, at this point. He was very wrong. A code was provided for the purpose of this review.
262 Comments  RefreshSorted By 
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Alandave39

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Congrats From Software for making one of the greatest games of all time. (Again)

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srfilk86

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Edited By srfilk86

After getting the platinum trophy, I have to say Sekiro is the easiest FS game. A few bosses are harder, but for the most part they're easier. Great game, though.

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cruzmurillo

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@srfilk86: everyone is different , i beaten ds 1,2 ,3 , bloodborne and nioh , im having way more trouble on this game , i just beat the boss at the begining after the ogre , maybe it gets easier after getting more skills ?

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srfilk86

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@cruzmurillo: The game gets easier when it clicks. Once you're good at parrying and mikiri, most encounters are pretty easy. Also, you have to keep the pressure on the bosses more often than not. Playing defensively will fail.

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KiriharaZro

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@srfilk86: Did my Bloodborne platinum help me in this game? you know what I mean.

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Fortesque

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Edited By Fortesque

IMO, anything that comes out of a From Software studio is well worth the money. They really set the bar when it comes to combat mechanics, scenery and general gameplay. This combat engine is something i would love to see in Elder Scrolls types games. Rather than just button mash and no idea if the hit has registered other than hearing a sound. The way the characters react to being hit/blocked and engaged is a truly superior - the intefaces between the actions and reactions. I feel that the combat mechanics (nowadays) are strongly set on the immersive engagment. This is the difference between buying games for me.

2 • 
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njs72

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The game is amazing but it sure is difficult. Im an avid DS and BB fan, completed the whole series several times. While yes these games are difficult, Sekiro is the next level of Brutal by about 10 times. This game you need to have some pretty good reactive skill in speed and deciding what move to make in a split second. I fear I dont have the skills to beat this game.

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GamerOuTLaWzz

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Yeah not sure why I claimed its their worst the game actually has grown on me and I really love the game so far. Ive progressed alot yet still feel theres a load for me to see still and Ive explored every inches. The combat actually gets alot more manageable when you unlock a few essential skills, prayer beads and just get more experienced at the game. I got over my old Dark souls habits which would constantly get me killed in this game and now actually enjoy the flow of the combat more. Truly a great title.

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CRAPCOM1926

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I am fighting the super hard optional boss, he sees me and i die.

I can't beat the final boss.

This is by far the most Brutal FS game to date and YET there is a youtuber that beat the game without any vitality upgrades items or prothetic weapons, he got BEYOND GUT.....

3 • 
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TheBruuz

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I finished a playthrough, but unfortunately chose the "short" ending, missing a whole area and a few bosses, also missing out on some materials that can only be obtained if you get to that area.

Decided to move on to NG+, and the difficulty increase of bosses and minibosses is real.

I almost gave up on Genichiro. Getting through his posture needs perfect execution, and although after 20 tries I know all of his moves by heart, the sheer speed with which you need to execute a response can be overwhelming at times. I manage 98% of the fight, but that not enough.

I needed to revert to "cheesing" him in phase 1 by continuously using Shadow Rush, because it's the only attack that consistently chips away his HP, even when he's blocking. Phase 2 is luckily a lot easier.

I still love the game a lot, but I felt Genichiro in ng+ was pushing my limits as an older (albeit experienced) gamer. Other bosses seem a lot less tense, but I'm afraid I'm going into the new last area for the first time on ng+, and then the demon boss also for the first time on ng+. It's going to be interesting to say the least...

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AyatollaofRnR

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Sounds great. Keen to try it, at least. Not sure If I have the required level of masochism though.

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matejohn

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Should I buy Sekiro or RE2 first? I can only buy one right now ?

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Fonvec

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@matejohn: Buy Resident Evil 2

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santinegrete

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Edited By santinegrete

@matejohn: RE2. It may be cheaper now.

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matejohn

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@santinegrete: The price just dropped on RE2 to $40!!

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santinegrete

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@matejohn: if you like replays, easy choice!

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GamerOuTLaWzz

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Edited By GamerOuTLaWzz

@matejohn: RE2 is a masterpiece. Sekiro is amazing as well.

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Spectralfire0

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@gameroutlawzz: I like it quite a bit. Your opinion, but I don't think you can't put it lower than Dark Souls 2. (In the same sense - a good game, but the worst of this master series)

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GamerOuTLaWzz

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@Spectralfire0:

Yeah not sure why I claimed its their worst the game actually has grown on me and I really love the game so far. Ive progressed alot yet still feel theres a load for me to see still and Ive explored every inches. The combat actually gets alot more manageable when you unlock a few essential skills, prayer beads and just get more experienced at the game. I got over my old Dark souls habits which would constantly get me killed in this game and now actually enjoy the flow of the combat more. Truly a great title.

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revieced

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Edited By revieced

@gameroutlawzz: oh well. To me Sekiro is the best FS game.

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JustTheTip

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@matejohn: Both are great. Resident Evil 2 is less frustrating/stressful though. Lol. I’d honestly go with that first.

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matejohn

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@justthetip: Yea I figured I'd go with the less stressful game first then work my way up lol

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Spectralfire0

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I enjoyed Tamoor's personal account there at the end of the review. Captures the whole experience pretty well.

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julianboxe

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But it lacks Souls Fashion...

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JustTheTip

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@julianboxe: That’s not a bad thing. Not every game from them has to be Dark Souls. Let them save that stuff for actual DS games...

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Chubnasty

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@justthetip: this is true if and only if the game you're making feels nothing like a souls game.

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RaveNRolla

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they absolutely nailed the movement in this game! i love that Sekiro dashes when he starts to run and the grappling points throughout the game are very thoughtfully placed to avoid player frustration.

#norantjust1goodpoint

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stealthy1

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Loving all the good Im hearing from this game. Ill definately be picking up this soon.

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cainetao11

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Nioh brought better combat and From Soft has answered with the best action game of the gen imo.

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CRAPCOM1926

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@cainetao11: action game? Isnt that Devil may cry 5? Sekiro is just a really really good...eh...Adventure game? o.O

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cainetao11

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@CRAPCOM1926: so there’s no action in Sekiro?

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UserX03

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@cainetao11: The combat in Nioh is better imo with the different weapons and styles

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cainetao11

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@UserX03: fair enough. I think Nioh combat is better than Souls and borne for those reasons and speed. But I prefer Sekiro over all.

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Edited By Oloryn

Seeing ANY comparison to Tenchu is icing on the cake, since I'm already a major fan of the SoulsBorne games and formula and have thoroughly missed Tenchu in gaming (I loved the hell out of that stealthy gem of a series). Just picked this up and am excited to dive in!

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zedetach

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The last time that I played a game this satisfying was MGS V and that many years ago. Thank you From Software for rekindling my passion for gaming again.

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GettingonwithGamingLife

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I am a bloodborne fan, almost finished the main game, then wanna come back and do NG+ to try the chalice dungeons. I also wanna play this game, looking forward.

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TheBruuz

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Edited By TheBruuz

I'm a DS and Bloodborne fan, and I also loved Nioh.

I'm about 20-25 hours in, defeated 2 bosses and a dozen or so mini-bosses.

This game is AWESOME!

The scenery is breathtaking.

The movement and traversal are exhilarating.

Combat is easy enough against normal enemies, but against mini-bosses especially you will need to bring your A-game. Where DS games allowed you to breathe between strikes, Sekiro needs you to persist in your attacks until you break the opponents posture, after which you get a deathblow, and your opponents will try to do the same, which makes combat very tense.

Minibosses also require 2 deathblows to kill, BUT you can stealth strike every miniboss to initiate combat, which counts as one deathblow. (I've only had two minibosses so far against which I couldnt initiate combat from stealth.)

The different tools and upgrades for them also give you lots of variety.

It's seems to be also pretty big. I'm not sure how many bosses it has in total or how many zones, but I'm in awe of what I got so far.

My game of the year, unless TLoU2 manages to come out this year and then we'll see ;)

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Shinnok789

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Edited By Shinnok789

Played the game for about 1h.

As a whole, for now, the main impression i have is that Sekiro is Tomb Raider/Uncharted/Assassin's Creed made "From Software" style.

In other words, if you combine some mechanics from "Tombcharted's Creed" with some from Dark Souls, you get Sekiro.

What i personally don't like about this game is that the healing and the basis for the combat are clearly rooted in Dark Souls, not in Bloodborne... which, for me at least, is not a good thing.

You can't recover health by striking back after being hit. Oh, and you start with only 1 "sip" available in the Healing Gourd, which recovers when you rest... or die. Does it sound familiar? Think "flask"!! :))

Combat is more methodical, slower than i would have wanted from a game released after BB, that doesn't have Souls in it's name.

Yes, the parrying system they implemented is something new, and it changes the way combat works. As it was already said, you have to forget what you learned in Soulsborne if you want to progress.

But at each encounter i had, until now at least, i was forced to wait for the enemy to strike first, just so I can parry and have a chance to get 1 hit in... then again wait for him to strike, just so i can hit him again (I had to hit a miniboss with 2 death blows)...

If i didn't do that, if i didn't wait and i tried to be daring, i was quickly given a chance to refill that "flask"... and mostly in 1 hit.

I don't like that i'm encouraged to sit and wait for a chance, instead of being fast, "taking the fight to the enemy" so to speak. I very much prefer to dodge, strike, dance around him, hit some more... something, anything other than sitting and waiting. Imho, Bloodborne's combat style is a LOT more active, and it keeps me much more entertained. Personally, I simply prefer it more.

Anyway, enough bitc... ahem, "commenting", i just started this game. For now, i'll just continue playing and see what happens next.

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TheBruuz

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Edited By TheBruuz

@Shinnok789: You will soon realise that most minibosses will require you to be a lot more offensive. Don't wait for a parry to get a hit in, but attack, attack, attack.

While attacking you keep the opponent on the defensive and fill his posture bar. They will be blocking most of the time. When they do initiate an attack, it will mostly be something unblockable, which requires a timely dodge/jump or parry. Get back into attacking, right after.

I was used to playing DS games defensively, cautiously. This one requires you to have a very offensive mindset.

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Dr-No

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Edited By Dr-No

@Shinnok789: good bitc... errrr comment. I agree that I prefer the way bloodborne does things with its speed and how aggressive you need to be.

But to help me enjoy the game more I'm trying to forget about souls 3 and bloodborne, since this is a completely new ip. If you come at it the same way as those two games, it will be too frustrating.

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Schizycho

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Looking forward to a From game with more stealth love, I love playing stealth type characters. I haven't had time to play yet (maybe in a few days) but am very excited. I'm a mediocre level parry skill in Dark Souls, but I was able to finish Bloodborne (which is what improved my parrying to the level of mediocre from complete suck hehe). Looking forward to working even harder on my parry skills. Yay Ninja Souls.

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CRAPCOM1926

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i really really really HATE THE FACT That all the videos of sekiro are not the PS4 VER.......i bought the game only to found out that the frame rate it isnt locked and it doesnt looks afluid as all the videos i saw.......

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christhunder34

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@CRAPCOM1926: What are you saying, that the PS4 version stutters? I would only get the PS4 version .. so that is concerning. I dont have a PS4 pro just a regular PS4, sure hope the frame rate doesnt stutter...

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Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice More Info

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  • First Released Mar 22, 2019
    released
    • PC
    • PlayStation 4
    • Xbox One
    Directed by Hidetaka Miyazaki, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is a third-person, action-adventure game with RPG elements.
    7.6
    Average Rating149 Rating(s)
    Please Sign In to rate Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
    Developed by:
    From Software
    Published by:
    Activision, From Software
    Genre(s):
    Adventure, Action
    Content is generally suitable for ages 17 and up. May contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.
    Mature
    Blood and Gore, Violence