'Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice' Already Feels Better Than a Soulsborne Game

An hour in, it feels unparalleled.

In almost every way, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is a spiritual successor to Bloodborne and the Dark Souls games made by From Software, but anyone who plays Sekiro will soon recognize the new game offers a transcendent experience that marks a big step forward for the developer.

Released Friday, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice explores the well-trod territory of feudal Japan as the player assumes the role of a shinobi warrior committed to completing a mission he once failed. That overgeneralization might sound derivative, but it’s an exciting new setting for From Software after the Lovecraftian nightmare world of Bloodborne and the traditional Dungeons & Dragons-esque fantasy Dark Souls.

It’s as if somebody at From Software played For Honor once and realized, “Hey, we could do this so much better as a ‘Soulsborne’ game.” So they did.

Soulsborne games are known for their immersive, dreary worlds and their absolutely punishing difficulty. In superhero video games like Spider-Man, fighting enemies is a fluid affair that feels like a power fantasy as you dance between a dozen enemies. They’re dazzling, fun, and exciting.

To love a Soulsborne is an entirely different experience that’s often outright masochistic in its brutality. You’re meant to die again and again in brutal fashion, learning from every miserable failure as you gradually become just barely adequate enough.

To slay an enemy in a From Software game involves an explosion of gore, a blood-curdling scream, and an uncanny adrenaline surge. Every encounter feels more dangerous than the last. Maybe it’s how unpredictable and varied the enemies are, or how powerful even the weakest of them feel. Maybe it’s the fact that deaths carry weighty, inescapable consequences compounded by an auto-save feature that never lets you actually retrace your steps.

These oppressive gameplay mechanics make their way into Sekiro, but whereas Dark Souls favors defensive gameplay and Bloodborne focuses on dodging with reactive gunplay, Sekiro rewards aggressive and risky offensive maneuvers. “Vitality” refers to health and “Posture” references what we might as well call stamina. The goal in any confrontation is to break an opponent’s posture to open them up for a killing blow. This can be done with perfectly timed parries and counterattacks or by breaking their guard with a flurry of blows.

You also get a prosthetic shinobi arm with a grappling hook attachment to help with reaching rooftops, from which you can pounce on unsuspecting enemies. Sekiro feels like From Software’s most freeing game yet in terms of character mobility, even when the well-crafted environments still feel somewhat rigid. It definitely helps you feels like even more of a badass ninja.

The prosthetic is very creepy, but it's also one of the coolest and most innovative design choices in the game.

From Software

Where Sekiro really shines is in the compelling story and awe-inspiring style. Whereas its predecessors delivered barely comprehensible, minimalistic storytelling, Sekiro’s story rivals even the best shinobi tales. Your nameless hero was adopted as a child by a warlord while he was scavenging through a ruinous battlefield. Dubbed the “Young Wolf,” he was tasked with protecting the Divine Heir. After falling and battle and being left for dead, the Young Wolf rises again to rescue the prince and get revenge.

It’s pretty badass.

You can play the game with English audio, but it defaults to Japanese with English subtitles. Anyone who’s ever loved classic films set in feudal Japan — or heck, even anime — knows that this is the authentic way to play. Even the lovingly rendered environments are given an incredible attention to detail.

Sekiro offers a cruel and unforgiving gaming experience, but for anyone willing to rise to the occasion, it’ll probably be one of the best they’ll have this year.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is now available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.

Watch me play almost a full hour over on Twitch:

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