FromSoftware created both Bloodborne and the Dark Souls series, so the developers have an almost peerless track record of delivering brutally compelling hack-and-slash experiences. Their next offering is Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, and while it looks unnervingly familiar to what came before, our hands-on confirms it’s anything but. From flippy ninja antics to an emphasis on clever stealth, here are seven ways it ISN’T the next Dark Souls – and why we’re fine with that.
1. It’s set in Feudal Japan
Sekiro takes place in 1500’s Sengoku, Japan, a time of samurai, castles, and very sharp swords. You play as Sekiro, or ‘one-armed wolf’, a disgraced warrior fighting to regain his honor after being saved from the brink of death. Your mission is to free the young descendant of an ancient bloodline from the clutches of the Ashina clan. This puts you in direct confrontation with a whole load of twisted new enemies, from samurai generals to chained-up ogres. The bold new setting makes Sekiro look and feel fresh.
2. Stealth is important
Sneaking is a ninja’s best friend, and in Sekiro, the act of remaining unseen is well represented. For example, there’s ample tall grass in which to hide if you don’t fancy getting blood on your clothes, as well as high vantage points to scout out areas. Helpfully, the game gives you extra information to aid your stealthy ways in the form of enemy sightline indicators.
Get the drop on a foe and you’ll score a stylish one-hit kill, which vary depending on context. From jumping on backs, to performing ledge-based takedowns, they give an extra deadly dimension to Sekiro’s stealth.
3. There’s a freaking grappling hook
Mobility vastly improves thanks to a grappling hook that turns you into a samurai Spider-Man. Green icons around the level denote points you can fling yourself at using LT. It’s smooth, fluid and an absolute joy to use, making environments feel expansive and opening up your killing options. It’s a wildly functional tool aiding both fighting and traversal.
4. Prosthetic tools are game-changers
Prosthetic tools is the collective name given to a set of devastating heavy weapons you can attach to your prosthetic arm. There’s a chunky battle axe, a steel umbrella, a device that spits out fire, ninja stars, some kind of fireball-cannon, and no doubt more to discover. Just hit RT to unleash their power, but keep in mind they’re a limited resource, and so worth saving for bigger nasties. Enemies drop little paper dolls called White Spirit Emblems that you’ll need to power prosthetic tools, so the more you murder, the mightier you become.
5. It’s properly gory
Sekiro isn’t about fighting to survive. It’s about thinking through combat scenarios ahead of time and working out how to kill fools in the most ingenious ways possible. And often, ingenious=gory. Tiptoeing up behind someone, driving your blade into their neck, then watching the blood spurt out as they slump to the floor is an act of unabashed violence, and way more wince-worthy than anything in FromSoftware’s previous games because many of the enemies here are human. Or at least, they look human…
6. Samurai duels are ace
Methodical one-on-one duels are a frequent delight in Sekiro. RB attacks, LB deflects, and pressing RB again once your rival’s weak initiates something called a Shinobi deathblow, whereby you jam your sword into their chest and force out a geyser of blood. To reach that point you must break their posture by deflecting just as they strike. This builds up your meter and gives you the opening to attack. Early samurai duels are tough, so you can only imagine how much of a tense challenge later ones present.
7. You can resurrect yourself instantly
No longer do you warp to the nearest bonfire each and every time you die, which, come on, is a lot. Instead, you’ve got the option of coming back to life straight away. When you’ve bitten the bullet, or in this case, the blade, you can press RB to use the so-called ‘resurrection technique’ and continue the fight with half health. Only by killing enemies can you earn resurrection privileges, which prevents you cheesing your way through. The feature is more about getting you back in the action quickly after a silly death than removing the challenge entirely.