One of the biggest announcements to come out of Microsoft’s E3 2018 press conference was the confirmation that Activision have teamed up with the creators of the beloved Dark Souls franchise, FromSoftware, to create a brand new IP for players to enjoy in early 2019, titled Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. Activision brought me behind closed doors to watch a gameplay demo of Sekiro and talk to some of the development team to get a clearer picture of their new creative venture.
Set in a fictional version of Sengoku era Japan, players embark on a quest for revenge and redemption as they play as a wounded and nameless Shinobi searching for his kidnapped master. After losing their young master and left arm in a duel against an unnamed rival, the player receives the Shinobi prosthetic arm, a powerful tool filled to the brim with ninja themed weaponry and gadgets. While there’s sadly not more to add to the story then that at the moment, what I saw of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice was beyond exciting. The dark tones and brutal violence of traditional Souls games remains intact within Sekiro’s unexplored world, but the game appears so refreshing because of its beautiful setting and unique combat system.
Jumping right into the demo, the first thing that struck me was how versatile the Shinobi prosthetic was in gameplay. Using the grappling hook, the player was able to traverse treetops and rooftops instantly, scouting out what enemies lied ahead. Then by switching over to the axe attachment, the nameless Shinobi decimated the opponents shields and opened them up for a deadly finishing blow. Lastly, by using a red smoke bomb, the Shinobi distracted the enemy, promptly sneaking behind them before plunging a katana deep into their neck. If it wasn’t obvious already, this new arm is one of the core components of Sekiro’s combat, and serves as the player’s personal ninja toolbox for how they approach, distract and murder their enemies. The learning curve in mastering the gameplay of Sekiro will come from players experimenting with the extensive list of tools available within the Shinobi Prosthetic and weaving them in tandem with the skillful swordplay of their trusty katana.
While I wasn’t able to see an example of what the HUD would like in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, it appears that the stamina bar has been replaced with a new kind of system the devs at FromSoftware like to call Posture, and is one of the core mechanics that inspired their creative vision for the combat. Every battle in Sekiro is intended to feel like an intense duel between opponents where both players and enemies alike can attack, block and parry. Players have the advantage when it comes to combat, but it comes down to their skillful use of timed parries, jumping attacks and assortment of Shinobi tools to whittle down the enemies Posture and open them up for a devastating finisher before they personally wind up skewered.
Sadly, the only mechanic I wasn’t able to get many details about was how Sekiro handles its revive mechanic. While the gameplay example we were shown brought the nameless Shinobi back to life exactly where he was killed in a mini-boss encounter, he was not able to be revived after attempting to duel an 11-foot demonic monk boss later in the demo. Considering how death is such a powerful system in most souls-like games, I’m really interested to see how FromSoftware decides to handle death in Sekiro, and if there will be a penalty associated with reviving in the middle of a tense combat situation or boss battle.
The last details I’m able to share about Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is that it is a completely single-player experience and the nameless Shinobi shown in the trailer is not a customizable character that players build from a character creator. While initially disappointing to hear, I hope this means that FromSoftware has removed these traditional components because they intend to create their best narrative yet, full of rich characters and hidden lore throughout its Sengoku Japan setting. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is easily one of my favourite announcements this E3 and I can’t wait to experience it in early 2019 on either Xbox One, PlayStation 4 or PC.