The community around the Japanese video game development studio From Software is probably the group of people, that I am most proud to be a vocal part of. Especially, since I share the belief, that everyone who has willingly fought their unrelenting way through any part of the Dark Souls series deserves praise and a support group to share their experiences with.
Now, From Software has a new contender ready to hit the shelves in March 2019:
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
And apparently it’s going to be different. The developers moved away from some core parts of the highly successful Dark Souls/Bloodborne series, a risk that not all Souls veterans are happy From Software is taking. But is Sekiro really not going to be Soulslike in any way?
I played it at Gamescom 2018 and here is why you can breathe a sigh of relief:
Before I was let into the booth to get my hands on the controller and finally be able to spend a little intimate alone-time with Sekiro, the game I personally was eagerly awaiting to fully come into the video game world, I was unbelievably nervous. At first, it was inexplicable to me, while I was unable to stay still and my thoughts were racing at ungodly speeds. Then it dawned on me. I was afraid. Afraid that this game wasn’t going to be the answer to all the subconscious prayers I had sent out into the universe. The prayers that begged for the Souls Series to never end and to give me just one more game, just one more area, just one more boss to fight.
If someone had asked me, if I want to see Dark Souls 4 coming out, I would have said no, absolutely not at all do I want to see this much beloved franchise go down the path of too many sequels. Dark Souls needs to have its much deserved final rest. But I have too many fond memories of playing these games to not somehow wish I was going to get to make more of those memories. So do I want Dark Souls 4? No. Do I want another Souls Game? Absolutely yes.
What makes a game ‘Soulslike’?
The Souls series are defined through their innate difficulty, granting gaming progress only to those who are truly willing to invest time and effort. Within the first 30 minutes the game will weed out everyone who is anything less but hell-bent on getting better and improving their Souls skills. And it does indeed take skill to manage the combat mechanics that will punish you for even the slightest mistake. But nothing ever feels unfair in Souls games. When you die in the game (and you WILL die. A lot.), you know that no one else but you is to blame for your failure. If that deters you from trying again, Souls will have claimed yet another new players motivation and you will miss out on all the other fantastic parts this game will reward your immense amount of effort with.
Because not only the gameplay challenge is one of the selling points that From Software implements in their games. Nothing comes easily in Souls, even the underlining story of your reckless journey will not be read to you. You have to dig through countless amounts of tiny fragments of lore that are commonly found in only one place in the game: Item Descriptions. A good thing for you: The Dark Souls Lore community on Youtube is thriving and you will get the story read to you, if you are willing to invest some time. But trust me, even when it’s presented to you in the most digestible way – Dark Souls’ intriguing and multi-facetted story still requires effort to follow.
The underlining appeal of all of these things is the phrase
“If it’s easy to get, it’s not worth having”
Which, frankly, doesn’t always work. I can easily get a falafel wrap and that is absolutely worth having. Still, this notion plays off of the general opinion that failure is inherently a bad thing to be avoided at all costs. That taking no risks isn’t going to get you to extraordinary things. And personally, I can not prove the universe otherwise.
Does Sekiro tick the boxes of ‘Soulslike’ gameplay?
Well, the headline of this feature does already state the fact, that Sekiro measures up to my expectations of what a Soulslike game should bring, but let me go into detail here.
First of all, I would lie if I said Sekiro isn’t hard. In fact the game has so many fighting mechanics and combo opportunities that in the time that I played, I could have never cycled through them all effectively, I will have to really invest time to learn just one move and pull it off. Sounds like what I said about Dark Souls, right? And Sekiro manages to make everything feel just a little smoother with dedicated animations to all of the amazingly cool moves as a reward for the fact that you pressed buttons in the correct order at the correct time.
What Sekiro doesn’t bring though is the ability to customize your character into the perfect tool for you to enjoy this tiresome journey. You have a defined protagonist now and play no longer as a moldable ‘chosen undead’ who could be anyone and anything. A change that, on paper, hasn’t been received well by Souls veterans. It plays against the players freedom to cater to their own preferences of how to fight through a game. And in Dark Souls you truly were a blank canvas only waiting to be built into a towering hammersmasher, a mage with spells powerful enough to one-hit any boss or into the lightning fast spear-lion you fought in a soul crushing boss fight earlier. That made the game so individualistic and oh boy, did it make PvP a wild ride. Sekiro probably won’t have that and rightfully so, old school players with all of their fond memories will miss that feature.
Instead though, Sekiro has added a multitool prosthetic arm to the mix, that comes with a bunch of attachments and there will be one that you love. From a shield destroying battle axe to sharp shuriken projectiles and a flame throwing device (I repeat: A FLAME THROWING DEVICE), the prosthetic arm will satisfy some of your needs to carve out your own identity in the game. Albeit not on the same freedom levels that Dark Souls offered us.
What about the Lore?
Now, there isn’t that much to be confirmed about how Sekiro measures up to the Dark Souls Lore community which holds the Souls series way of indirect storytelling (or story-experiencing more like) on a golden pedestal, some might even call it an altar. And I would lie if I didn’t count myself in as one of them. I love Dark Fantasy since I was able to fathom it and no one has yet dared to fight me on my opinion that Dark Souls has the most hard yet rewarding to digest story that goes far beyond good vs evil or even beyond challenging the recipient which side represents good and evil. Dark Souls ditches the concept of valuing any motives as ‘good and pure’ or ‘destructive and malevolent’ – Same as your blank canvas character, the elusive story of Dark Souls is a massive playground for your imagination.
Of course, in the gamescom demo, it’s hard to deepdive into the story of Sekiro and see if it measures up to the plains of glorification that Dark Souls veterans find refuge in. But the environments tell a story and while playing it you feel like there has to be something behind all of those enemy types. And lord knows, a giant snake that is guarding the small openings in the towering walls of an enormous chasm is not only a scary environment hazard, there has to be something more to it.
Also, at the bottom of the one cosumable that I got to pick up during my time with Sekiro, I saw a little lore text at the bottom of the item description. And I know a lore item description when I see one, trust me on that.
Now where do we end up with that?
All in all, it’s still not the place and time to say anything definitively – We’ll have to wait until March 2019 for that.
But what I can say, from the bottom of the heart of a souls veteran who had massive, almost unreachable hopes for this game:
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice feels like a Souls game
And it adds even more to the established formula. Maybe it elevated the concept, maybe some essential parts will be dropped and missed. But truly, I can’t wait to play the full game and unravel it with the entire community: OGs and newcomers alike.