‘Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice’ Brings New Ideas to Combat and Lore

Jeremy Ray
Games PlayStation
Games PlayStation Xbox E3 PC Gaming

Straightforward swordplay, or the way of the ninja. That’s what it all comes down to in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. We’ve been speculating like mad over this game, and we finally have some details.

Your goal in Sekiro, as a shinobi who was dis-armed (heh) before being killed, is to find the young noble you were meant to protect. By Souls standards, this stealthy protagonist exhibits zero poise, and zero noise.

Dark Souls creator Hidetaka Miyazaki was around for interviews at E3 2018, and told outlets From has “expanded greatly on fighting styles with an emphasis on allowing for creativity in approaching obstacles.”

That, combined with a much more open world, gives the impression of multiple playstyles. It’s about either confronting challenges head on with your sword, or trying to “kill wisely” with your grappling hook’s mobility or other inventive measures. You’re a shinobi, and you can choose how tricky you want to be.

Miyazaki himself has admitted the latter options are probably more fun. There’s no shield this time around, and you’ll be facing long strings of parryable attacks if you charge in head-on. We see in the trailer a massive warrior with a murakumo raining down attacks on the player, and this is part of a new kind of combat system we’ll talk about below.

Those worried Activision’s involvement might make the combat dumbed down, fear not. It’s actually sounding harder, and in some cases sneaking around might be the better option.

Sekiro boy master noble kidnapped
You were tasked with protecting this noble boy, and now must find him again.

You’ll Die More Than Twice in Sekiro

Sekiro is translated to “one-handed wolf,” or “wolf as one half of a pair.” It refers to the main character’s prosthetic arm – or Ningishu – and wolf-like ferocity. Your friend in the trailer, a reclusive Buddhist monk named Busshi, made the arm for you. You’ll learn to appreciate it.

Sekiro is loosely based in the end of the Warring States period of Japan, for its mythological appeal, inclusion of ninjas, and a conception of Japanese beauty that involves decay. It’s an open world with dynamic weather and a day/night cycle. At night, stronger enemies will appear more often.

Activision is handling the release of the game outside of Japan, but development is handled solely by From. According to Miyazaki, From controls everything after the title screen.

Sekiro prosthetic arm ningishu tricks tools
You awaken with a new arm. You'll learn to appreciate it.

Combat: Tricks up Your Sleeve

There are three pillars of combat in Sekiro: your sword, prosthetic arm, and grappling hook. From what we’ve heard so far, there will be a different sense of combat timing as you strike while propelling yourself with the grappling hook.

Your prosthetic arm can have multiple tools to equip. So far we know this includes:

  • Grappling hook, used to pull yourself towards enemies and terrain.
  • A hidden axe, seen in the trailer breaking an enemy’s guard.
  • Firecrackers, used to surprise enemies.
  • A temporary shield, seen in the trailer blocking one attack.
  • Shurikens, possibly for pulling agro in addition to ranged damage.
  • Hand cannon, to satisfy Miyazaki’s obsession with Berserk.

We won’t be surprised if there are some stealth tools (such as a smoke bomb) to round out these options.

Sekiro arm firecracker stun combat
This firecracker is used to briefly stun or blind the enemy.

Swordplay is expected to be straightforward, but more difficult than the parries and blocks we’ve seen before from From. According to a Miyazaki interview with Famitsu, it’s “based on the Japanese style of swords furiously flashing together in mixed offence and defence, as fighters seek to wear down and debase their opponent’s posture.” If you can create a weak moment for your opponent, you can go in for the kill.

This is where the “Ninja Kill” comes in — an attack borrowed from Tenchu, but also Sekiro‘s version of a backstab and riposte in Dark Souls. Not only does it finish an off-balance enemy, it can be triggered by sneaking up on them from behind.

Sekiro arm hidden axe guard break combat
We see the hidden axe in the trailer breaking an enemy's shield block.

There’s no stamina bar in Sekiro. Instead, you’ll block enemy attacks rained upon you, and vice versa. A perfectly-timed block will perform a parry, breaking your opponent’s posture.

This breaks the usual convention of simply bringing your opponent’s health to zero, and instead puts emphasis on creating openings for a single deadly strike.

Different sword styles will be available, as well as shinobi tricks such as imbuing your sword with fire, or turning “your enemies’ blood into a choking smoke.”

Sekiro hat shield arm tool combat block
From dislikes shield-heavy gameplay now. Sekiro has this temporary block, but what will it cost?

Creativity and “killing wisely” are also emphasised in Sekiro, so From has included many different ways of approaching enemies. We expect this will include environmental tricks, enemy weaknesses to items, and different angles of attack using the grappling hook.

What remains to be seen is if Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice will have any sort of evasion move with a period of invincibility. Perhaps they’ll attach it to grappling hook movement, or perhaps there will be no i-frames at all.

Sekiro Grapples With Verticality

A crucial element to the level design in Souls/Bloodborne games is the lack of a jump button. You can’t get over a knee-high fence, and you can only sprint-jump what the level designers want you to sprint-jump.

While it seems like a limitation, this allows the level designers a lot of freedom. They simply couldn’t build the world in the same way if you had a Sekiro-like grappling hook.

This is rightly one of the biggest topics of conversation. It’ll have a massive effect on any dense settings From might want to include, be they human-made or natural. If From has a primary level design strength, it’s castles — but we might not see a Japanese Undead Burg until the later parts of the game.

Sekiro boss fights giant snake
Stealth and vertical movement will be essential in these new boss fights.

The grappling hook on the prosthetic arm can instantly take you above or around your enemy. It can latch onto your enemy as well, bringing you in for an attack. Presumably there will be some attacks that require the speed and distance of a grapple to escape.

This also vastly opens up the potential for boss fights. From does a great job with 1v1, knight vs knight boss fights. But now that we can ascend vertically, there’s more potential for taking on God of War scale bosses without just hacking away at the ankles.

What Else is New in Sekiro?

The trailer offers a lot of clues into things you can do. In fact, without being invited to any behind-closed-doors demos at E3 and just looking at the trailer, YouTuber VaatiVidya was able to guess many of the game’s new features.

For example, Sekiro‘s trailer shows the player dying to the oversized murakumo wielder, before resurrecting and backstabbing him. This is a game system in Sekiro — players can actually die to strategically shed agro, before resurrecting to try again. Almost as if you DIE TWICE, GEDDIT?

You’ll get one free revive every time you start, and then it will cost some resources. That may be changed, however — Miyazaki is being careful to not let it ruin the tension and consequence attached to death. In fact, the stated goal is to be more difficult than previous games, but also provide creative means to overcome those new challenges.

Sekiro poison vomit murakumo combat
Something tells us there will be a poison affliction.

Activision won’t have a say in how the game is built, but it will be helping in areas that From is self-admittedly weak in — such as tutorials. And although it’s been stated there’s no multiplayer, we’re still holding out hope for some kind of unannounced PvP.

Since stealth will play a prominent role, you’ll be able to overhear enemy conversations in Sekiro as well. This could provide situational benefits, such as alerting you to an important environmental advantage or informing you of when someone will drop their guard. It could also provide general knowledge of enemy weaknesses, and hugely, it could be another of From’s innovative vehicles for lore.

How is it Similar to Souls?

Although Sekiro features a named protagonist, as opposed to creating your own character, the storytelling style will largely be the same.

Speaking to Stevivor, Miyazaki said ““What [I’m] not going to be making is a cutscene-laden, super heavily laced in single path story in this game. It’s going to be more like there are little tid bits of story all throughout the world that you discover as you explore.”

That’s great news for fans of the Soulsbourne style of understated storytelling.

Miyazaki again, speaking to Famitsu:

Let me be clear: this is not a game in which the story takes priority. There are times when the story pushes the characters, but otherwise, in most respects, storytelling is little different from our previous works.

That means Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice will have that classic Soulsbourne post-launch period of community lore gathering. It’s one of the more special experiences we’ve had in gaming — an entire community coming together to puzzle out all the pieces of lore. And now we’ll have overheard enemy sound bites as an additional tool.

There will be progressions systems in place for the main character, but From envisions Sekiro as more of an Action-adventure game than an RPG. That means no stat levelling, or collectible armour or weapons.

We’re very happy to hear that the world will be “very similar to Dark Souls 1.” A fully interconnected map. Of course this time, you’ll be exploring it all with the freedom and speed of the grappling hook.

A pre-E3 leak – which should always be taken with a grain of salt, of course – claimed that Sekiro would mostly be set in rural Japan, with a “bigger city to explore later.”

It’s been a long time since the Tenchu games, and From Software has a new roster of developers. To make an actual Tenchu game seemed like improper imitation to Miyazaki. Sekiro could be seen as a spiritual sequel, though it’s certainly looking unique.

There’s a lot to parse there. The verticality and parry-heavy combat system are unusual, yet seem oddly perfect after so many years of circle-strafing with a shield up. Souls fans might be worried about the lack of multiplayer and gear/stat upgrading, but will undoubtedly be happy to hear the world will emulate that of Dark Souls 1 — a feat even Souls sequels failed to achieve.

As usual, in Miyazaki we trust.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice will be available in early 2019 on Xbox One, PS4, and PC.

Jeremy Ray
Managing Editor at FANDOM. Decade-long games critic and esports aficionado. Started in competitive Counter-Strike, then moved into broadcast, online, print and interpretative pantomime. You merely adopted the lag. I was born in it.
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