Pipe Dream

Well, we’re already a fair way into March and this year is pulling no punches when it comes to the release schedule. With another hotly anticipated title just around the corner, let’s take a look at From Software’s latest entry, Sekiro: Shadow’s Die Twice.
It’s been two years since From’s last major content drop, this being Dark Souls 3’s ‘The Ringed City’ – the final chapter (or so we’ve been told…) which provided a bittersweet conclusion to the Dark Souls series. Whilst many were disappointed that From decided to move away from the Dark Souls IP, many more, myself included, are hyped for the possibilities brought about by a fresh new setting, along with the opportunity to develop unique gameplay systems as well as refine those which have become common place in From Software titles.
So for those out of the loop, let’s take some time to look over what we know so far about Sekiro.
Setting
This time around, players are taken to 16th Century Japan, during the Sengoku Period. This particular time period was highlighted by near constant military conflict as well as social upheaval. Whilst seemingly small, a legitimate in game reason for the vast majority of enemies is appreciated, showcasing From’s attention to detail.
Sekiro takes place in 16th Century Japan
Protagonist
Players will take control of ‘The One Armed Wolf’, a shinobi with a unique skill set – enabled by his swiss army knife limb replacement system. This extremely useful extremity will be sure to keep gameplay fresh, providing the opportunity for diverse combos, allowing combat and traversal to flow nicely.
Our player character ‘The One Armed Wolf’
Gameplay
From the brief look we’ve had so far, Sekiro incorporates a mix of the careful, considered approach required of Dark Souls, as well as the all out aggression required by Bloodborne. There are however some key differences which change up the formula. Let’s focus first on the combat. Players will be required to think on the fly, adjusting their approach based on the aggression they are faced with – this is achieved with the previously mentioned  adaptable limb. The limb can be used aggressively as well as defensively, akin to the transformation attacks of Bloodborne as well as the defensive options offered by Dark Souls. Also added to the mix is the ability to mark enemies, this allows the player to see where danger is approaching from through a coloured indicator – something I’m less excited for. From have given the player the tools to approach combat in a controlled, strategic way, making this indicator system seem slightly superfluous, I’ll wait until I get my hands on the game before passing judgement. Movement looks to be quite different from what we’re use to, with traversal playing a key role. Our Shinobi’s limb can be used to reach higher platforms effortlessly, whether this be to escape conflict, allow for a better view of the surroundings or access those sweet, sweet hidden goodies. Level design has been adapted to incorporate this movement style, with verticality being a top priority. A wall jump/scramble is also available to bridge the gap between large and small distances in terms of jumps. Lastly, we have the much discussed death mechanic, clues in the name right? Whereas previously players would be taken back to a bonfire or lantern, pride in the dirt with not a soul/blood echo to their name, now, players will be given a second chance to ‘redo’ so to speak. Throwing players straight back into the action allows for swift justice, as long as the player doesn’t make the same mistake twice. This could allow for some very interesting moments to play out – From have hinted in some cases the player will look to purposely die, to gain a strategic advantage.
Traversal will play a key role in Sekiro
Story
Anyone who’s played a From game before will be familiar with the hands off approach to world building and storytelling, the player can garner as little or as much information as they wish – not this time, Sekiro looks set to follow a carefully laid narrative. In terms of what we’ve managed to glean from the trailers so far, our player character, a yet unnamed Shinobi, suffers defeat at the hands of a rival clan member, leading to the loss of his arm as well as the kidnapping of his lord, a rough day for anyone, Shinobi or not. A carefully woven journey of revenge awaits, we at Pipedream are firmly on board.
So, now you’re all caught up, let’s delve deeper into what we’ve seen so far.
Delving Deeper
From the majority of gameplay clips we’ve seen so far, executions have shown to be a prevalent aspect of Sekiro, this is due to the new combat system From have introduced. No longer will enemies sport the overhead health bars, a staple of the series, instead, you will need to work towards breaking an enemies poise – once achieved, an execution will be available to secure the kill. An example is an aerial execution – when performed from stealth, it appears to one hit the lower level grunts. From has placed a significant amount of focus on the sneaky stabby gameplay style – A dedicated crouch button as well as prompts to ‘Hug walls’ allow for a more strategic approach to your assault, a welcome addition. This is rounded off by a glowing weak spot which is highlighted when approaching enemies, signifying an execution can be performed. The health system underpinned by chugging those magical, life giving potions makes its return, this time under the guise of a ‘Healing Gourd’. This item, much like its predecessors can be upgraded using ‘gourd seeds’, likely a hard to come by item if previous From titles are anything to go by. Eagle eyed gamers will have also noticed the ‘eavesdrop’ button prompt during gameplay videos, as of yet, this is not programmed to do anything – my guess is it will feed into the lore as well as provide specific advantageous information, such as that pertaining to a guards patrol route, for example, perhaps the location of hidden items. If lore is indeed included in eavesdropping segments, this will likely please die-hard From fans who have come to enjoy the organic storytelling elements of previous entries. If nothing else, another reason to explore the beautiful world From has crafted is absolutely fine by me.
This transitions us nicely to the art style and world design, something which in my opinion, is a vital aspect of any title if it hopes to immerse it’s audience. Sekiro fires on all cylinders, providing awesome vistas, interesting verticality as well as a purposely subtle colour palette, giving weight to the time period we are playing through. With each subsequent From game, they seem to get better and better at creating a cohesive, well realised world.
“A subtle colour palette, giving weight to the time period we’re playing through”
Finally, a brief aside to level design, I’m hoping for interconnected levels akin to the first Dark Souls. Whilst subsequent entries incorporated shortcuts as well as some interconnected elements within levels, nothing has reached the heights of the initial sprawling complex offered up by Dark Souls. This type of level design allows for players to familiarise themselves with their environment, finding the quickest routes as well as the best approach for boss runs – this combined with the stealth elements introduced in Sekiro could make for a tasty combo.
So, that brings us to the end of our Pipedream preview.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice releases on 22nd March for Playstation 4, Xbox One as well as Microsoft Windows. You can pre order your copy now:
As always, thanks for reading, we’ll catch you on the worn torn battlefields of 16th century Japan.
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