In a confluence of bizarre surprises, From Software debuted its new Activision-published action game, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, at Microsoft’s E3 2018 press conference. As we’ve long known, it’s not a Dark Souls game, and importantly, it’s not a Bloodborne sequel either. But it is directed by Souls luminary Hidetaka Miyazaki, and its press release confirms that Sekiro is set in late 1500s Sengoku Japan.
Some other solid facts: it’s a “third-person action-adventure game with RPG elements”. The press material also specifies that it’s a “single-player” game, so we may not see the online cooperative / PvP elements featured in other From Software action RPGs. “The protagonist [is] a hard-hearted warrior whose mission is to rescue his master, a young lord, and exact revenge on his arch nemesis,” so reads the press release. “As ‘Sekiro,’ or the ‘one-armed wolf,’ players will discover the many ways to strategically approach combat and engage enemies.”
Now that the facts are out of the way, let’s dissect that trailer.
Dance of death
Combat is obivously faster and less defense-oriented than the Souls series, and even ups the ante compared to Bloodborne. Sekiro is known as the ‘one-armed wolf’, and on the evidence of the trailer at least, it appears his mechanical arm will be the aspect of Sekiro’s combat approach with the most nuance and customisation.
Note that throughout the trailer, Sekiro wields a sword in his left hand the entire time. His right hand (the mechanical one) blocks, seemingly retrieves axes out of thin air, triggers defensive umbrella flurries of blades, and contains a grappling hook. This might be evidence that Shadows Die Twice will feature a skill unlock and combo upgrade system, rather than the number-centric one we’re used to using in the Souls games.
The trailer’s final encounter with the giant fellow on the horse features the most exciting combat footage. Note how in the heat of battle, Sekiro evades his enemy’s attack not with the usual From Soft dodge-roll (or in Bloodborne’s case, the side-step), but with a rapid leap. This presents an interesting idea: will Sekiro have a jump button? Like, a real one? For a dexterity-oriented action game it seems like a given, though it’s not guaranteed. Note how Sekiro uses his grappling hook to quickly close in on his opponent to deliver a cheeky sword whip to the face. Perhaps you don’t need to jump if you can grapple. (This looks like a jump-button jump, though.)
Death is not the end?
Who is Sekiro? Well, it looks like he was ready to have a peaceful ol’ death, but for better or worse, he’s now alive again. He's told: “death is not your fate just yet”. During his aborted death Sekiro lost his right limb, and he's told its mechanical replacement is “something much more useful”. “You’ll learn to appreciate its worth,” he’s told, likely pointing to the limb's customisation and powers.
Later, after being minced by a huge blade-wielding foe, the voiceover chides: “your death won’t come easy”. Sekiro then appears to regain life before plunging his blade into the brute’s shoulder. Nice!
But this seems important. It seems obvious that Sekiro simply cannot die until his master, the young lord, is made safe again. But this scene leads to huge questions about how the game will handle punishment: it seems possible that From Software is eschewing the familiar checkpoint systems used in Dark Souls and Bloodborne, and this will no doubt affect level design as much as it will the pace of the game.
And the trailer has mixed signals regarding the “pace of the game”. It’s a thick-and-fast action game, yes, but are there stealth elements too? Quite possibly.
Here's two of three examples in the trailer that Sekiro will need to be quiet sometimes:
And here's Sekiro performing a stealthy takedown:
Sekiro will also feature "vertical traversal" according to the official Activision press release, though it's hard to get a handle on just how flexible the grappling hook will prove, based on the footage in the trailer. Will it grapple onto any surface, or just specific types? Will it help Sekiro close in on all enemies, or just certain types?
Whatever the case, it's exciting to see From Software depart from the dark fantasy and horror settings they've traded in these past eight years. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice will release in 2019.