Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is one of two upcoming titles by From Software, who is best known for the insanely difficult Dark Souls trilogy.

At Gamescom 2018, I played Sekiro and died more than twice, and each time I learned something – the game is incredibly fun.

At first glance you might think Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is rivaling titles such as Ghost of Tsushima and Nioh 2. At a closer glance, however, you can spot everything that makes it into an exceptional successor to the Dark Souls trilogy.

I’ve only recently started getting into the souls-like subgenre, with games likes Death’s Gambit and Dead Cells. But Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice has delivered the final blow, and now I am fully prepared to dive headfirst into the genre. It takes a compelling title to change my mind like that and, well, Sekiro is that kind of game.

The Gamescom demo puts you at the foot of a mountain-side castle. The Japanese setting of Sekiro is beautiful from the very first glance, and everywhere you look you see marvelous Japanese architecture and autumn colored cherry trees. It is here that I got to use the first of Sekiro’s many abilities, and the one that immediately made me realize this it as my kind of game – the grappling hook.

You can use the hook to quickly scale buildings, walls, and trees, or traverse the game world. But it can also be used to flee a battle if you’re overpowered.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice grappling hook

I quickly grappled my way up a few buildings until I eventually found myself standing above a path where an enemy Samurai was patrolling. I utilized the advantage of higher ground to jump down and assassinate him, but a few other Samurai noticed me and started slashing toward me, so naturally, I engaged in combat.

The combat of Sekiro starts off similar to other games in the genre. You focus on dodging at the right time while timing your slashes to take out enemies quickly and carefully. You can also jump, and land aerial combos on enemies.

What I failed to notice at first is the way parrying fits into all of this. Sekiro can parry incoming attacks if you time the action to the second the attack should land. Whenever you successfully deflect a blow, your assassination bar fills up a bit. You see, in Sekiro you can kill enemies in two ways – you can either get their health down to zero or max your assassination bar and kill them with one hit. It even works on bosses, although some of those might require more than one assassination attempt.

So after figuring out the combat, bit by bit, I managed to climb into the castle. There I encounter tougher, more heavily armored enemies. Naturally, they killed me, because I this is a From Software game. Luckily, Sekiro, as the title suggests, lets you die (at least) twice.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice combat

Once you die, you are given a choice: resurrect or go back to a shrine. Resurrection gives you a one-time free pass from death. Also, you can come across extra lives which you can collect, and so you can effectively resurrect more than once before having to return to a shrine. Obviously, this is incredibly useful when you’re still learning the ropes, but even in later battles, it gives you a second chance to try a different strategy if your first attempt failed miserably.

Coming back to life was indeed useful when I found myself in a pit, facing a huge, ogre-like creature. My first attempts did not go very well, but on my fifth attempt I found out how to use another of Sekiro’s many unique abilities: the prosthetic arm.

In the Gamescom demo, I got to try out two kinds of prosthetic arms. The first one was an axe arm that could land powerful blows on enemies but will break after a few uses.

The second and the more interesting of Sekiro’s prosthetic arms is the flame arm. It can shoot streams of fire which can burn enemies for sustained damage, but it can also light your Katana on fire, allowing you to perform blazing slashes at enemies.

It feels wonderful. I felt so damn powerful wielding a flaming Katana and slashing at the ogre-like creature, and after figuring this little trick out, I quickly took it out. Little did I know that this was just a mini-boss, and what awaits me is far, far more terrifying.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice fire arm

I arrived at a broken bridge, and it is clear that I want to cross over to the other side of the cliff, where the rest of the castle is. After looking around, I discovered that there’s a way for me to climb down the cliff. Before I got very far, a gigantic wyrm attacked me, nearly killing me. Luckily, I use one of my healing gourds to regain health. Sekiro has many items for you to use, the kind you expect for a deep souls-like game.

After escaping from the wyrm, I ended up in a cave. A dead end, it seems; or is it?  The wall turns around, leading inside the castle and towards another bridge.

As I step onto the bridge, the Cursed Monk jumps in front of me. It’s a monstrous enemy with spiritual powers of mist and a massive blade. A life bar appears, with three diamonds that serve to indicate the boss’s lives.

Trying all of the techniques I used so far didn’t work well. Not even setting my sword on fire! But it was then that I noticed that I could predict the patterns of the monk’s blade attacks, and parry them in time.

So I did just that. Parrying feels easier and more natural the more you use it until you’re basically juggling your enemy’s sword. With this technique, I manage to quickly get the Cursed Monk’s guard down and assassinate it. I fist pump; I feel fantastic, but then the Cursed Monk’s HP goes back up, and it disappears in a wave of mist. The game is no joke when it comes to difficulty, and the Cursed Monk boss fight has two more stages.

I never managed to beat the next two phases, but they also involve more deflecting and dodging.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice Cursed Monk

If you’re not playing souls-like games, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice might be the game to convince you otherwise. It lets you battle in many creative ways, and the various assassinations and combos are very streamlined and fun to execute. The Japanese setting is stunning to look at, and we should already start a petition to get a photo mode included in the final release.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice will release on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in 2019.

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