A clashing of swords.
When I entered Activision’s demo room for Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, I briefly thought I was in the wrong room, as the home screen FromSoftware was showing off was so uncharacteristically colourful. But though Shadows Die Twice may not be as grimy as FromSoftware’s Souls series, it remixes its gameplay and idiosyncrasies with such finesse there was no doubt this game came from the same studio.
Shadows Die Twice takes place in Japan at the end of 1500s, in the warring period of Sengoku. FromSoftware is keen to stress that it’s not based on historical fact, rather, it’s a reimagining of this time period, and its primary aesthetic focus is to recreate the beauty of old Japan. It bursts through our demo in purple petals, turquoise skies and burning orange embers.
You play as the protector of a young Lord, who is being pursued by a currently-unnamed rival, the same kantana-weilding figure who cuts his arm off your arm in the trailer. Unlike in Souls, you are a fixed story character, and the focus is on playing as a ninja rather than a class of your choosing. Though FromSoftware mentions its other ninja series Tenchu as in influence, it’s keen to stress this is an entirely new game.
Not that being fixed into a single class is a bad thing. Your arm is replaced with a prosthetic, which can be customized with different tools depending on your challenge: during our demo, we saw it equipped with a flame attack and an axe that unfolds like Bloodborne trick weapon. It can also be used as a grappling hook, which sees you swing across massively vertical playgrounds like a feudal Spider-Man.
Such mobility lends itself to discovery. In the demo we saw, our protagonist leaped off rocky ledges to hidden platforms below, and stumbled into a secret passageways carved into the cliff face. Like Souls, Shadows Die Twice looks like it will encourage exploration, made easier with a one click jump.
It’s also used heavily in combat. You can do massive damage by leaping onto enemies from above (much like Souls, but with a cooler and bloodier animation), and sword fights are fast and frenzied. It’s still about timing, however, as a blocking move with your katana is Shadows Die Twice’s answer to parrying, and is vital to master. If you time your block just as your enemy attacks, you can drain his ‘posture’ and eventually deliver massive amounts of damage. The same can be done to you, so fighting very much feels like the realization of director Hidetaka Miyazaki’s vision for Shadows Die Twice: “a clashing of swords.”
In typical FromSoftware tradition, survival is going to be tough, and enemies are as big and as intimidating in Shadows Die Twice as we’ve come to expect (we saw a giant snake and a two-phase boss called a ‘corrupted monk’). While you’ll be relying a lot on Shadows Die Twice’s version of Estus Flasks, a new mechanic allows you to resurrect yourself after death. During our demo we saw our character resurrect himself twice, though we weren’t told exactly how it works, other than “the game is not going to be easy as a result of this resurrection feature,” there will be “penalties,” and “it’s not about reviving all the time”. On the flip side, we were told that enemies can be fooled into believing you’re dead and leave you alone, so sometimes choosing death and then resurrection is the smart option.
As our demo finished up, we were told that Shadows Die Twice is a single-player game only, and that though there won’t be stats, the team is “doing something different this time”. As is the norm after seeing a FromSoftware game for the first time, I was left with a tantalising taste of mystery, of worlds and systems begging to be cracked open.
Preorder Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice soon on Amazon.
Lucy O’Brien is Games & Entertainment Editor at IGN’s Sydney office. Follow her on Twitter.