Sekiro: shadows die twice review: a samurai sword through the heart

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PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC; From Software/ActivisionThis often breathtaking game of serial assassination in 16th-century Japan is a treasure chest for players able lớn commit lớn learning its secrets


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The set-piece fights are breathtaking … Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. Photograph: FromSoftware/Activision
The set-piece fights are breathtaking … Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. Photograph: FromSoftware/Activision

This is a game about fighting through a supernaturally tinged recreation of 16th-century Japan as a deathless assassin with a sharp blade và a weaponised prosthetic arm, but there are plenty of moments when the sword is sheathed and the game shows a quiet cinematic discipline. A castle aflame on a hilltop, illuminating the gardens & courtyards below in the dead of night. Stolen minutes crouched hidden on rooftops, surveying patrolling guards, or strolling up an avenue lined with blossoming trees. Short, opaque conversations with dying samurai. Hiding in tall grass from a gigantic, bone-chilling serpent that tastes the air with its flickering tongue as it slithers massively through a valley. I have seen some extraordinary things in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, and still, after weeks, there is more ahead.

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Sekiro’s set-piece fights are breathtaking, clashing songs of steel whose different rhythms defy familiarisation. Fighting a hooded shinobi-hunter with a spear is a different dance from fighting a general on horsebachồng, or an elite swordsman, or a flaming beast. Avoiding attacks is usually impossible; instead, you must deflect them with your blade, seizing each momentary opening khổng lồ retaliate with your own slash, until an enemy’s posture is broken và they’re left open to a finishing blow.


In between these fights are castles, valleys, courtyards và dungeons full of lesser enemies, treasures, & rare friendly characters offering scant crumbs of conversational comfort or wares for sale. Each area is a puzzle: figure out where khổng lồ hide, và when to escape to the rooftops, & you can stealthily slice through five or six unfortunate soldiers before anyone realises you’re there. Being outnumbered swiftly leads to lớn your demise, so thinning out the ranks with stealth strikes và plunging blows from tree branches is vital.

Sekiro leaves no room for lapses of concentration. Three or four hits are usually enough to finish you off, và bosses can sometimes end you with a single undeflected strike. Dying means returning khổng lồ prayer idols scattered throughout the world, small oases that mark your progress. There are minimal punishments for failure in Sekiro’s world, as your shinobi can resurrect himself as often as needed. It expects you lớn die, over and over, until you develop the muscle memory to get past whichever bastard keeps bringing you down.

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In most difficult games, including director Hidetaka Miyazaki’s previous masterworks Dark Souls và Bloodborne, slow inch-by-inch progress can be made even when your skills or your nerves aren’t quite up to the lakiểm tra towering foe. You can mop up less intimidating enemies to lớn increase your stats or your confidence, hunt for a different weapon that might be more effective, try changing your tactics, or turn to lớn other players for assistance. In Sekiro, there is no help, little strategy, no missing piece of the puzzle: just you & a sword. It’s not unusual to lớn spover two or three hours repeatedly fighting the same adversary, hoping that THIS attempt will be the one, THIS will be the time where your reflexes or your nerves don’t fail you.

This makes Sekiro uncompromising. The rush when you finally run your sword through a samurai general for the final time is incomparable – after one battle the adrenaline was so strong I could physically taste it – but the preceding hours of trying và failing often drove sầu me to lớn despair. It offers no comforting sense of gradual progress, but a series of ever-ascending peaks. This is no accident. Sekiro’s designers invite you lớn fully inhabit the role of a shinobi, to lớn develop skills as sharp and unfailing as a real ninja swordsman, and lớn think deeply about death. But it is regrettable that this also closes off a fascinating game khổng lồ anyone without the time to devote lớn it.


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Sekiro’s prosthetic arm becomes a grhãng apple, a spear or a firecracker launcher as the situation demands. Photograph: FromSoftware/ActivisionIt is time, more than anything, that will determine whether you can experience Sekiro. Anyone can develop the skills, with practice, but not everyone is willing lớn spkết thúc so long throwing themselves at a briông xã wall. This is not a game you can chip away at, but one whose every challenge requires hours of sustained application. And some of its imposed sufferings, such as a currency for helpful special moves that sometimes runs dry and leaves you without even that small advantage, or being repeatedly forced to face the same five bodyguards before getting another shot at the general they are guarding, feel cruel and needless.

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If you’re at a point in life where you have frequent long evenings or empty weekends lớn throw at its mountainous challenges, you will find here an exquisite game whose subtle themes, gradually unfurling mysteries & beautiful samurai-period sights reward the determined và skilled player. Otherwise, Sekiro is a stubbornly locked treasure chest. It’s as if the Lord of the Rings had only been published in Tolkein’s own Elvish, unreadable without long hours of gruelling study.


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