Shadows Die Twice may be something of a misnomer as the subtitle of FromSoftware’s brutal upcoming action game, Sekiro. Anyone who has played Dark Souls or Bloodborne will know that making it through a FromSoftware title with just two deaths would be nothing short of superhuman. During my first hands-on session with Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice at the Activision offices in Los Angeles, I am not ashamed to say that my death count was closer to two digits than two. Although, for viewers’ sake, I may have edited out a few of my less informative failures. If it’s not already clear, the footage above might not be suitable for the squeamish.
Luckily for me, Andrew Petrie, associate producer at Activision for Sekiro, was on hand during my demo to offer some exclusive commentary and alternate strategies to help me cut my way through. First, Petrie gave a breakdown of the grappling hook housed within the player character’s “shinobi prosthetic.” Grappling for traversal was limited to certain preset points such as tree branches and statues on buildings, but movement and jumping felt smooth, fast, and much freer than anything in the Souls milieu once I started to get used to the controls.
The game’s light stealth mechanics were also a satisfying experience. Clearing out weaker enemies through a series of death-from-above kills, stealth executions, and ledge-hang assassinations gave me a nice moment or two of feeling competent before the first of the demo’s mid-bosses, the Samurai General, sliced me down a notch or two.
Swordplay in Sekiro is based around a system called Posture, in which attacking and parrying will fill up a gauge on an enemy, and once that gauge is full, the enemy will be left open for a deathblow. Certain enemies require multiple posture-break deathblows to take down completely.
Aside from the Posture system, the player character can also handle multiple deaths before he’s down for good. The reason for the game’s subtitle, Shadows Die Twice, is the built-in resurrection mechanic. As I killed enemies, I accumulated a resource I could use to come back to life up to two times before reaching a fail-state load screen.
Augmenting the combat system is the inclusion of a variety of arm tools. In the demo, I was given control of the Loaded Axe, Flame Vent, and Loaded Shuriken. Some enemies will be weak to specific arm tools, and each tool has a combo ability that can be chained into a regular sword swing for an additional effect. For example, attacking with a long-range shuriken before swinging the sword will perform a gap-closing attack. Chaining a burst from the Flame Vent into a sword slash, on the other hand, will light the blade and give it elemental properties for a short time.
In my fight against the Samurai General, those tricks didn’t avail me much, and I wasn’t able to make much progress until Petrie suggested an alternate route where I could sneak in a deathblow to kick off the fight. Even with an early advantage, though, the tides of battle proved they could turn quickly. Knowing he was beaten and in a fit of bad sportsmanship, the General knocked me off the edge of the world with a nasty stab.
Eventually, I was able to take the General down in a deeply satisfying flurry of airborne swings and progress to the demo’s next big bad, the Chained Ogre. He was much more intimidating in stature than the General, but exploiting his flame weakness, I was able to make relatively short work of him.
Beyond that point, gameplay recording was no longer permitted, but the demo closed out with one more set-piece involving a game of cat-and-mouse with a giant white snake and a fight with a naginata-wielding final boss, the Corrupted Monk. Suffice it to say that at the time of my demo, no member of the press had ever successfully defeated the Monk. For more detailed info on Sekiro’s gameplay mechanics, be sure to watch the full exclusive video above. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice will be released on PS4, Xbox One, and PC on March 22.