I’m not sure how it took me so long to get here, but I’ve arrived. Having beaten all the Dark Souls games multiple times over, I finally made the leap into The Bloodeborne-esque Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice.
After running through the game for one full play through, I can safely say that I was incredibly disappointed. And also blown away in ways nothing else Fromsoft has put out has matched, but mostly disappointed, all the same. And I do realize I’m stepping way out over the abyss here, so I’ll do my best to give reasonable arguments to calm to anger that’s likely rising out of all of you over this heresy.
Sekiro is a very good game. Everything from the story telling and aesthetic to the pure craftsmanship of the combat and mechanics are top notch, as is expected when it comes to FromSoftware games. Even I, someone who generally hates linear gameplay in a world that feels like there should be a lot of freedom, was finding my enjoyment being carried through thick and thin by the smooth combat. And when that wasn’t enough, the world surrounding said combat seasoned the game just enough to pull me through the rougher parts of the game. And there were rougher parts. And since its going to be a while before I can put out a video review of the game, I thought I’d quickly write up some of my issues with Sekiro (if for no other reason, to not forget them).
Exploration in FromSoftware games is often what directly relays a player’s skill to those viewing a playthrough, aside from obvious mechanical skill. A seasoned veteran of Dark Souls, for example, will be able to tackle each of the game’s challenges in a direct manner. Stray paths and hidden areas are often untouched by this player, unless he or she has a completionist’s mindset. The new player, however, will be hard pressed to beat any part of Dark Souls without first getting some additional benefits from the areas around him or her first.
With Sekiro, FromSoftware took this exploration style of development and littered it with useless rewards before sticking the whole thing into a world that was better off being strictly linear. Every time I found myself pushing my way through a side area, I was inevitably met with the disappointment of what met me as a reward. Coins, healing items, or perhaps temporary tank / damage buffs for the player. No weapon upgrades, nothing to gain permanent value for your character (aside from the rare prayer bead), nothing to make me want to continue exploring, ever. Mind you, I respect this game, so I still did. But I was never happy about the exploration, ever.
In other FromSoftware games, everyone from the newbie to the veteran can, if they wish, gain meaningful benefits and experiences from moving off the beaten path. In fact, its actively encouraged by the games to do so. Upgrades, armor, new weapons, and even items that can’t be used in any spectacular way, in tandem with their descriptions, provide each player with new gameplay, lore, and hints on how to progress through the game. The Crest of Artorias comes to mind as a prime example.
But in Sekiro, your met with more healing items, temporary damage sugar, and coins (which are used to buy more of said consumables). They’re surely meager rewards when the time spent exploring these areas that provide them equal to at least half of the game. Speaking of time spent in the game…
This is going to be a controversial point, since a lot of people would argue that this problem exists in multiple FromSoftware games, but I’m going to argue my case all the same: Sekiro does a very, very poor job of telling the player where to go to continue the main story. There were a couple of instances where I found this issue glaring. First, after pushing my way through the Senpou temple, I was greeted by a decaying character who told me to search for someone in the inner sanctum. Following an hour of exploring (trying to find my way to the next area) I talked to this decaying character again. He pleaded for me to return to Lord Kuro, the character I was trying to protect.
Was this simply character development? Was the decaying character showing regret after exhausting his main dialogue? Or was this genuine direction on where to go next? If so, why did he tell me to go to the inner sanctum first? To cut the story short, yes, I had to return to Kuro. And no, I don’t know why I was told otherwise at all. Apparently I had pushed through the Temple too quickly and was being blocked from progressing until I met up with Kuro back at the Ashina Castle. Grand.
The castle, by the way, was only accessible by going off and parkouring in a certain alleyway to reach the top before breaking in. And I have no issue with this kind of break-in world design (Hello, Anor Londo) but having such a pivotal area of the game be blocked behind knowing to go right after jumping on a roof instead of following the trail of boss fights (or go in literally any other direction) feels a bit lazy to me.
The other occurrence was just before fighting my way into the Sunken Valley. Turns out you have to jump down from an unsuspecting cliff to reach it. I’ll chalk this one up to me being a dumbass, but I still feel this path was poorly translated to the player. Especially in the case of the player who’s trying to beat the game blind, as I was.
The Biggest Issue
Honestly what makes these two things such a pain isn’t really that they exist in the game. Every game has shit like this. Every game has something that isn’t perfect. What struck me as so detrimental to my enjoyment of this game was that these two issues are littered in the majority of the game and actually exacerbate each other. You’ll be either be searching for a way forward on the main path or exploring a side area soooooo often in this game, that these two issues aren’t just one off’s. They are consistent throughout a solid majority of the experience, hence this article’s title.
I was either annoyed that I was giving the game the respect of searching every nook and cranny (which I eventually stopped doing so I could end the damn thing) or I was stressed out about the amount of time I might have been wasting is I wasn’t on the right path (because I had no way of knowing what that path might have actually been after the Senpou temple). Sometimes, I had no clue if I was on a side path or on the main one. Which is normally fine, mind you, but knowing that only one of those options will provide me with a good experience means I was more stressed than relaxed playing this game. Not my experience of choice, let me tell you.
In short, when you’re in combat, or listening to some dialogue, or in the process of learning a new boss, this game a straight masterpiece. But every other second you spend in this game will be at least equally draining as the combat is fun. And those seconds add up to way too for too big a chunk of this game for me to brush aside. A very good game that I had a mixed experience with. Such a shame, but I’m sure my second playthough, if it ever comes, would be far more enjoyable.