Why Sekiro’s Combat is an Important Departure For From Software

It seems like Sekiro and dodgeball have more in common than we thought.

With gaming fans across the world being treated with a revealing trailer of From Software’s latest game at E3 2018, we are now graced with an immersive first glimpse of the world of “Soulsborne” successor: Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. Prior to the release of gameplay footage during Gamescom, many longtime fans of Hidetaka Miyazaki’s previous games expressed concern about the features that will not be returning in Sekiro. The game’s director confirmed the absence of online PvP, character customisation (in terms of both character builds and physical appearance) as well as fashion; a beloved aspect of previous “Soulsborne” games. This raises the question of what component of Sekiro is so important that it would replace these long term elements. The answer was revealed to us in the latest gameplay demos; the most fluid combat seen in a third-person game to date.

It is fair to assume that From Software has been indicating for quite some time their upcoming vision to us with a clear distaste towards the reliance on shields throughout the Dark Souls series. This distaste culminates with Bloodborne, a gaming masterpiece that all but removes the shield (there are but two shields in the game, one of which mocks its appearance: “Shields are nice, but not if they engender passivity”). Going by Sekiro‘s trailer, passivity is anything but the theme of the game’s detailed and fluid combat. In previous From Software games the player character had two options of avoiding taking damage; rolling or blocking. Sekiro offers us five unique ways in which you can avoid that iconic red text upon death.

Think of the 5 D’s of dodgeball and you have an idea of the wealth of options provided to the player in terms of damage evasion. From the gameplay demos we can clearly see specific move sets from enemies that necessitate certain actions from Sekiro. The game provides a brief, visible prompt to warn the player that the next attack cannot be blocked, and that they must either dodge, slide, jump, parry or … dodge. What is interesting about this component is that the prompt is merely a danger sign in Japanese; it does not say “dodge” or “parry’, but indicates that the next attack cannot be blocked, thus giving the player full control over how they deal with the approaching threat. The combat provides greater fluidity and control to the player than ever before.

Thanks to the grappling hook arm attachment, verticality is now a constant option to make use of in the world of Sekiro rather than appearing solely for set pieces. In addition to this there are now stealth elements which add a whole new facet to how the player can approach situations. In the gameplay demo, we see Sekiro leap from rooftops performing devastating stealth attacks, as well as evading patrolling enemies. With the introduction of the posture system, draining the lifebar of some enemies is not enough to kill them. For situations like these Sekiro has implemented a varied amount of execution moves that must be performed in addition to draining an opponent’s lifebar. Basically, this is a highly stylised way of finishing off enemies. Coupled with new mini-bosses, Sekiro looks to make every enemy and combat interaction unique and memorable for the player.

Our very first glimpse of Shadows Die Twice during The Game Awards in December was of Sekiro’s prosthetic arm. From the gameplay demos, we see only a portion of its functionality. The prosthesis is heavily customisable; we see three attachments in the trailer that allude to vastly different playstyles. The Loaded Axe is a heavy-hitting weapon that accompanies the default sword that gives Sekiro more poise while attacking. Also, there is the fire-spitting attachment that allows Sekiro to shoot a spurt of fire, or even imbue his blade with flame. Last but not least, the Shuriken attachment can disrupt an enemy’s action or movements. There are bound to be more options that will be unlocked later in the game too, as well as upgrades to each contraption; what we have seen so far is only a small sample of the promising vast depth of Sekiro‘s gameplay.

By narrowing down build variety, the player is required to embrace this new combat system. The intention I have always felt while traversing the “Soulsborne” games was to make intuitive combat. Bloodborne achieves this quite well by encouraging a play style that has an ebb and flow to it, but my impression of Sekiro indicates that From Software’s latest IP fully realises this open-ended, complex yet varied combat that the series has been moving towards since Demons’ Souls.

What Sekiro leaves behind from the “Soulsborne” series it more than makes up for with its emphasis on breathing new life into the gameplay and combat that has come to define an entire genre. By streamlining other features and restricting conservative, turtling playstyles, we are required to experience Sekiro as it is intended.

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