You will enjoy the gameplay and dying a thousand deaths.
You play Sekiro ("Wolf" in Japanese), who is a shinobi and the bodyguard to Kuro, the Divine Heir. In their bid to escape Ashina Castle, Sekiro and Kuro's attempt is hindered by Genichiro, who needs the latter for his own nefarious scheme. Sekiro loses Kuro and his arm to Genichiro and is left for dead. But he's rescued by the Sculptor, who fashions a prosthetic arm for him. With his new arm and resolve, Sekiro storms Ashina Castle to rescue his charge once more.
Here be spoilers…
What we like
Hey. Do you like dying? Because that will happen. A lot.
And if you don't like dying, well… tough, because dying it's gonna happen. I didn't play Dark Souls but I've heard about the difficulty and I figured, Sekiro shouldn't be too hard to get a handle on…
Bullshit. Shadows die twice, my ass. I died more times than I can remember.
Years of button-mashing prove useless in Sekiro. It's a complete overhaul on how you fight. Your character starts out with a katana and shortly after, a prosthetic left arm that you can enhance with Shinobi Tools—a heavy axe that can obliterate any obstacles in your way; an umbrella that can fend off projectiles. The learning curve is steep as your basic moves are to guard, deflect and attack. The combat mechanics are as such—guarding nullifies attacks but is powerless against enemies' Perilous Attacks, which ranges from a sweep to a grab. But each attack can be countered. It's almost like rock-paper-scissors. If an enemy thrusts, you can reply with a Mikiri Counter, if an enemy engages with a sweep attack, you can step dodge or jump off the enemy's head for posture damage.
Ah, yes. So, the inhabitants of Sekiro's world have a vitality bar and a posture bar. The former is, of course, your life; lower that to kill said person. The latter is something like your enemy's concentration, you increase the gauge to a point where it leaves them vulnerable for you to perform a Deathblow.
Which results in some really spectacular deaths.
But you'll die a lot as the learning curve is steep. You have a microsecond to recognise what an enemy is going to perform before you react. And each enemy is different. Your fingers will fumble, your timing will be off. You get to learn new Combat Arts but your life bar and strength remain the same throughout the game.
But after a while, dying doesn't seem to matter. Death, in its multitude, doesn't faze you as it did. Sure, you play it safe, you plan the times you need to rest at the Sculptor's Idols to save, you start sneaking more but now you're able to readily face up to the dangers ahead. You strategise how you die. See, in the game, when you die, you don't really die. You have an option to resurrect and to either continue the battle or run away to the nearest Sculptor's Idol or to a safe spot to recuperate (running away isn't cowardice, it's strategy).
If you used up your gauges for resurrections, you will attain True Death. It's not the end of the game for you but each True Death means the spread of Dragonrot to your friendly NPCSs. Once they are affected with Dragonrot, any quest that they have for you will be stopped.
But you continue forth and after a while, you get better at it. It clicks for you. There's a feeling of enormous well-being when you surmount a boss in battle or when you attain a new Shinobi Tool for your prosthetic arm.
The game is filled with eclectic characters and a storyline that will string you along despite the gameplay difficulty. It's such a beautifully rendered world. A pretty picture with death nipping at the edges.
What we didn't like
There's no option for you to adjust the game difficulty (well, there is but it increases the difficulty). It's a steep learning curve that will test your patience. In fact, this game isn't for everyone. In fact, there's a possibility—a very high possibility—that you will not finish the game. With a sense of embarrassment, you'll put the game aside, maybe on the bookshelf.
The years will go by. You move on to other things like working in a rewarding job or raising your family. You'll lose friends, you'll see your parents die. As you clear the house, you come across Sekiro. It's a little faded, covered in dust. You smile at the memory, of the multiple failures, the inventive swearing. This unchecked item on your list feels heavy in your hands and you'd replay it but it's the future and you're using a PS8, a device that is equipped with the latest graphics cards and memory storage but its backward compatibility only goes as far back as the PS5.
The years roll by and soon you're in the twilight of your life. And at your deathbed, the word, Sekiro, will pass your lips before you pass on. The game remains unfinished.
What to look out for
Exploration is encouraged. Items are found in back alleys, nooks and crannies. And if you're looking for a bit of schadenfreude to laugh at, there are plenty of video compilations of players dying and cursing the hell at the screen.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is out now and is available on PS4, Xbox One and PC.