'Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice' a dream for challenge-hungry gamers
From Software delivers a brutally hard game that appeals to a market neglected by mainstream gaming companies
One of my favourite video game developers is the awkwardly named From Software, a Japanese studio whose unwavering resolve to produce the games it wants to, regardless of marketability, is an example to other developers.
From Software was most recently known for the Dark Souls series, a trilogy of very challenging fantasy action games that appealed to gamers looking for a greater challenge than mainstream games provide. However, it did something unusual for a developer in this day and age and drew a line under its well-established Souls franchise - which other developers would have milked indefinitely - and moved onto something new. That's another feather in its cap, if you ask me.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is its latest offering, and while it might appear to be similar to the Souls series because it's a challenging third-person action adventure game, the differences become apparent very quickly when you actually play it.
The game is set in a fantastic version of the Sengoku period of Japanese history, casting players in the role of a ninja named Wolf, who is on a mission to rescue his master, a young boy-emperor whose blood has the ability to resurrect people. Early into the game, Wolf's left arm is severed and he's left for dead. Luckily he's rescued by an enigmatic sculptor who gives him a mechanical prosthetic arm to use in his rescue mission.
This mechanical arm is one of the main features of the game and can accept a wide variety of attachments including a spring-loaded axe, a flamethrower, shurikens and a steel folding umbrella for blocking arrows and bullets. In conjunction with his formidable sword skills, Wolf can use this arm to fight against the legions of weird and wonderful enemies in his path.
WATCH | The game trailer for Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
But don't expect it to be easy: this game is way harder than Dark Souls ever was. To makes things easier, Wolf can sneak around and stealthily murder enemies (he is a ninja after all) but there are occasions when he has no choice but to fight, and these battles are tough.
Every enemy in the game has an attribute called "posture", indicated by a bar underneath their life gauge, and if Wolf can lower this bar by relentless attacking, he can knock them off balance and finish them with a single strike. It's not too hard to do on the common enemies in the game, but for the larger enemies and bosses, it's way harder than it sounds.
You can't just whale on them until their guard is broken because while you're attacking them, they're attacking right back, turning each fight into a prolonged rally of attacking, blocking, dodging and countering. It's probably the best sword combat in any videogame ever.
Just fighting the enemies will take you long enough, but Sekiro is a huge game with gorgeous locations to explore and secret areas to find, offering money, items, new weapons and sometimes even hidden special moves to learn, which can further tip the odds in your favour.
I tip my hat to From Software for making a brutally hard game to appeal to the smaller market of challenge-hungry gamers.
• Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is available on PS4, PC, Xbox One..