What began with Demon Souls a decade ago in 2009 on the PS3 has come a long way. Spawning an entire genre of old school difficulty from the Ninja Gaiden days and adding in modern day refinements like online griefing to make the most loved it or hate it category in gaming to date.
Now “Souls” games themselves are not for everyone, and many a plebe has cried foul over the years for these games not being accessible to them. But here is the kicker. They are not suppose to be, nor do they have to be.
This genre is for the die hards, for those that love a challenge and rejoice in the fact of not having a difficulty slider. For those who come home after a hard day of work, and want to have their ass handed to them. There are no shortcuts, no cheats, no hand holding. Just you and the game until either you break through, or it breaks you.
And break me it did.
I used to be a Souls lover til the bitter end. Seeking out games for their challenge, playing and game I buy on the hardest setting to challenge myself. I felt I had to earn a story, to play it like the hero, struggle like they did.
Well you know what…
That is bullshit.
In the last year playing through my backlog (or last 5 years really) I have come to find a few things.
I no longer crave that challenge. I know I am a good gamer. I know I can play on Insane mode and win, and that has become enough for me.
Sekiro was the straw that broke the camels back.
Unlike other Souls games, for the first time this game does not have any online component. Now some may rejoice in this, you no longer have assholes invading your world and killing you in one hit. Which is wonderful.
But what you do not have now is the ability to call for help from wayward strangers looking to lend a hand to gamers truly stuck.
So in Sekiro, it is you against the machine, and that is it.
Now for the most part, that is great, and honestly, the searching and path-finding from previous games is here and it is better than all previous iterations of Souls games combined.
But where the stop gap comes is the boss fights.
About 50% of the way through I got stuck. And that kind of stuck that is not fun, think God of War Valkyrie on Give me God of War mode (which I did by the way, on my first play-through), where I could not simply grasp the mechanics to do the fight.
I tried dozens of different strategies online (something I never look at btw), all looking like they could cut this guy down like a knife through hot butter. Yet whatever I did, I could not progress. After about 10 hours I finally beat him, and the felling of elation that I should have had, was not there, it was bitter resentment. I was pissed I wasted 10 hours on a single boss, and it did not feel fulfilling in any way shape or form.
I continued along with my usual pace until the very end boss, and hit the same wall. It was the same guy again, and then followed up with another uber boss.
I was able to best the 1st form with relative ease, as I was so powerful now. And then his second form shredded me like tissue paper, over and over for 4 hours before I say, fuck this, and quit. Not out of rage, but out of apathy. I simply didn’t care at this point. It was no longer worth my time, and I really was not having fun anymore. So for my first time in my 43 years, at the final boss, I hung it up and quit, never to return.
And you know what, I am ok with that.
It shows how I have evolved as a gamer. It shows that I have grown up. I no longer need that crazy difficulty to validate myself in my own mind. I just want to play, to have fun, to unwind after a hard week. Not to put up with the BS mechanics in a otherwise perfect game.
And that is the real crux of it. Sekiro at its heart is fantastic.
They took the Souls genre and advanced it in a massive leap.
The stealth mechanic makes it feel like a weird mix of Tenchu meets Onimusha meets Metal Gear Solid 4.
Slap all that together and it is a great package.
The mini boss fights are hard but fun and fair.
The game progress system is leaps and bounds better than the old Souls game, now when you are killing things, you kind of bank your EXP. You have these little gems you use to upgrade your skills, and when you get X number of exp, you gain a gem. When you die, and gems you have are locked in.
You only lose half you unbanked exp and half your money.
The trade off is there is no place to go pick up the lost exp and cash, it is gone for good.
This added a weird farming component to it. When you make it to a new checkpoint, and if you are a few thousand away from another gem, you can warp to another “campfire” and kill a few lower level enemies you have no fear dying from to get the exp to the next level, so when you go back, you stand to lose nothing if you die.
It is a clever little hack that saves having to lose a ton of exp for nothing.
The skill trees in Sekiro work like a traditional RPG. You level up new skills buy using the gems you have. As you find new weapons and such you unlock completely new skill trees. All of which when fully maxed out give you a uber ability. But grinding them out is no small feat. After playing for about 40 hours, I was still nowhere close to my first uber ability.
On top of this you have a pile of items for you to use and master, and they are integral to success. From ninja flash-bangs (fire crackers) that stun an enemy, to a silly umbrella that is one of the most powerful items in the game as it can block even the biggest of hits when upgraded, it a switchblade like axe that is used to break enemies defensive stances.
All of this is used and balanced with some superb combat design.
You must absolutely master blocking and deflection if you hope to get anywhere in Sekiro. You and the enemies in the game have a stamina meter, the more you block heavy hits, the more you deplete stamina. Deplete a boss all the way, and you can do a crushing move that can kill him (or take his health bar down 1 level) even if he has 90% of his HP. This is really important in fighting bosses, as most of the time the fights are won this way much easier than hit and run tactics.
Beyond the mechanics, the visual in Sekiro are top notch.
On the PS4 Pro the game plays like a dream and looks incredible in HDR. It was give a top notch treatment. There are many dark environments, and with a properly calibrated system the subtle shadows look amazing.
Colors pop and are quiet varied. From fields of yellow to popping red roofs and crystal blue waters. All of this adds up to a perfect visual experience and one of the better looking HDR games out there.
Sounds it self is well done as well, with a subtle musical soundtrack, and great environmental atmosphere it makes the 7.1 channels come alive.
It however did not do too great in the Atmos side, but not too shocking as there is not much happening up above.
All in all Sekiro is not a bad game, it is just no longer MY kind of game. It is a Souls game to its core, but I am just no longer in love with that genre.
In the immortal words of Roger Murtaugh, I am too damn old for this shit….
A solid 8/10 for true Souls fans, and honestly a hard pass if you do not like a hard unforgiving game.