Hitbox First Impressions: Waste Not, Want Not — Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

This is the first entry in a new Hitbox series called Waste Not, Want Not. I’ll be playing critically-acclaimed games that I’ve bought, but haven’t gotten around to playing yet. After playing about five hours of games like the Resident Evil 2 remake, Disco Elysium and Outer Wilds each week, I’ll give my first impressions and decide if I would consider playing more. I’m not the biggest fan of these games’ genre, such as survival horror or puzzle games. However, I figure that these games have received so much widespread praise that there has to be something to appreciate in them.

“A record 3.3 million Americans have filed for unemployment” because of shutdowns related to COVID-19, according to a Guardian article. This also means many people may not have a regular income and want to save money.

The waste not, want not series will hopefully inspire you to play all those games you may have sitting in your virtual or physical libraries that you bought just because they were on sale, you heard a lot of good things about or just got caught up playing other games and forgot about. I’m certainly guilty of these types of habits, so this is a great time to appreciate what we have.

 

Developer: FromSoftware

Release date: March 22, 2019

Platforms: PC [played], Playstation 4 and Xbox One

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Price: $59.99

 

The first thing you need to know about Sekiro is that it’s hard as nails. It’s so difficult that it’s not unreasonable to spend multiple hours trying to defeat a single boss. FromSoftware has been making this kind of game for years, the most popular being the Dark Souls series. Unlike the dark fantasy world of Dark Souls, Sekiro is set in a fantasy version of late 1500s Japan. It starts out innocuous enough, but as the player progresses through the game, more fantastical creatures and elements appear.

You play as Wolf, a shinobi whose ward, The Divine Heir Kuro, has been kidnapped and his “dragon heritage” is going to be used to create an immortal army. After failing to stop the kidnapping and losing an arm, Wolf receives Kuro’s dragon blood after infiltrating his prison. However, Wolf is too weak to save Kuro and is brought to an abandoned temple and receives a prosthetic arm from a former shinobi. Wolf then sets out to save his ward with his new prosthetic arm and the ability to resurrect once after death thanks to Kuro’s blood.

In Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, the player character Wolf’s prosthetic arm comes with a grappling hook, allowing the player to grapple to tree branches and rooftops. Screenshot courtesy of sekirothegame.com

The prosthetic arm can be fitted with several tools, such as shurikens, a flame vent and an ax. Each tool has a purpose; the shuriken deals bonus damage to airborne enemies and the ax can break shields.

With the ability to resurrect after one death before actually dying, you would think that would make the game more forgiving. While that’s technically true, it doesn’t feel that way in practice. Each enemy presents a significant threat, even if it’s just a simple foot soldier that you’ve fought dozens of times before. One blow could take away a significant chunk of your health bar.

Becoming overwhelmed with multiple enemies is a fast way to die in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, so dividing and conquering is the best strategy for victory. Screenshot courtesy of sekirothegame.com.

Combat is a dance of balancing offense and defense. The player can deflect an attack and if timed just before the enemy’s attack lands, it can perform a perfect parry and deal a death blow. Perfect parrying is difficult, but massively rewarding thanks to a loud “ding” sound and Wolf stabbing the enemy through their throat and a comically-large amount of blood violently erupting from the wound.

After a few hours of playing, I had gotten through the surrounding area of an estate that was pillaged. I then ran head-first into a brick wall in the form of a mini-boss called Juzou the Drunkard. Challenging bosses are the main draw for FromSoftware games, but after dying dozens of times, it’s beyond anything I had previously experienced in Dark Souls games.

Bosses typically take multiple attempts to defeat because they have powerful attacks that deal a lot of damage. So recognizing when the boss will do a certain attack by their movement and learning how to avoid it is the key. You might get lucky sometimes and dodge the right way to avoid a boss’s low slash, but you’re never going to be able to defeat them by getting lucky. The boss I got stuck on, Juzou the Drunkard, would hold his sword high in the air as he prepared to do a powerful downward slash that would kill me in one hit.

Learning the boss’ moves can also reveal opportunities to attack. Juzou the Drunkard will sometimes stop to take a swig from a gourd filled with poisonous alcohol. During those few seconds of vulnerability, you can move in and do a little damage in relative safety. Even during this short window of opportunity, you still have to be cautious and not get greedy. Sometimes, the boss will spew poisonous gas from his mouth shortly after drinking. This prevents the player from moving to those areas, otherwise, they will take damage.

The only way to make Wolf stronger is by collecting prayer beads from bosses and mini-bosses and using four of them to increase your maximum health and posture. Unlike Dark Souls and other role-playing games, leveling up doesn’t necessarily make you more powerful in Sekiro. You can earn enough experience points to then get skill points to spend and unlock new abilities, but most of those just expand your moveset. There are a few skills that objectively and passively improve Wolf, such as making your footsteps silent and increasing the effectiveness of healing items.

The main progression the player makes is getting better at the game. It’s not beginner-friendly by nature and although resurrecting after death provides some leeway, by itself, it’s not enough to allow the player to smoothly and gradually grow their skills. You really have to sit down and be determined to get better. It might take multiple hours-long sessions of just practicing perfect parries. I think it might take a level of dedication that I’m just not willing to give.

I can only imagine the feeling of improving at parrying and knowing when to go in for a flurry of strikes will pay off, but I can’t say that for certain since I still feel like an amateur.

 

Will I be playing more of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice?

No, not without a stringent training regimen. When I played Dark Souls 3, I could defeat a boss after around a dozen attempts. It was challenging, but the boss’s attacks were easy to decipher and I could learn to avoid them. It was fairly easy because the bosses were all fairly large and would take a few good seconds to wind up for an attack. Most of them were relatively distinct too, so after a few tries, it was easy to tell which wind-up was which.

In Sekiro, it feels like I’m missing something fundamental about how to tell what attack a boss is doing. The issue could also be with how I’m playing. I’m not very adept at parrying, so I mostly use an overwhelming flurry of slashes to stagger the enemy before I finish them with a death blow. That type of tactic works with most enemies to varying degrees, but definitely not with bosses. I wish Sekiro prepared me better for these types of fights.