Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is a macabre dance with deadly grandmas

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice screenshot

Now usually I don't condone violence against old people, but when there's one particular granny that smashes a gong to alert all her friends to your presence, she's just got to go. And by go, I mean 'receive an especially pointy katana to the back of the head.' But that's pretty much how I solve all my problems in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice - with a very sharp blade. 

After seeing Sekiro's E3 2018 reveal and some behind-the-scenes, hands-off gameplay, I've been quietly intrigued about what it's like to play. This is a game that's being made by FromSoftware, the devilish minds behind titles like Dark Souls and Bloodborne. And although it's being published by Activision, don't take that to mean that it's going to be more accessible or easier. Because, trust me, it's not. This is a FromSoftware game through and through. 

And that's especially true in terms of the combat. It's not all killing grandmas with gongs, but it's a part of the layered mechanics on offer. Half of my time with the game is spent sneaking around in long grass and hugging walls. You're combining the grapple hook for traversal with wall climbing and hanging. There's a certain jankiness to the traversal and camera controls that can make things feel a little awkward at times, especially when you're trying to get in the right spot to do an aerial takedown. But realistically, it's just a segway to the good stuff: the combat. 

When you're not taking on the bigger foes, you'll be working your way to them through a scattering of smaller enemies. It's a tricky balance of gore and silence, not risking anything to keep the flow going. You can smack surfaces with your sword to split up groups or move an enemy into a better attack position as they investigate, but ideally you want to be a shadow. These guys might look like small and easy pickings, but my God they're nimble and a devil with a blade. Fortunately, you can pull off takedowns of both the aerial and ground varieties. Once you've locked on to and enemy and you're in the right spot, you'll see a red spot that indicates that you can take them down. It's a balance of agility and patience, but you're used to that with FromSoft games, right?

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice screenshot

What's interesting about Sekiro is that every enemy has a posture meter. For most of the smaller enemies you probably won't have to worry about that, but for the major threats it's going to be a huge focus. It sits at the top of the screen and fluctuates according to how you behave in battle. Basically, unless you lower your opponent's posture, you won't be able to deal a ton of damage. Blocking, or more specifically parrying, your opponents attacks at the exact moments the blades collide is key, letting you sneak in your own attacks. Once you've got into the rhythms and flows of parrying, dodging the attacks that flash up with a Japanese symbol of warning, and your own strikes, it becomes a kind of macabre, bloodthirsty dance of swords. 

And that's before you've gotten the prosthetics involved. I had three in my arsenal during this particular playthrough: a kind of throwing star option, an axe, and basically a stick that burns with an eternal flame. Comboing up the fire with your normal katana proved to be utterly amazing, though it reduced a giant troll with a door around his neck - obviously from previous jaunts gone awry - to a blubbering baby who I almost felt sorry for. The axe also came in very handy for dispatching some old fellas with wooden shields. This is not a game that's kind to the (incredibly powerful and agile) elderly.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice screenshot

What I also love is how fresh this feels after the colour palettes of Dark Souls and Bloodborne, which so far have basically been dark and, well, bloody. This isn't quite the Japanese splendor of Sony's Ghost of Tsushima, but it's a world away from what we usually expect from From, and that makes a huge difference to the game's overall feel. 

It's a world that I much more want to live within, discover its secrets and spend time getting to know - although with foes like this, it might take some time to discover all that Sekiro has to offer. And thankfully with the release date confirmed for March, none of us will have long to wait.