Image: Activision/From Software
The other night, I was two hours into my quest to take down Seven Ashina Spears, a notoriously difficult miniboss in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. It was frustrating, but fun, and I was just a little distracted, which made it harder. While I played, I talked with my friend Eddie over the PlayStation 4’s voice chat while he made his way through Bloodborne—Sekiro developer From Software’s previous title—for the first time.
I gave Eddie tips, a little spoiler-free direction, and explained how stats work. “I can’t believe it took me this long to get into this,” he said. “It’s all thanks to Sekiro.”I’d been trying to get Eddie to play Bloodborne for years. I knew he’d love it, but he’d always play for an hour or so then put it down, saying it was too difficult and strange. Then he played Sekiro for two hours and something clicked.Sekrio: Shadows Die Twice is the latest game from Dark Souls developer From Software. The “Souls-like” or “Soulsborne” series—which includes Dark Souls 1 through 3, Demon’s Souls, Bloodborne, and now Sekrio—is one of the most rewarding franchises in gaming. All of these titles share game design features that result in the player dying a lot (like, a lot a lot) at the hands of powerful enemies, but eventually succeeding through practice and occasionally a bit of luck.
Eddie’s not the only one to get turned on to the From Software formula through Sekiro after passing on the previous titles. Two of my Motherboard colleagues were also lukewarm on the Souls series but love Sekiro. They haven’t picked up Bloodborne or Dark Souls again (yet), but I suspect they’d have a much better time now.This is because Sekiro is more streamlined and user-friendly than its predecessors in dozens of big and small ways. Crucially, these changes don’t diminish the Souls-like formula in the least, but they also don’t unnecessarily torture the player. Sekiro is the perfect game to teach people how to play Dark Souls and its close relatives.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is more welcoming to first-timers than Dark SoulsThe first time I played Bloodborne, I spent hours slowly trying to make my way through the game’s starting area. I died repeatedly and persisted only because the aesthetic—a creepy gothic city that hints at deeper eldritch terror—entranced me. Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls are even more brutal. Both games dump the player into a confusing world, give brief summaries on what buttons do what, then send the player up against a boss that will murder them.The message is clear from the jump—you’re going to die a lot in these games. It’s a message delivered so brutally that it can turn off a lot of first-time players.Sekiro also begins with a tutorial that leads to a nigh-unbeatable boss, but Sekiro’s introduction is more thorough. The game takes the time to walk players through the basic systems of the game and gives them an opportunity to hone those skills before sending them to die against a powerful boss.
Sekiro is all about quality-of-life improvements in the Soulsborne genre. For example, players can use a totem teleport home at no cost, and at any time. In Bloodborne, teleporting home cost the player the experience they’d earned to that point and, unlike Sekiro, the items that let you teleport for free are consumable.The Souls series has always required players to backtrack through levels after death, fighting through the same horde of respawned enemies only to face the same boss that just killed you. In Sekiro, there’s often a safe path through trees or on the side of the level that players can quickly traverse and avoid fights on the way to a boss battle. You are a ninja, after all.
These are just a few examples, and there are many more small conveniences in Sekiro (purchasable pouches that make it easy to hold onto gold after death, for example) that go a long way to making the game more palatable to a new audience. More importantly, the skills you learn in Sekiro are transferable.Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice teaches you how to fight and survive in Dark SoulsLike Dark Souls and Bloodborne before it, Sekiro requires players to master its combat system to take on its challenges. But unlike those games, Sekiro allows mastering combat to be the player’s focus.In Dark Souls and Bloodborne, players have to worry about weapon upgrades and a mountain of obtuse stats that’ll send most players to a Dark Souls wiki to puzzle over what, exactly, “poise” does. Sekiro, in contrast, doesn’t have stats, only upgradeable perks.This is good, because mastering Sekiro’s combat system will carry players through any of the games in the Souls franchise.Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls allowed players to move defensively through the world—holding up a shield and slowly pecking away at enemies with a spear. Bloodborne did away with the shield and forces players to learn to dodge and parry with a gun. These games are more fun when you play aggressively. Anyone can hide behind a shield, but it’s more fun (and often necessary) to observe an enemy’s move set and learn to avoid or counter their attacks. Sekiro forces players to do this.
Dark Souls’ combat moves a little slower than Sekiro’s, and Bloodborne’s combat focuses on dodging, but they’re similar enough that the shinobi simulator makes for good training. The best combat strategy in Sekiro is to learn to parry, memorize the enemy’s move set, and react accordingly. That’s a lesson that players can take with them to all the other games in the series.After two hours beating my head against Seven Ashina Spears, something clicked. I had learned all his moves; I knew when to jump, when to block, when to parry, and when to attack. He died by my blade. After I killed him, I started up Bloodborne.I hadn’t played it in years, but I cut through the game’s early bosses with ease. I was reading their movements, parrying and dodging out of the way of their attacks. I was focusing on combat instead of worrying about blood echoes, stats, and upgrades. Sekrio made me better.After that, I cycled between Sekiro and Bloodborne, comparing the games in my mind and chatting with Eddie, who said he was going to play a little more Bloodborne and log off for the night. The next day, Eddie texted me. “Played Bloodborne till 4 [AM]…today was rough.”Rough, but not impossible to overcome. That’s a lesson that Sekiro teaches, and it can get you through Bloodborne, Dark Souls, or a late night spent playing either.Get six of our favorite Motherboard stories every day by signing up for our newsletter.