Adam "Griz" Mathew has been Gaiden to grips with a Soulsbrother spin-off...
Confession: when I first agreed to take a stab at Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice about a month ago, it... uh, did all of the stabbing. Damn game ran a Julius Caesar number on me. My self-esteem still bears the speed-holes.
I honestly think your Soulsborne experience won't account for much in the face of some mechanical changes that are sadistically designed to wrong-foot sun-praisers like myself. Thankfully, I was given a chance to reclaim my honour before launch in a second hands on. I'm happy to say my on-screen shadow died roughly twice this time around. Not a dozen times...
Once again, the high mobility in SSDT left a big impression upon me. As you'd expect from a master ninja, Sekiro sidles through his world like the shadow of a dream. No longer does a tiny stamina bar rule your movements with an iron fist. No longer will you have to endure a weird little hop of a jump that HAS to end in a roll (typically off a nearby cliff). Jump-wise, Sekiro has the vertical explosiveness of Michael Jordan and there's limited in-air control, too. Souls fans will feel like they've been let off an invisible chain. It's wonderful.
"It's a damn sight better than the classic Tenchu series grapple that required an awkward shift to first-person followed by a meticulous aim to target..."
Also, speaking of chains, you have a visible one that lets you grapplehook via a tap of L2. Get within a certain distance and a hookpoint icon – available on most any tree or castle ledge above you – will turn from grey to green. One tap is all it takes to almost instantly slingshot into the sky. It's a damn sight better than the classic Tenchu series grapple that required an awkward shift to first-person followed by a meticulous aim to target. So rapid are your ascents, grapplehooking effectively becomes a new hit-and-vanish combat option to consider.
Getting your chop on is a very different experience to both Dark Souls and Bloodborne. I've played the crotch out of everything Miyazaki has ever made, and rocking in with the old tactics had me hitting walls (and death screens) aplenty. For starters, I don't think veterans will find too much success with getting their excessive Dark Souls roll on (Sekiro uses a quick-step instead of a commando tumble, and it somehow feels slightly less controllable and effective).
Also worth noting: your new ability to ceaselessly leap like a jackrabbit isn't much of an escape option, either. Enemy attacks will track you, snip off your ankles and put you on your back for some follow-up pruning. You'd best save it for the obviously telegraphed “unstoppable” enemy attacks designed to sweep your leg harder than a Kobra Kai alumni.
Bosses are something I'll not spoil for you as they usually have a few tactical wrinkles that are unique. With grunts and mid-bosses, however, it's definitely all about keeping the pressure up with a flurry of katana-based abuse. Yes, most of it will be blocked, but the posture bar over your foe's head will engorge – when it goes full you can force an error. If you back off, same said bar will shrink like a frightened turtle as your opponent regains composure. I also can't stress how important your parries are, but I should warn you that almost every enemy wind-up animation contains a half-second feint to trip you up.
You may think backing off to chug some health sake is the best option when you're wounded. I'm here to tell you that doubling down on aggression and (hopefully some better parrying) are both vastly superior avenues for staying among the living. Sword fodder foot soldiers need only be forced into one error (that rewards you with a bloody cool stab animation) and that's all she wrote for them. Bigguns require multiple blowhole installations before they're proper toast.
"My instincts tell me that resurrection will be made a redundant option for the hardcore anyway..."
On the topic of death, this game does what it says on the tin. Between any given bonfire (read: shrine) a downed Sekiro is given the option to resurrect once (into a desperate low health underdog situation) or you can join the choir invisible and teleport back to the last shrine. Usual rules apply: any enemy you've offed reappears as well. (That said, we did notice that defeated mid-bosses stayed in the dirt.)
All told, I think it's a great system to minimise frustration with new players coming to the sub-genre. My instincts tell me that resurrection will be made a redundant option for the hardcore anyway. Surely some special reward or path will appear for those who never pull a Lazarus.
Do I have concerns at this point? Not really. I was frustrated only a few times when Sekiro had difficulty landing hits on enemies placed on planes slightly above or below me. It'd be nice if the lip sync on NPCs was less muppet-like, too, especially considering how exposition-happy they are. I'd also be lying if I said I didn't miss my character creation, souls hoarding, invasive multiplayer and a few other FromSoftware tropes that have gone the way of the bushi-dodo.
Beyond those things, I'm in love with what I played. Visually, SSDT is a breath of fresh air. There were moments when I paused, dumbstruck to drink in a sun-drenched snowy mountain peak. Same deal with a moonlit duel amongst a field of nodding white-feather grass (your first encounter with game protagonist Lord Genichiro). This sure is a looker in 4K.
And let's be honest; From was forced to slowly iterate upon its ye olde Dark Souls engine until it got way too long in the tooth. A radical change in mechanics has allowed the studio to greatly enhance just about everything across the board. Spend ten seconds in Sekiro's sandals and I'm sure you'll concur – this game is quite the shot in the prosthetic arm for FromSoftware's tech. That being said, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is a bold ninja leap forward that I cannot wait to play more of.