The Great Ape – my nemesis of the past two hours – that has killed me time and time again, lies twitching at my feet. Its severed head has rolled satisfyingly to one side and lies face down in the shallow pool of a battlefield that has since turned crimson with blood. I rejoice.

With arms in the air and controller to the sky, I let out a singular “finally”. But just as the final, foolish syllable leaves my lips, the Great Ape spasms and lumbers to its feet. It scoops up it’s dismembered head and launches it’s body into the air, writhing to and for before it crashes down on my oh-so-naive shinobi.

I’m dead. Again.

A familiar mantra echoes in my mind, ‘just one more try, I’ve got him this time’. If only it were that simple.

Here lies the hook of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, a hook that is hard to shake loose.

![Colonial Japan is beautifully reimagined in Sekiro][Colonial Japan is beautifully reimagined in Sekiro]/SekiroEnvironments.jpeg

You assume the role of Wolf, sworn protector of the Divine Heir. The opening act of the game sees you liberate the Divine Heir from captivity as you learn the basics of Sekiro combat.

From the get go, you know that Sekiro is not a hack and slash adventure. Anyone looking to breeze through feudal colonial Japan chopping down enemies in a fashion akin to the Last Samurai should turn away now. In fact, you learn how unforgiving Sekiro is within the first 10 minutes of gameplay.

I died several times during the tutorial. The tutorial.

This was my been my first From Software experience. From Software games are notoriously difficult, which makes this god run of all previous titles one of the most impressive feats in video games. I’m no stranger to difficult games (I’ve beaten Cuphead, thanks very much), but Sekiro quickly had me questioning my prowess.

The opening act culminates in a boss fight that you are destined to lose[1]. The enemy general severs your sword arm and leaves you to bleed out on an exquisitely detailed mountain side. Of the thousand times that you will inevitably perish during your time in Sekiro, this is the solitary time you are meant to.

And so a key mechanic is revealed, resurrection. This is not an advantage, it is a necessity.

Wolf is ordained with the Divine Heir’s dragon heritage, which affords the player a second chance during battle. Fall, and rise again, with your enemies in the same state. Without resurrection, I do not think I would have finished Sekiro.

Losing your arm is the second mechanic that forces your hand – pun intended – in combat. Upon your initial resurrection, you find your severed arm replaced with a skeletal prosthetic. This prosthetic can be adapted based on attachments that you collect during your play through (some are missable, so I would recommend following a collectibles guide).

Attachments range from throwing stars, to shielding umbrellas; and from heavy weaponry, to a fan that aids in obtaining upgrade materials. These attachments create a natural diversification of your combat style over time. Each poses a different answer to the same question that Sekiro asks of you, and a thorough understanding of the pros and cons of each is essential in mastering combat.

Mastering combat is exactly what you have to do in order to beat Sekiro. Despite the fact that all enemies other than main bosses can be run past (leading to speed-run times of less than 23 minutes), without a mastering of basic counters, this is a battle you will lose.

This make the first 10 hours of Sekiro particularly brutal and remorseless. So tough in fact, I considered not continuing. I would implore any player to persevere, because what followed was the most infuriatingly brilliant 30 hours of the gaming year.

They key to combat mastery is creating an opportunity for a deathblow. This is achieved in one of two ways: firstly, by overpowering your opponent and depleting their health bar; or secondly (and much more impressively), breaking the opponents posture by perfect counters. Deathblows are also available via stealth. Raining death on your foes from above or behind is beyond satisfying, and is the key to defeating some mini bosses.

![Combat in Sekiro is diversified by prosthetic attachments][Combat in Sekiro is diversified by prosthetic attachments]/SekiroCombat.jpeg

Sekiro is split into distinct regions, each with their own indigenous enemies and challenges. Therefore, despite being able to clear one area without taking a hit, the next is more than likely to bring you to your knees.

Much like previous From Software titles, the story has little guidance. You’re left to explore these regions at will, not knowing if you’re on the right path. You’ll come tantalisingly close to the next checkpoint and recovery station, only to be smite down by some fresh hell of an enemy.

But here is the key thing, if you prevent the red mist from descending there are lessons in each of your many, many deaths. For example, one boss took me in excess of 3 hours to defeat. I looked at YouTube videos for cheese methods but felt as though I was only cheating myself. I turned to comprehensive guides that are informative, but can not press the buttons for you. In the end, there is no choice but to learn from your mistakes and simply do better. Despite the sheer number of deaths, dying was always my fault.

There are plenty of videos of players taking down bosses without being hit, but these do not impress me. In all likelihood, when you conquer a foe it will be in the same manner. You’ll learn to dance to their rhythm, to strike sensibly and not leave yourself vulnerable. You’ll learn to be patient and methodical. You’ll learn the way of the samurai.

Sekiro is a war of attrition that is as rewarding as it is infuriating. It has the ability to make you feel invincible, whilst the next minute it makes you question everything you’ve ever learnt. As things stand, it is 2019’s crowning jewel. A must play.

[2] Actually, you can win this fight. Although, it has no bearing on the story. #Freelance


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