Check out my full review of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice here.
Some spoilers below.
It’s inevitable that the two would be compared – FromSoftware’s best-selling, critically acclaimed franchise, Dark Souls (Demon’s Souls and Bloodborne by extension as well), has been the studios focus for the last decade. Sekiro comes after the (alleged) final installment of that series. FromSoft has a sort-of formula that has been a thread throughout all of these games – the ‘bonfire’ system, limited healing gourds/estus flasks, and respawning enemies. Because this formula carried into Sekiro, I think people anticipated that a lot of Dark Souls elements would also be carried over – the RPG aspects, customizable weapons and armor, and the multiplayer system. However, when trailers and more information on the game began to drop, and FromSoft confirmed that no, in fact, none of these elements would be present in Sekiro, a large portion of fans were upset. Now that the game is out, I still see people complaining about this, and arguing that Sekiro is somehow objectively bad because of these discarded elements. I couldn’t disagree more – I don’t think the story, or gameplay in Sekiro suffers at all from leaving these out. Opinions ahoy!
The multiplayer of the Souls series was always predicated on the narrative hinge of multiple worlds coexisting simultaneously. A multiverse of sorts, it meant that countless Chosen Undead, or hunters, could be working through the same journey at the same time. You could occasionally find the means to ‘cross over’ into the world of another in order to help them, or more often, murder them. The co-op and PVP aspects of these games was always narratively grounded and (mostly) made sense within the context of the worlds that they presented. This simply wouldn’t make sense for Sekiro. You are playing a set character, in a set period of time. There would be no reason for multiple versions of Wolf to be present, let alone meeting each other for some jolly cooperation, as entertaining as that might be. While the developers could have created a new reason for this to be possible, it would feel forced and unnecessary. I don’t think anyone is arguing this point – just that, regardless, they would have enjoyed a multiplayer addition. Obviously they aren’t wrong, I just believe that FromSoft made the right choice in leaving that aspect out.
Seriously, does anyone miss trying to get through, I don’t know, the Oolacile Township, being invaded constantly and chain-backstabbed to death? I sure don’t. I didn’t dislike PVP in Souls, I just felt that it was never implemented and mechanically balanced properly. With the available exploits (see above for the infamous chain-backstab) and general lag that usually occurred, it meant that it was more often frustrating than fun. I generally tried to ignore invaders in my own game, unless I literally ran into them. It was more enjoyable in Dark Souls 2 and 3, but again, I wouldn’t have missed its exclusion. The fact that it is also missing in Sekiro is fine by me, and as I said, works well with the story.
Another general complaint has been the lack of RPG elements – no ‘leveling up’ or different skills to attribute points to (RIP Dex builds). This leads to a lack of variety, and a lack of replayability. I think talking about replayability is largely a waste of time (but that’s a topic for another article) so instead, I’m going to try to make a case for these elements not being necessary in Sekiro. In Dark Souls specifically, the narrative centers around the Chosen Undead experiencing a variety of trials (like Sen’s Fortress) and usurping ancient beings to claim their souls for his or her own (Nito and the Witch of Izalith for example). It makes sense that you would ‘level up’ and become stronger over the course of the game – you spend your time effectively gearing up to take down a former god – to either replace Lord Gwyn as kindling for the First Flame, or turn your back on his legacy, and become the new Lord of the Age of Dark. You start the game as a lowly being on the verge of going hollow, and slowly ascend to the powerful pseudo-god you become (for argument’s sake, I’m ignoring Soul level 1 runs). You start in the common, lowly areas, like the Undead Burg and Blighttown, and work your way upwards (literally in some cases) to more significant areas. Like Anor Londo, city of the gods, or the Lost Izalith, an ancient, ruined civilization. The RPG leveling aspects mirror the course of the game, and the narrative.
Would this work in Sekiro? In short: no. Wolf has no grand designs on the world. He’s not a special being, born for a special purpose. A victim of circumstance, he becomes a vessel of the Dragon’s Heritage simply because Lord Kuro wanted to save his life. In a lot of ways, Wolf is a puppet – you spend the game pursuing your masters goals, your fathers goals. These are yours by extension, but really, you’re just a man trying to do right by your master. It wouldn’t make sense for Wolf to be an all-powerful shinobi legend by the end of the game. That’s just not how this narrative works. Certainly his skills improve, but saving Kuro is really his only desire. His journey is more about a sense of personal growth, of changing his outlook on the paths his life can take. While your travels follow a similar arc in some ways to Dark Souls, reaching the fabled Fountainhead Palace and the Divine Realm, it still remains very grounded in your sense of purpose. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the Divine Dragon is more of a ‘puzzle’ boss than a straight fight – nor do you actually kill the ancient deity. You simply take what you need and leave. I think the skill tree system, and ability to enhance your attack power after facing down these powerful foes (confronting memories) gels much better with the structure of the game. It’s RPG-lite, but it suits Sekiro much better than say, the Dark Souls system would. While it would be nice to have the option to at least change outfits, I don’t think it’s a critically negative omission. You start the game as a starving cub, and finish it as a wolf with sharpened fangs. That’s all there is to it, and that’s all you need.
I think in a lot of ways, Souls fans were not quite ready to let the series go – after some disappointments, and questions still left unanswered, I think that’s fair. When Sekiro was first announced, I think a lot of people were hoping for Dark Souls 2.0, and were angry when it was revealed that the game was heading in a much different direction. In writing and thinking about this topic, I really just hope that people can let go of these complaints, and give the game a fair shot. Coming from someone who went from hating the game, to feeling like it may be my favourite, it’s frustrating to think that people would miss out on this game just because some Souls aspects are missing.
These are my main points – I could go on about this topic forever but I’m trying to reign it in. What do you guys think? Do you think Sekiro would have been better with a more fleshed-out RPG system? Do you think it suffers from a lack of multiplayer? Let me know in the comments!