Its amazing, it might be my GOAT, maybe, but what it also is, is very niche. I can't tell you to go buy it even though you should. It really isn't for everyone, as many Dark Souls fans are discovering, which is a shame.
Here are some bits I like about it:
The game is set in the real world at the end of the Sengoku era in Japan. Specifically, the game takes place in the mountainous lands of the Ashina clan, a fictional place, yet set in the real world.
- Humans with spears
- Humans with BIG swords
- BIG Humans with swords
- little Humans with knives
- A Snake
- Really small people who are kind of weirdly shaped and deformed, but they seem to just kind of be treated like normal people really? Much like
- Really big people, imagine sumo wrestlers turned up to 11
- People who crawl on their hands and feet, with weird fuckin' hooks coming out of all kinds of places hooks shouldn't be
- Mummified monks who are somehow still alive (and oh god is it horrible fuck me dude)
- Weird bandage people who have inhuman heritage
- A lake haunted by a huge carp with a man's face
- The most powerful weapon in the game's only real power is that it can kill immortal beings
- Magic is mostly restricted to things and places
- The first (sort of) boss in the game is a giant man (moreso that the other big men people)
- A boggy valley
- A foggy forest
- A castle
- A dungeon
2. The Prosthetic Tools
Well, I am super in love with the idea of them, and their execution in Sekiro is really super good, but it has a few niggles for me.
Their upgrades are pretty neat, they all have a primary use which has other secondary effects which are really effective if used in specific situations, and they are all very unique and grounded in the way I say above. They aren't realistic at all (they are powered by the souls of the dissatisfied dead for one) but they have at least a veneer of plausibility.
I suppose I can include the grapple hook here, what it does for the handling of the game is absolutely incredible, even if locking on to the grapple points can be a hassle sometimes.
Some semi-counter points that are worth considering when designing similar systems:
- Its weird that you get three slots for tools, but can switch them out at any time by pausing. I feel like you should really only have been able to swap them out at Buddhas so that you are sort of rewarded for having the right tools equipped, or rewarded for good planning rather.
- Some of them do over-lap a little in their uses (though to the game's credit, their secondary effects and aesthetics do keep them all feeling distinctive) and the Shuriken are a bit too universally useful. I'm not sure how you could fix it specifically in Sekiro's case, but its worth thinking about in your game if you want to encourage switching tools out every now and again. (Similar thought could/should be turned to spell lists I expect)
3. The Sword Clashing
No other game that I have seen/played nails the feel of sword-duels as well, ever, period. For my tastes at least. If you really break it down, it gets a bit passive in that enemies can be so aggressive and can counter-attack so quickly that your aggression is much, much more tempered than theirs, so you are forced on the defensive a bit more, but its great that the system encourages you to stay on top of your foes so much more than Dark Souls/Bloodborne ever really did (as close as Bloodborne came to that).
4. The Boss Fights
Oh all right, this is basically point 1 again. But still, I find its the perfect balance for me between inventively designed mundane foes to make them feel fantastical, while tempering the truly fantastical foes with a bit of believability. Nails it in every case for me.
5. The Sugar Items
You do a rad little pose before buffing yourself. Mega-Cool.
6. The Beautiful, fucking capital-B Beautiful design of the World.
Fromsoft are fucking masters of the Landscape-Reveal, as evidenced by your Arrival in Anor Londo in Dark Souls and walking through the clockface in The Old Hunters DLC for Bloodborne.
Sekiro is no slacker on this front.
I will fight to the death anyone who disagrees.
7. Sets of Mini Bosses
My boy Epicnamebro says that reuse of enemies is the games main weakness. I see what he means, but I don't feel quite the same way. I like seeing a mini boss of a set, in that pokemon collect-em-all type of way. Its a little thing, but when I see a boss called Six Bongo-Players United I say, damn, where are the other 5? It also sets that kinda collectable thing into the world-logic itself, its diagetic meta-gaming!
The Medium Bits
1. The Stealth
Its pretty good actually for a game that is so action-focused. You can definitely play the game completely steathily (except for boss fights) but it does push back a bit by how action-oriented it really wants to be.
The best way to play the game is to sneak in, set yourself up (maybe by picking off a few choice targets) and then battling and scrapping with the remaining foes. You can go full stealth, or full violence, but its harder. Its neat overall, but the limitations of the stealth system can be a little frustrating now and again.
2. The English Voices
Its not that I am a weeb (I am a little though), but the english voices are just so... american. And a bit crap. Wolf himself is so bland and slightly gruff like every other fucking man-character (which is also the reason I can't bring myself to play as Corvo in dishonored 2 now that he has a voice). Its a big pet-peeve I'll admit for myself, but I find it just so disconcerting hearing Emma talk so american-like in feudal japan-land.
Plus other people on reddit say that they think on the whole that the english voice acting is weaker in this game too, so I feel a bit vindicated in my views.
Like I say though, this one is pretty idiosyncratic.
3. The Mini Boss Sets
Look, they don't quite push it as much as I would like. Small beans really, but its there.
SEVERE INTELLECTUAL WANKERY AHEAD
One of the most fascinating things I've noticed in response to this game, (and is again further shown by the differences in Fromsoft games and Nioh) is the strangely partisan reception of it. Let me explain:
- Bloodborne (less good "customisation options, open-world-ish, quite fantastical)
- Nioh (maximal "customisation options", level-based, more fantastical)
- Sekiro (minimal "customisation options", open-world-ish, somewhat fantastical)