TA Playlist Wrap-up – Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

The TA Playlist Team - April 11th 2022

If there’s someone that needs killing, there’s a proper way to kill them.
~The Sculptor

Welcome back to another TA Playlist Wrap-up! This month’s game takes us to a fantastical version of feudal Japan, complete with samurai sword fights, stealthy ninja deathblows, and two-story-tall headless apes. This is the world of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice - GOTY Edition.

Like all the games in our poll for the month of March, Sekiro was published by Activision, which, if approved by U.S. federal regulators, will soon become the latest cog in the Microsoft Studios machine. Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Remastered, and Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2 all got a fair amount of support, but it was Sekiro that won the day, with 31.82% of the total vote.

Set near the end of Japan’s Sengoku (or “Warring States”) period — a time of bloody civil war between various clans — you take on the role of a warrior known as “Wolf,” found as an orphan on the battlefield and trained in the arts of the shinobi, mercenary ninjas who served as spies, infiltrators, and bodyguards. In contrast to the samurai, who followed a strict bushido code of honour, shinobi specialized in subterfuge and misdirection, relying on stealth, trickery, and technology in addition to swordsmanship.

Technology is especially important to our protagonist, who loses his left arm in an early encounter with one of the game’s primary enemies. Wolf awakens to find that a mysterious Sculptor, himself a former shinobi, has fitted him with a prosthetic left arm. This arm isn’t merely a replacement for his lost appendage, however; by finding various shinobi tools throughout the game, Wolf can add special attacks and new abilities to his repertoire, earning him the nickname “Sekiro,” or “One-Armed Wolf.” Wolf serves as the bodyguard to Lord Kuro, a young boy who is the Divine Heir to the Dragon’s Blood, a mystical heritage that grants immortality upon those who receive the blessing. In reward for Wolf’s faithful service, Kuro has granted this power of immortality to Wolf, allowing him to resurrect and fight on even if he’s killed. Now Wolf must use that ability, along with his shinobi training, to rescue Lord Kuro before his Divine Blood can be used by his enemies to bring death and destruction to the land.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice was developed by FromSoftware, most famous for the Dark Souls Series, and just like those games, Sekiro is designed to be a challenging experience that rewards perseverance and mastery of the combat controls. As such, the difficulty of the game was one of the hot topics in the forums:

FruitofPassion said:

Seifhx said:
Is it easier or harder to complete than the others Souls games?
As for simply beating the game, it is my opinion, though not alone in it, that it is harder than a Dark Souls game due to the nature of not really having a system in place to "outlevel" a boss if you get stuck. Although there is kinda a levelling up system, it really is more-so a...you just got to figure it out and "git gud."
However, it is a very different combat system than a Dark Souls game though, so it's possible for you it may be considered easier, it depends on your style.
If you've never played a FromSoft game, it will live up to its reputation of being quite difficult. It will take you several attempts to beat the bosses […] the game will challenge you a lot. That is the point of the game. To overcome challenges to obtain that satisfaction of "beating it."
Allgorhythm said:
iManuBAD iT said:
Difficulty level to complete it? Medium / Hardest or frustrating?
I would say Medium & rewarding. There’s a very steep learning curve right at the beginning. The Prologue, like many games, serves as a tutorial. Unlike most games’ tutorials, you are not spoon-fed. It’s more like being shoved into the deep end to sink or swim.
Sekiro is not as challenging as Dark Souls. You are very mobile and very stealthy. Perhaps, a steep learning curve right at the start […] If you play it, as you would Dark Souls, you’d be at a disadvantage. You are unable to upgrade your equipment as you are in Dark Souls. In the other hand, if you play it as a stealth game, Sekiro becomes much easier. Sekiro is a ninja. His stealth abilities are over the top & become even more of an advantage as the game progresses.
FruitofPassion said:
Boy I really wouldn't go telling people it's not as challenging as DS. Coming from the Reddit for Sekiro, there's a good chunk of people who'd argue it's actually harder :p
I myself would say it's just a different style of difficulty.
Allgorhythm said:
I certainly concede that there are individual differences. But my experience is that the King's Field & Souls game require more raw skill whereas, in Sekiro, you can reduce the skill requirement by substituting stealth tactics and mobility.
I just want to note here that both Allgorhythm and FruitofPassion were absolute rock stars in the forum threads, posting detailed thoughts and strategies, and engaging in extended back-and-forth discussion throughout the month. Many others also provided valuable insights and well-written comments, but these two in particular elevated this month’s discussion to a level the TA Playlist hasn’t seen in quite a while!

(Unfortunately, I can’t just directly quote their voluminous posts into this article, so any quotes you see from them will have been heavily edited and might include chunks from several different individual posts. I’d highly encourage everyone to check out the threads to read the full context of their opinions!)

EarthboundX said:

Sekiro has a much higher skill ceiling than any of the Dark Souls games. With DS if you get stuck, you can grind levels, use OP magic, or call in co-op. With Sekiro there's not much you can do other than practice and get better. It's still challenging in a fair way, but there's no "easy" way out like in the DS games.
KJer25 said:
Stick with it, and you will prevail. No levelling or soul grinding here. It’s you and your sword, with some arts. It’s so satisfying when you parry or land a crit. There are tons of helpful videos/tips that will see you through online. Give it a go!
We did have quite a few people drop by the forums this month just to let us know that they wouldn’t be giving it ago, many citing the notorious difficulty of these games and the punishing style of play as the reason:

jimbobvaquero said:

Not going to play this, as I'm a cowardly, weak gamer. I did enjoy Jedi Fallen Order. But even that was difficult for me.

Xynvincible said:
I know better than to torture myself with From Software and I also know better than to get between people who love them and their games. Will casually wait for next month I suppose...
johnnycarbide said:
I forgot this was a Souls type game. I've tried and tried with Demons Souls and Dark Souls, but maybe they're just not for me.
HaugseGaming said:
I rage too much at games so from everything I've heard about this and the Souls games, I tend to stay away from them.
Of course, this also begs the question of how “Souls-like” Sekiro really is:

I Boz l said:

Awesome game. Be aware that it needs patience and time to learn it. Not sure why folks keep comparing it to a Souls when it’s a complete different thing in terms of genre, gameplay, mechanics etc.
The similarities are certainly there – substitute “Healing Gourd” for “Estus Flasks” and “Sculptor’s Idols” for “Bonfires,” for example, or the general gameplay loop of normal enemies respawning when you rest at a checkpoint while you make your way from boss-fight to boss-fight – but the experts in the forums noted some key differences that sets this apart from other games in the “Soulsborne” genre:

FruitofPassion said:

It actually is a different feel from the "souls" games when people say that. It doesn't have the lvl grinding, weapon and gear mixmatching, or multiplayer functions of the other FromSoft games. It also has a more friendly user interface and […] a new posture system that is more a fight against that than actual health bars.
When it came out it was a popular saying that you had to "unlearn" souls games.
Allgorhythm said:
This is not a typical Souls-like game IMHO. Souls-like is an RPG sub-genre. Sekiro is principally a stealth game.
Still, there are Souls-like stylistic characteristics. I would say they have more to do with From Software using conventions from their previous developments rather than a conscious goal to develop a Souls-like game.
The main similarities to Souls-like games fall into two categories: 1. Dying is a fundamental process 2. Combat actions incur a penalty (in a normal Souls-like game there is a stamina penalty—In Sekiro, your combat stance or posture is degraded).
Two major differences. 1. There is one weapon—no RPG searching for optimal weapons. 2. You can parry (the Sekiro term is deflect) all non-special attacks unlike a true Souls-like game where blocking is dependent on your weapon-shield combination—there are no shields in Sekiro & only one weapon (not counting the prosthetics).
Allgorhythm went on to point out that Sekiro began its development with the concept of being a sequel to the Tenchu series of stealth games, to which FromSoftware owns the rights. However, director Hidetaka Miyazaki decided instead to create a new IP, effectively mixing in the stealth elements of Tenchu with design elements from Bloodborne and the Dark Souls series.
Regardless of how some gamers feel about Soulsborne games in general, and whether or not Sekiro falls within that category, we didn’t get a lot of negative feedback from people who have actually played the game… more than one commenter listed it as one of FromSoftware’s best efforts.

Cakau said:

This is one of the best games I ever played. Had a blast with it when I started playing it, last year.
Grumpertson said:
Sekiro is now easily one of my top games. I love that it pushed me to understand its mechanics in a way souls games never did, which really set it apart for me. Without the varied equipment and playstyles of souls games, encounters felt really balanced, refined and tailored in a way I didn't expect from a From Software game. I love my souls games, but in my mind, Sekiro takes them (but at the rate Elden Ring is going, it may take them all though.)
KJer25 said:
I’m excited for all who have yet to experience this amazing game. It has some of the best bosses in gaming. I’m confident with patience and fortitude, most that start it will finish it if they want! Have fun all!

As Kjer25 mentioned, the bosses really do make up the most memorable moments of this game. I followed the walkthrough by vSully, and it seemed like every other paragraph started with “Now up ahead you’ll have a difficult boss fight….” Not only are they very challenging, they also come in a stunning variety, from slow-moving tanks with massive swords to agile magic-users to enormous beasts. Each different type of boss will require different tactics, putting all of your shinobi skills and tricks to the test. One or two bosses might be overcome by brute force, but if you want to progress in the game, you'll have to use all the tools at your disposal to find the right way to make the kill.

Allgorhythm said:

The mechanics of the combat system are superb. But it’s got more than just exceptional mechanics. One thing I really like about it is that every enemy has a personality. You feel that you are facing an adversary with purpose who intends to do you harm. It is this battle of wills that elevates the combat system.

FruitofPassion said:

Yeah, that is one of the nice things about Sekiro. Other Fromsoft games have characters, but Sekiro is probably the one that you can most bond to them. Likely due to there being a lot more dialog and somewhat less vagueness as to what's going on :p
If you ever feel like it sometime, it's got some really good lore if you wanna do additional research. Some of them are really sad stories :'(
Aside from the difficulty, the "vagueness" of the story is probably one of the most well-known aspects of the Dark Souls series, as we discussed back when the original Dark Souls was featured in the September 2017 TA Playlist. While Sekiro has a much more coherent in-game storyline, there's still plenty of detail that needs to be pieced together and analyzed to understand the full picture. Allgorhythm posted avery informative explanation of the Eastern-style narrative structure that Miyazaki uses in his games, which is well worth your time to check out.

(I’m starting to think I should have just let Allgorhythm write this article, though I think he might be the only person on the site who could make these Wrap-Up pieces longer than they already are!)

We had a total of 2,868 gamers unlock at least one achievement in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice this month, with 16,104 total achievements unlocked — an average of just over 5 achievements per gamer. The total Gamerscore earned during the month of March was 398,480, with a total TrueAchievement score of 738,825 - that's a combined TA Ratio for the month of 1.854, roughly the middle of the road in terms of this game's achievement ratios.

Among those who played along, 1,595 gamers picked up their swords for the first time by unlocking the Revered Blade achievement, and 146 tracked gamers managed to unlock the last of Sekiro's 34 achievements. Technically, the eponymous Sekiro is the final achievement in the game (earned for unlocking all the other achievements), with a TA Ratio of 3.42, but that’s closely followed by the Height of Technique achievement, with a TA Ratio of 3.37, so it seems those two go hand-in-hand in most cases. Indeed, both of those achievements show 146 unlocks during the month of March, which matches our total number of people who completed the game.

In total, Sekiro has been played by around 71,500 tracked gamers, with over 6,000 completing it, a little over 8% . That’s a relatively high completion rate for what’s perceived to be such a difficult game, which was also a topic discussed in the forums.

ChiflaGoodluck said:

I think you also need to keep in mind that the difficulty of From’s games is very well known at this point, especially with "Elden Ring" being such a commercial success. Would lead to a lot of the people starting those knowing what they’re getting themselves into and thus are probably well skilled and will probably be able to get at least a good batch of one of the game’s achievements.
One final comment we really wanted to highlight:

ASUnknown1 said:

Great choice, and a game I've not played before; I've never played any of the Souls games for that matter (shameful, I know), so this will be a great experience for me I'm sure. I'm going on holiday very shortly so I'll have to wait until I'm back first, but I really look forward to sinking my teeth into it!
And they really did – for having never played a Souls-type game before, ASUnknown1 completed the game start to finish in just 6 days, earning a spot among the 18 gamers on the March 2022 Shout-Out List!

So what were their thoughts after blazing through their first (quasi-)Souls-like game?

ASUnknown1 said:

An exceptional piece of work from FromSoftware. The combat system is sublime, being fluid and very gratifying to learn, and the bosses are incredibly well designed, with each boss playing to different strengths and weaknesses in your combat and actively reacting to your attacks, forcing you to adapt on-the-fly. It's a game which truly rewards patience and discipline; mindlessly spamming attacks/deflects as I did early on will get you punished, and you'll eventually learn to play calmly and find the openings where you can deal major damage. And this is to say nothing of the breath-taking world to explore in between all the fights. Absolutely loved my time with this overall, and I'm now really looking forward to playing all the Dark Souls games (and Elden Ring)!
That seems like a great place to end this month’s wrap up of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. Whether you chose to take the plunge or not, we hope you enjoyed reading what people thought of this exceptional adventure. And if this game wasn’t to your liking, we bet you’ve at least had a taste of the April TA Playlist game, Assassin's Creed (or one of its many sequels), so don’t be shy about leaping into our forums to give your thoughts on this iconic franchise.

This month’s theme was “Great games, terrible movies,” so if you’re one of the unfortunate few who sat through the 2016 box office bomb of the same name, be sure to let us know what you thought! You can post in the Assassin's Creed Discussion - Spoilers or Assassin's Creed Discussion - Spoiler Free thread to get credit for your TA Playlist badge, even if you’ve already earned all the achievements. And if you’re still missing a few of those flags around Jerusalem, what are you waiting for? We’ll see you there!

Track My Progress in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice - GOTY Edition