Sekiro was one of the biggest surprise announcements from Microsoft’s E3 conference, a brand new title developed by FromSoftware, sporting a traditional Japanese setting. While the game remained mysterious after the conference, we learned a little bit more about it in a behind-closed-doors demo with Yasuhiro Kitao, promotion and marketing at FromSoftware and Robert Cronkey, a producer at Activision. Just as a note, any quotes used are from Kitao, but translated by Cronkey.
While the demo was fairly short, we got to learn a bit of the ins and outs of combat, as well as some details on FromSoftware’s ideas and direction. A lone figure stood atop a cliff at the beginning of the demo, before jumping right into how the grappling hook from the trailer works. Immediately, this feature sets Sekiro apart from Souls games, making it a much more mobile experience. You can use the grappling hook to pull yourself up to points like the tip of a building, or a distant tree branch. There’s no swing to it, and it functions more like the grappling hook from the Arkham games, immediately zipping you to the point you latch to.
Exploration seems to be a major component of Sekiro, and Kitao consistently stressed that factor. During the demo, he pointed out something called a Shinobi Door, marked with a gleaming outline of a body. Through the main character’s shinobi abilities, he can open these doors and open new pathways. While this is a brand new system, it seems like FromSoftware is drawing inspiration from past games. When asked about the doors Kitao said, “It’s not the same as any of their previous games, but if you had to say which is was most similar to, you would say Dark Souls 1, as you have the continuously interconnected world as you did in that title. Then you also have multiple paths you can take throughout that world.”
He went further to explain what kind of rewards exploration can get you, saying, “There are a lot of exploration elements that they’re looking forward to people finding, for example, if you go down a path that feels like most people wouldn’t go there, there’s a chance of you finding something really scary, or there are secret items. Exploration is a major factor in this game.”
After jumping and grappling around a bit, our hero came upon a group of enemies in a courtyard below. At this point, Activision told us that while Sekiro involves some stealth elements, it’s still an action game. They used stealth to dart around the outskirts of the courtyard, picking off a few enemies, before jumping straight into battle against the remaining ones. Combat is similar to Souls, appearing to still have that deliberate feel based around timing and hit windows, but it’s quite a bit different too. Things play out quickly, at a similar speed to Bloodborne, and there’s much larger emphasis on blocking.
Both you and the enemy have something called posture, and posture goes down when you take damage or when you just regularly block and an enemy hits you. If you press the block button just as the enemy hits you, you’ll see sparks fly out, resulting in a parry. By doing this, you won’t lose any posture, and instead, your opponent will lose some. On top of these combat basics, you can use the grappling hook to catapult yourself toward enemies by latching on to them or move to a higher point to get an advantage. There’s a definite verticality to Sekiro’s combat, and the ability to jump adds an extra layer. Meanwhile, the posture element creates a kind of cat and mouse game with whoever holds the advantage. While the main character wields a katana in his right hand, the left is his “Shinobi Arm” which can transform into a variety of tools, like an axe that can break enemies guards, or shuriken that let you attack from a distance. Outside of these options, Kitao wouldn’t go into any specifics, as it’s something that still very much in development.
A few other elements of combat were present, but not fully explained to us. Drinking a kind of flask restored health and made glowing green Japanese characters pop up, while pulling off a parry made red ones appear. Sekiro has an interesting gameplay element when you die, that allows you to resurrect your character. Kitao explained that you won’t be able to resurrect at will and you’ll have to meet certain requirements, but it can help you get the momentum back and push through a particularly tough fight. At the moment, the system is in development, so they couldn’t tell us exactly how it will work. At the same time, Kitao was also unable to confirm if Sekiro will have some kind of punishment for death, like losing souls in Dark Souls.
All of the elements you’d expect with a FromSoftware game are there, but they’re changed and altered. One interesting thing not present, however, is multiplayer. For Sekiro, they’ve decided to go with a singular, defined character who comes with his own backstory and place in the world. At the moment the main character is only known as the “One-Armed Wolf,” and is a disgraced warrior that has to fight to defend his young master in Feudal Japan. Kitao explained more saying, “In this title, they made the decision to go with a single character, and in addition, they’ve decided to focus specifically on the single player experience of this game, so they’re not planning on multiplayer.”
Sekiro is going to be an experiment for FromSoftware, a chance to try something new. The developer wants to focus on recreating, “There’s a few reasons why they decided to do that. One is that the way you can design a game that is tailored to multiplayer vs one designed for single player, is very different. So they’re really interested in seeing where they could take the single player if they decided to do that. Additionally, it allows them to tell the story in a different way than they have in the past. Not saying that the story isn’t going to be a FromSoftware story, but it allows them some things and they have a main character with a backstory, who is a part of the world he is in, maybe more than previous game,” explained Kitao.
While Sekiro definitely contains elements of Dark Souls, Bloodborne, and other FromSoftware properties like Tenchu, it’s clear that this is very much something new for the studio. In regards to Tenchu specifically, Kitao said, “They had to look at a lot of different places, one of those was, well, Tenchu is one of their brands. They own that IP, they actually didn’t develop it though, they were more of a publisher. When they were looking around at various titles, Tenchu was definitely one of those ones they used for inspiration or reference. While it was used as inspiration this is its own thing that stands on its own.”
While fans obviously want more games like Souls, Sekiro probably isn’t exactly what they’re expecting. That’s not a bad thing, however, as the new title is obviously ambitious. There’s still too much unknown about Sekiro, so now we’ll just have to wait and see if FromSoftware can bring all these promising ideas together.