FromSoftware, the developers behind the Dark Souls series and now Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, became famous on the ridiculously hard difficulty of their games. Even going back to Demon’s Souls, the game that kicked off the franchise, there were unforgiving challenges that some players just couldn’t handle. Since then, the games have only gotten more difficult. That leads us to the question of the day — is Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice really more difficult than all the games of the Dark Souls series?
The game is so hard, there’s an on-going debate over whether it’s okay to use an ‘easy mode’ mod that slows the game down. This is a game with not just one, but TWO different ways to increase the difficulty.
In the video above, we dive deep into that question. Before we can discuss the difficulty in games, we have to describe exactly what difficulty actually means. Not everyone agrees, and in some ways, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is actually much more forgiving than previous games in the FromSoft series. Difficulty is many things — and Sekiro isn’t strictly more difficult. Sneaking and insta-kill stealth attacks give you an easy edge while exploring the vast locations of Sekiro. Your grappling hook gives you further advantages, making quick escapes from overwhelming odds extremely easy.
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The question of difficulty is all about design and purpose. The developers of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice wanted to imbue the game with a feeling of “steel-on-steel” — of hard-hitting sword fights that better emulate the Japanese idea of a duel between two experienced samurai wielding katanas. It’s less about slashing endlessly at each other, and more about skill. This idea of ‘skill’ imbues everything in the game. Instead of leveling up and earning more HP / magical attacks / so on with souls, you can literally only spend XP on new skills — abilities you can use in combat.
The complex systems of Dark Souls have been distilled into their simplest form ever, making the game just a bit easier for new players. It’s also the easiest beginning for one of these titles — there are far fewer ‘gotcha’ traps that instakill the player early. Even if there were, they wouldn’t have the same bite. In Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, you can come back to life after a death. You can come back to life after two deaths later in the game.
Let’s go back to the idea of ‘skill’ — every game in the Soulsborne series is about learning. Learning when to dodge, when to attack, and everything else about an enemy / boss pattern. It’s also learning about strange systems, sometimes systems that are purposefully obfuscated or confusing. Sekiro does away with a lot of that, and explains many of the systems in simple terms. Because this is an offline only game, there are no cryptic tutorial messages from other players. Essentially, all your learning has been distilled down to the wheat, and much of the chaff has been discarded. There’s no weird covenant systems, and only one primary weapon to learn.
Whether these decisions are better — in a video game reviewing capacity — is a different question entirely. In terms of difficulty, it gives new players less options, so they’re forced to learn and improve their most basic skills. There are no shortcuts to make life easier like elemental weapons or summoning friends in Dark Souls. Everything boils down to your skill with a blade, and learning the fundamentals of fighting. Very rarely do the bosses in Sekiro play by their own rules. If you know the basics and learn the patterns, all of these titanic foes can be defeated.
Even at the end of the game, the final boss fight is (essentially) no different than the first. The only difference is the speed of the encounter, and that speed is a tough hurdle to overcome, even for experienced players of this genre. If you know the basics of Mikiri Counter, parry, and how to dodge unblockable ‘perilous’ attacks, then you can defeat the final boss.
And it’s the bosses that make this game so, so much more difficult than previous entries. It’s that ‘skill’ idea, of boiling down combat to its most basic, that makes Sekiro more difficult than Dark Souls. Check out the full video above to get our final thoughts on Sekiro, and put to rest the difficulty debate.
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