Well, they’ve done it again. With Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, FromSoftware has succeeded in creating a game that pairs highly technical risk/reward combat and ultra-tough foes to craft a game that is at times very challenging, but always extremely rewarding. Much like their previous games in the Dark Souls series, Sekiro can be a tough nut to crack for new players, and even Dark Souls veterans like myself will be forced to unlearn almost all of the strategies that made them successful in those titles. After 20 some-odd hours and a dozen mini-bosses and bosses under my belt, I feel like I’m still learning the ropes. In an effort to help ease you into this wholly unique gaming experience, I thought it would be helpful to share some tips I’ve picked up during my time with Sekiro.
Scout Your Surroundings
While Sekiro is more of a straightforward action game than the Dark Souls series, it’s also got some heavy stealth elements baked in. Like most stealth games, it pays to take some time to scan the area you’re approaching to figure out enemy patrol routes and ensure there are no surprises waiting for you. Once you get the lay of the land, you can go in and figure out the best route for taking out maximum enemies while reducing your risk as much as possible. Even in areas with seven or eight enemies, you can plot out a route that allows you to stealth attack many of them.
Always Rely on Stealth
As I mentioned above, it pays to scout out areas in order to find the best approach. More often than not the best approach is a stealthy approach, as you’re limited to a set number of hits from your healing gourd and (more importantly) lives. The vast majority of the time, there’s a stealthy option available to you. When I’m not sure how to approach a situation, I look to use my grappling hook to gain a height advantage. In addition to offering more options for dropping down and insta-killing your foes, it also provides a better look at the battlefield than you’ll get on the ground. The stealthy approach is always the best play for bosses, too. Since they all require two assassinations to take down, it pays to perform an instant one right off the bat.
Whittle Away That Vitality
Much of Sekiro’s combat mechanic revolves around poise, as maxing out your enemy’s poise meter gives you the opening you need to perform an assassination (that is, when the red dot appears). However, there are times when trying to keep the pressure up and working their poise is just too tough. In these cases, your best bet is to steer clear of the boss, instead working to get off one or two quick hits before dodging away. This will gradually whittle down their vitality, which in turn will keep their poise from regenerating. And eventually, if you take their Vitality down far enough it, opens them up for an instant kill. This is especially true for bosses!
Don’t Be Afraid to Run Away
As the saying goes, sometimes the best offense is a good defense. Or, in Sekiro’s case, the best offense is straight up running away from a fight. You see, when you leave an area, enemies will stop chasing you and reset to their original positions. This means that sometimes your best bet is to go in, take out one or maybe two enemies, and hightail it out of there before going back to rinse and repeat once your foes have calmed down. This is especially true for boss battle areas, as it will allow you to take out all of the lesser enemies before facing off against the boss. At times, it also pays to run away if you hit the next XP level, so you can upgrade your skills instead of running the risk of losing half when you die.
Embrace the Grind
In many ways, Sekiro is a lot like the Dark Souls games. One way in which they are distinctly different, however, is the way you use the experience you earn. In Dark Souls, experience you gained could be put into different categories like Strength or Vitality that helped you create a build that fit your style of play. In Sekiro, those experience points are instead spent on a variety of skills, from different types of combat attacks to different prosthetic-based moves to latent abilities that will make your battles easier. In both types of games, the best way to earn experience and improve your character is to occasionally grind the same area over and over again to load up on experience points. There’s nothing wrong with spending an hour taking out an easy group of five or six enemies, running back to the Sculptor’s Idol, resting, and then doing the same thing again. Trust me, that time investment will pay off in a big way as you progress through the game.
Sometimes Blocking is Best
Early on in Sekiro, as you’re learning the basic combat, you’ll be taught how to time your blocks to deflect your enemy’s attacks and give you a wide opening for an easy (and powerful) counterattack. While this is all well and good, it can at times be too tempting to go for these grandiose deflections when your best bet is just to hold down the block button and let your enemy flail away at you. I found that constant blocking worked particularly well against a lot of the bosses, as it gives you a chance to learn their moveset with minimal risk. In fact, sometimes you’ll just want to withstand a barrage of attacks and let your enemy tire himself out so you can slash away for a few seconds to take down their health.
When in Doubt, Take a Break
While it probably sounds counterintuitive, sometimes the best way to beat a boss in Sekiro is to put down the controller and walk away for a bit. Studies have shown that our mammalian brains are able to solve puzzles and complex tasks after having some time to think about them. Speaking from experience, there is nothing more satisfying then banging your head against a boss wall, then taking an extended break and coming back to beat it on the first or second try. Sometimes your brain just needs a little time to work things out, particularly some of the complex combat patterns that the bosses offer. You know how you have “A ha!” moments when you stop thinking about a topic and focus on some other task for a bit? It’s a lot like that.