Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice often seems like the most divisive modern From Software game, even as it paves the way for the hotly anticipated Elden Ring. The creators of Dark Souls almost completely abandoned the idea of player “builds” in Sekiro — finishing a sacrifice initiated in the faster-paced Bloodborne. Magic was out. Leveling up at all was more-or-less out.
The only way to get through the game was to get good at the game. And what that meant wasn’t as flexible as in past From titles. Add to that a very different style of storytelling — showcasing a world mid-apocalypse instead of pecking its corpse clean of magic rings with lore in their descriptions — and Sekiro wasn’t the game many people wanted. Even if it was great at what it did.
I, personally, love Sekiro. I wanna marry it and kiss it on the cheek. But that wistfulness for past games (e.g. Dark Souls and Demon’s Souls) likely fueled my own immolating desire to see the studio’s upcoming game: Elden Ring. Alongside that baller first trailer, of course. Now we have even more footage to fawn over thanks to the Summer Game Fest 2021, where industry mover and shaker Geoff Keighley showed the first official gameplay. It looks stunning. Though I didn’t need to be sold on Elden Ring; I already love all these Souls-like games. Including the game that probably hinted at things to come.
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Sekiro stands out for its brutally challenging combat — which often takes place one-on-one with human-sized enemies. That’s what made it special. The fights felt parallel and harrowing on a different scale than their predecessors. Older From Software games, which Elden Ring more clearly evokes, more frequently pitted you against enormous monsters of insurmountable sizes. The new title has open areas to match, too, which you apparently traverse on some kind of ox… horse… thing. Maybe it’s a really fast cow? Regardless, Elden Ring looks a lot wider than even the Dark Souls series.
The thing is, so was Sekiro. It’s easy to get tunnel vision in those one-on-one battles. Yet the game was absurdly open-ended. At least in small bursts! The Gyoubu Masataka Oniwa boss fight, in particular, feels like the first, big hint of what was to come in Elden Ring. The mounted soldier is an obvious mirror image to the new game’s custom protagonist. More than that, the massive battlefield in which you duel him only really exists to give such a mobile foe room to move around. The whole thing feels like a testbed for the traversal players will experience going forward, if not a direct homage.
From Software games often include such “hints” of other games. Bloodborne slipped one Old Hunter Yamamura, who bares a striking resemblance to Wolf from Sekiro, into its single expansion. Dark Souls 3, with its Ashes of Ariandel DLC, included a character who painted a new world out of blood. Often these are winks and nods. Other times they feel like From Software testing ideas that will be expanded on later. Sekiro very much feels like part of the latter camp — with its mini-boss camps and elevated grappling hook spots adding even more layers to the open-world prototype.
As someone that appreciates all the modern From Software games, I’m glad to see Sekiro wasn’t completely forsaken by the team (the same way that, for example, elements of Dark Souls 2 felt snubbed in Dark Souls 3). Elden Ring seems like a less jarring jump than Sekiro; it’ll almost certainly please that vocal contingent of longtime fans. But that doesn’t mean it needs to abandon what came before it.