Sekiro - title

I never got into Tenchu because the
demos were too hard for younger me.

Oh, boy, was this a tough game to play and review! Frequent readers should probably know that I'm a huge Souls-Borne fan -- to the point of writing strategies and lore analyses. Sekiro is a bit different, however. It's much further divorced from Dark Souls than even Bloodborne was. Despite the lack of "Souls-Borne-ness" of Sekiro, I find it very difficult to put this review in any context other than of a new Souls-Borne release.

Sekiro is, ostensibly, a stealth game. There's more of Tenchu and Metal Gear in Sekiro than of Dark Souls. That's not necessarily a bad thing. I like stealth games just fine. The Metal Gear Solid games rank among one of my favorite game series ever.

I'm not terribly familiar with Tenchu, though. I think I played a demo of a PSX Tenchu game on one of my Official PlayStation Magazine demo discs (back in the day when publishers let players play pre-release demos, for free, instead of expecting us to pay for games long before they're even released, or holding the "open beta" hostage to a pre-order). I never bought the full Tenchu game because the demo was far too hard for my little 13 or 15-year-old gamer skills to handle. This was, of course, long before I started playing more demanding games.

Sekiro is in an awkward juxtaposition between Tenchu-inspired stealth, and Dark Souls-inspired boss fights.

However, there seems to be a certain degree of juxtaposition between Sekiro's desire to be a Tenchu-like stealth game, and its desire to feature demanding boss fights in-line with what is given in Souls-Borne games. In essence, we have two games here: a stealth game about staying out of sight of enemies and picking them off one-by-one; and a melee boss gauntlet in which the stealth isn't applicable at all. The first of those is good enough. The second one is where my problems begin...

My first playthrough of Demon's Souls was spent
cowering behind a shield.

All parry, all the time

You see, this really comes down to play-style. I was never a big parry-er in my Dark Souls-playing days. I parried a lot more in Bloodborne, but a big reason for that was that the guns allowed me to do so from a relatively safe distance. Heck, my first playthrough of Demon's Souls was done as the Royalty class, starting with the mana-regen ring, stabbing out with a winged spear from behind a shield, and using Soul Spear to dispatch any enemies I wasn't comfortable fighting up close. I hardly realized the parry mechanic existed!

Of course, I've grown and matured since 2008, and parrying has become a common element of my play-style. But I've still never been particularly good at it. This is causing me a lot of trouble in Sekiro because Sekiro's combat is all parrying, all the time! The new posture mechanic (which essentially replaces stamina) also means that a single parry isn't good enough to riposte and kill your enemy. You have to parry each strike in flurries of blows. For those coming from Dark Souls, imagine having to fight a hollow undead, and needing to parry every one of its wild slashes before you can riposte, instead of just the first one. That is what Sekiro expects and requires you to do.

Sekiro requires that you parry most attacks.

If you were a master-level parry-er in Dark Souls III, then you'll probably segue right into Sekiro with no problem and wonder what all the fuss is about. But for the rest of us plebs, that isn't going to be so easy.

This game plays much faster, enemies are much more aggressive, and health is in much smaller supply. Almost everything will kill you with two hits, and many grab attacks will drop you from full health to zero. This game leaves you with virtually no margin for error! Yet the mini-bosses and bosses have ridiculously high HP and posture.

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[More]

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

A couple more weeks into Sekiro, and I'm still nowhere near being finished with the game. I'm definitely getting the hang of it more, but am also still struggling at pretty much every boss (and mini-boss) that I come across.

I have a few tips based on my own experience and observation that I hope will be helpful for other players, so that you don't have to go through some of the headaches that I've gone through when adjusting to this new game. As stated, everything I'm about to say are my own personal tips and observations. Do not take any of them as gospel. In fact, if you have your own tips, I'd love to read them in the comments.

There will be some minor spoilers for early game content.

Bank your sen

First and foremost, you should definitely take advantage of the ability to "bank" your sen (money). This is one area in which Sekiro actually offers a bit of leniency to players who may be familiar with Dark Souls. The Souls games did not allow you to directly bank your souls; but Sekiro does have a way to bank your cash.

You can use a Light Coin Purse to acquire 100 sen, but they cost 110 sen to buy.

Most vendors will sell coin purses (in varying sizes). Now, you may have noticed that the vendors sell their coin purses for 10% more than what they are worth. For example, if you use a Light Coin Purse, you'll receive 100 sen. However, it costs 110 sen to buy a Light Coin Purse. Similarly, the Heavy Coin Purse grants 500 sen when used, but they cost 550 sen to buy. There's a 10% mark-up.

Sadly, there's no bulk discount for buying larger coin purses, so there's no reason to save up for the Heavy or Bulging Coin Purse, as opposed to just buying a bunch of Light Coin Purses. The number of coin purses that each vendor will sell is also limited, so invest wisely!

Dying will take away 50% of your un-banked sen.

Don't let this 10% mark-up deter you from buying the coin purses. These coin purses are not lost when you die, but some fraction of your "soft" sen are lost when you die (unless you receive "Unseen Aid"). If you do not intend on making purchases with your coin in the immediate future, then you should strongly consider banking the sen by buying coin purses -- especially if you are about to enter a new, unfamiliar area, or if you are repeatedly dying to a boss or mini-boss. A single death will cost you 50% of your un-banked coins. Repeat deaths will quickly eat away at the rest. And (unlike in Souls-Borne), you can't go back and retrieve your lost coin or experience. The 10% mark-up on buying coin purses is a paltry penalty in comparison, and the insurance of having coin purses is well worth the investment!

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Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

Adjusting to FROM Software's newest game, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice has been a very mixed bag. I'm handling most of the stealth just fine (coming from a background of lots of Metal Gear Solid), but I've been having a tough time with the game's very-demanding combat. This game is much further divorced from the Souls games than even Bloodborne was -- so much so, that I'm not sure if it's fair to lump Sekiro in as a "Souls-Borne" or "Souls-like" game. Honestly, I was never much of a parry-er in the Souls games anyway, so I'm having a harder time adjusting to Sekiro than many other Souls veterans might. Sekiro is all parry, all the time!

Even a week later, I'm not very far into the game. I've cleared the Ashina Outskirts, Ashina Castle Gate, and a large chunk of the Hirata Estate. I've only beat [I think] two legit bosses, a couple mini-bosses, and have challenged (but yet to defeat) a third boss. These bosses have been tough -- perhaps tougher than any early-game bosses in any of the Souls games or Bloodborne. A big part of this difficulty is that Sekiro very deliberately, and very explicitly, has removed many of the crutches that Souls players have enjoyed since Demon's Souls: you can't summon help, nor can you grind to level up your character. You can acquire new skills, but you can't upgrade your attack power or vitality by simply farming grunt enemies as you could in FROM's earlier games.

If you weren't much of a parry-er in Souls games, you may find it difficult to adjust to Sekiro.

This creates a much higher bar of entry than FROM's earlier games. Perhaps too high?

In any case, don't expect a full review from me any time soon. I'll be tanking the rakes for weeks -- if not months.

The Blazing Bull can be parried!

In the meantime, however, I want to share some important observations that I had about one particular boss in the early levels of Sekiro: the Blazing Bull. All of the bosses that I've encountered in the game so far have felt like entering the Capra Demon arena in the first Dark Souls -- but none of them have channeled the cheapness of the Capra Demon quite like the Blazing Bull.

Many early bosses -- the Blazing Bull in particular -- feel like walking into the Capra Demon arena.

This giant, flaming beast essentially ambushes you. It's exceedingly aggressive and almost impossible to dodge. It's very easy to feel overwhelmed. I certainly did.

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[More]
E3

I don't generally give a damn about the corporate circle-jerk that is E3 (or any trade show for that matter). It's usually a bunch of cringe-worthy presentations of lofty promises and over-hyped trailers and tech demos that are rarely (if ever) representative of the final product. However, there is one game announcement that caught my attention this year, and that is From Software's Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. That's right, it has been confirmed that the mysterious Shadows Die Twice teaser is not a sequel to Bloodborne or Dark Souls, or even to Tenchu, as many fans had speculated. It is a new IP that takes place in a feudal Japanese setting (similar to Nioh).

Sekiro does not have a firm release date, and is slated simply for "2019". So it may still be over a year away.

Perhaps I'll hold myself over with the Resident Evil 2 remake ("REmake2"? "RE2make"?), assuming that the RE4-style over-the-shoulder camera doesn't ruin it. The REmake of the first Resident Evil is, after all, quite extraordinary, and Resident Evil VII was a surprisingly-solid return to form, so I am optimistic that REmake2 will be of similarly high quality. But I digress...

As much as I love Bloodborne, I am actually pleased to see that this is a new IP rather than a sequel to Demon's Souls, Bloodborne, or Dark Souls. FromSoft always seems to thrive when introducing a new IP, even though all the Souls-Borne games share many themes, plot elements, and mechanics between them. FromSoft's track record with sequels has been ... shaky at best. Neither Dark Souls 2 nor Dark Souls 3 are "bad" games. I still sunk something like a hundred hours into each -- with no regrets. Neither of them, however, comes close to touching the brilliance that was on display with Demon's Souls, Dark Souls, and Bloodborne.

Besides, the Lovecraftian cosmic horror nature of Bloodborne makes a direct sequel risky. A sequel would almost necessarily have to further expound upon the Old Ones, the Pthumerians, the Healing Church, and the relationships between them. The more we know about these entities, the less mysterious and unknowable they become, and the less horrific the cosmic horror becomes. A sequel that removes the mystery surrounding the Old Ones, and which further empowers the player character would not only result in a weak sequel, but would also retroactively damage the first Bloodborne by providing answers to questions that were best left -- not only unknown -- but also unknowable.

E3 Announcement trailer for From Software's new IP: Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice.

Implications from the trailer

Fortunately, a direct Bloodborne sequel is not in the works -- at least not yet. Instead, we have a samurai-inspired hack-n-slash that looks like FromSoft's direct response to Nioh (which is, itself, receiving a sequel and some additional competition soon).

Sekiro seems to put a lot of emphasis on sword play, including parrying with your sword (rather than with a shield). It's unclear if the player will have access to other types of weapons besides a katana, or if the katana will include multiple stances or combat styles similar to Nioh. In any case, I expect the swordplay in Sekiro to be much more technical and precise than in the Souls game.

Sekiro seems to use the sword for parrying, rather than a shield.

This may be a further fulfillment of the design philosophies of Bloodborne...

[More]

Call of Duty: WWII - title

I haven't played a Call of Duty game since World At War on the PS3 almost 10 years ago. I really liked the first two CoD games on PC, but after Infinity Ward stopped developing the games, they increasingly focused on spectacle rather than any attempt to accurately portray war. After throwing back more enemy grenades in the first mission of World At War than were probably ever manufactured in all of World War II (I'm exaggerating a little bit), I got sick of that game and basically gave up on the franchise.

After having a little bit of fun with EA's Battlefield 1, I decided to pick up a used copy of Call of Duty World War II from eBay. I was curious if the return to World War II would be taken a little bit more seriously by Activision. It wasn't. This is the same old stale Call of Duty that I've been actively avoiding for the past decade. The single-player campaign didn't do anything to pull me in.

A light-gun shooting gallery

Probably the biggest problem with the campaign is just how rote and repetitive it feels. Almost all of the game's missions boil down to moving from one shooting gallery to another. When you aren't in an outright combat tunnel (like a bunker or trench), you're only given about a hundred feet of lateral space to work with. The whole game feels very confined and small in scale, with very few opportunities for any tactical movement such as flanking maneuvers. Just sit behind cover and pop out to take a few shots, then repeat. It might as well be an on-rails shooter, or one of those pop-out-and-shoot light-gun arcade machines like Time Crisis. I wonder if this was maybe done to make the game work better in VR? Maybe they wanted to reduce the amount of movement so that players don't get motion sick? But it's not VR, so it just comes off as lazy and tedious.

Almost all the missions boil down to moving from one narrow shooting gallery to another.

Even when the game tries to do something a little different, it usually still finds a way to make it uninteresting, or to outright get it wrong. There are some stealth mechanics shoe-horned into the game -- because of course there's stealth mechanics. They are rudimentary and very unforgiving. It's clear that certain segments are intended to be played stealthily, but you just don't have the tools necessary to make it work, and the levels aren't designed very well for stealth. Your limited field of view makes environmental and situational awareness very difficult. It's hard to tell where enemies are, and it's also hard to tell if your'e hidden behind cover. Even if you are effectively hidden, you can't peek out of cover to monitor the enemy's position or movements.

After stealth killing one or two enemies, I almost always got caught and was forced into more shoot-outs. Many of these scenarios involve the player being isolated and usually disarmed, so that you don't have the firepower to easily deal with a shootout when it inevitably happens. Put simply, the stealth is only barely functional and might as well not even have been included.

The undercover "Liberation" mission is the only level that is actually built around stealth.

The only stealth level that worked was the undercover "Liberation" mission with the Marquis (which you mostly play as a different character). ...

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Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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