I Quit Sekiro (Or It Broke Me)
I QUIT SEKIRO
(or it broke me)
by Dylan Blight
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, the latest game from Demon Souls, Dark Souls and Bloodborne developers FromSoftware released last Friday and I eagerly jumped in excited to play it.
My time with the game — an estimated 10 hours — was a gruelling, rewarding and constant learning experience. It didn’t play like Dark Souls; it didn’t play like Bloodborne, and it lacked several key elements from both those games. Elements that most considered main ingredients in the Soulsborn formula. But I was learning, adapting, and enjoying my time.
After 10 hours though, Sekiro broke something in me and I made a decision to uninstall the game. Yes, I know #gitgud and all that fun stuff, but I have boiled down my feelings for Sekiro and decided I didn’t have time for its shit anymore.
My key frustration grew from the game's lack of any soft-padding. In Soulsborne titles, there is the ability to somewhat makes things easier for yourself if you get stuck. You can grind some character levels, stick some skill points in HP, Attack, Defense, or whatever you think will help you in your battle, and be able to give yourself the slight edge you needed to survive a boss battle. Although all Soulsborne games do come down to skill, having the option to grind out something to possibly make the battle a little easier was always a nice option and added a level of ease for those not wanting to beat the entire game without ever getting hit. It was a welcome option, especially as it gave you something to do when you wanted a break from bashing against a boss battle over-and-over.
Another thing Sekiro is missing that Soulsborne titles have always included is any online components. In Bloodborne and the Souls games you were able to call in for help from another player if need be, which made playing through a ridiculous boss in co-op an easier option. There was also the option to leave notes on the ground to help other players with useful tips, or trick them into a deathtrap (if you were that kinda person.)
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is a singular experience that lacks the RPG elements of previous FromSoft tiles, and has you playing as one protagonist, one set stat-sheet and the only option you have when you’re hitting up against a wall is to practice and get better at the game. But when you're getting one-hit killed, it can make practising specific boss battle elements hard.
Which sure, I get it, and the game is rewarding. The first mini-boss in the game took me roughly 10 tries and when I finally understood the parrying system it was an "a-ha" moment and at the time, I was looking forward to more like those.
Sekiro though has changed a lot of the Soulsborne systems we knew, introduced a much weaker character and thrown you into a world that is ultimately more brutal than any previous FromSoft games. Grunt enemies 10 hours in are still scary to face because I know that one of them could still knock half my HP down if I’m not careful. Also, not having the amount of HP restoring items we have had in previous games always makes the slightest mistake nearly game ending. Which is where the bonfire or camp system in this game becomes tedious to a point I was sick of it. It’s one thing to ask me to learn a brutal boss system, but another to make me constantly wander through such long areas to get back to the boss after dying. Often areas lead to death if you're not careful as you're getting shot from outta nowhere; tackled from the sky or dived on from above. Previous Soulsborne titles didn’t always have checkpoints close to the boss fights, but you’d also usually be able to open a shortcut to the boss, and sprinting past all the enemies was usually pretty easy. If one managed to hit you, whatever, not the end of the world. In Sekiro if any enemy hits you, you might as well walk all the way back to the checkpoint and rest because you NEED that HP more than ever.
I’m not trying to say it’s a broken system, it’s simply one I don’t care for anymore. I don’t have the time for, and I had to realize this and -- well, I uninstalled the game for my own mental sanity. Because I know I’ll keep wanting to come back, keep trying again, keep getting frustrated. Do I think I’d have beaten the point I was at? Yes, for sure, I was getting very close to beating several bosses I had access too. But the question that’s most important when choosing to play a game like this is: is winning worth it? And for me, I have (for now at least) said no it's not.
We talk a lot about games not respecting players time these days, and also the lack of accessibility in games for those that need it, whether that's on a skill level or a barrier of entry because of a control input. Sekiro isn't comforting on either of those.
One of 2018's best games was Celeste. A somewhat brutal platformer, but a very rewarding one with a fantastic story, characters and message. It was also one of the most accessible platformers in years with several modifiers in the game that didn't make fun of you for using them, tell you-you're a bad gamer or treat you lesser for seeking an easier point of entry, or help. It encouraged you to play the game you wanted and what you felt would be most rewarding. I gratefully used those modifiers to make getting through a section I was stuck on for some time and then switched them off. I'm not ashamed, I wanted to beat that level before I had work that day. Celeste is an amazing game for many things, but I also think its use of customizable modifiers has me looking at games like Sekiro and other games a little different since playing it.
I don't hate Sekiro, in-fact I really like it and will continue watching others play it, but I don't have time for what it wants from me. But I think of all the people who can play Celeste and experience the amazing game because of its modifiers and I wonder how many people wish they could experience FromSoft worlds with similar options and accessibility options.
To all those playing Sekiro still: I'm rooting for you. Good luck, shinobis.