Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice (Xbox One/PC/PS4): 9/10
As expected, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice bears many similarities with the Dark Souls and Bloodborne series. But though these games come from the same developer and are by and large cut from the same cloth, there is still an inescapable uniqueness to Sekiro.
That being said, veterans of the punishing Dark Souls games will have a much easier introduction to the combat of Sekiro. Indeed, the similarities stretch beyond the combat system and into some facets of the gameplay. Sculptor's Idols, for example, allow you to save your game and are, for all intents and purposes, functionally identical to the bonfires in Dark Souls.
Where Sekiro - thankfully - diverges from the influence of its popular cousins is in the relatively forgiving nature of the game. The Dark Souls series have built up a reputation as punishing action games with razor thin margins between victory and defeat, whereas Sekiro generally lacks that constant sense of panic and anxiety. Save points are certainly more generous, allowing the player more scope for experimentation and exploration.
Where the Dark Souls games feel very 'boots-on-the-ground' in terms of combat and traversal, Sekiro feels light, deadly and far more vertical in nature. Your Shinobi character can avail of a curious prosthetic arm that allows the use of deadly off-hand weapons and the employment of a grappling hook that can send you flying across rooftops and chasms on a whim. FromSoftware have never had trouble imparting a dizzying sense of scale and awe to their environments, but being able to explore vertically and at great speed brings another element of appreciation to the venerable studio's work.
For all Sekiro's interesting mechanics - too numerous to expound fully in this review - perhaps its most satisfying is the excellent swordplay. Sekiro's skill-based swordsmanship ironically emphasis a terrific new rock-paper-scissors counering system. Parries and dodges are extremely important in Sekiro, often making the difference in success against enemies both big and small.
Sekiro, unlike the Dark Souls series, is much more direct in its progression and story. While the Japanese-themed world and plot is a welcome diversion from the overwhelming doom of their cousins, it still feels like there is a marked decrease in the amount of wonderment felt while exploring the world of Sekiro. Sekiro is nonethless a fabulous game and another instant classic from the now-revered development studio.