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Here’s what Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is actually about

FromSoftware is using historical Japan as a jumping off point for a fantastical, story-driven brawler

Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice was unveiled this week at E3 in Los Angeles. It’s by FromSoftware, the same team behind the Dark Souls series and Bloodborne. But, while those games had opaque roots in fantasy and horror, Sekiro draws its inspiration from historical Japan.

In a private, behind-closed-doors viewing of the game ahead of its announcement, representatives of FromSoftware told Polygon that their game was inspired by 1500s Japan. That period of Japanese history is known as the Sengoku period, also referred to as the Age of Warring States. It was a time marked by near constant warfare which embroiled the entire region in massive political upheaval.

The main character will be a warrior in the service to a 10-year-old lord. The main antagonist, who FromSoftware is calling The Rival for now, has kidnapped the child and secreted them away. During the abduction, The Rival cuts off the main character’s arm. When they wake up, they find that it has been replaced by the Shinobi prosthetic, a false arm with wild mechanical powers.

The Shinobi prosthetic includes a grappling hook, which players can use to reach locations around the map. The hook will also serve as a location to slot weapons. We were shown one such attachment called the Shinobi axe. In the stowed position, the axe protrudes from the main character’s left elbow. When activated, it flips forward into their hand. The axe behaves as an off-hand weapon, one custom built for breaking enemy shields.

Another unusual feature of Sekiro is its new death mechanic. Traditionally, in so-called Souls games, death returns the player to the nearest checkpoint, resets the enemies, and robs you of whatever you’ve earned. This time around, death returns players to the spot where they died.

In the demo we were shown, the main character died while fighting a large boss and several smaller enemies. The main character fell on his back, and the screen showed a Japanese character in red and the word “death” in English below it. Enemies turned their back on the player’s corpse and began to walk away. That’s when the player stood back up, taking one of the smaller enemies by surprise before returning to focus on the larger boss.

Representatives of FromSoftware said that the new death mechanic will give players a strategic advantage. You may want to get yourself killed on purpose, they said, in order to gain a tactical advantage. The developers were careful to mention that players won’t be able to revive indefinitely. There’s more to the death mechanic that will be revealed at a later time, they said, while promising that Sekiro will provide the same level of tension that fans of Dark Souls and Bloodborne have come to expect.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is expected to arrive in early 2019 on PlayStation 4, Windows PC and Xbox One.

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