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Sekiro beginner’s guide

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Become a shinobi god

Sekiro FromSoftware/Activision via Polygon

Sekiro is not Dark Souls or Bloodborne, but it has the bones of both. It’s not a stealth game, but you should play it sneakily. It’s not a role-playing game, but it has RPG elements. It is, in short, a FromSoftware game. It’s weird, brutal, fun, infuriating, and immeasurably satisfying — as long as you persist and don’t throw your controller at a wall.

Like its predecessors before it, Sekiro has the advantage. Our beginner’s guide will help you meet its challenges without ruining or spoiling the fun. We’ve designed this guide to teach you Sekiro’s language — and the faster you become fluent, the better.

What happens when you die

If you’ve played a FromSoftware game from the last decade, you know that death brings a significant penalty. The idea remains the same in Sekiro, but the penalties (and opportunities) for dying are different.

There’s a lot going on, so we’ll break this section down into chunks that deal with the three big concepts: Resurrection, death penalties, and Unseen Aid.

Resurrection

When you die, you can press a button and come back to life right where you fell. This is called Resurrection. Two pink circles at the bottom left of your screen show Resurrection’s availability. As long as at least one circle is full (one refills like a pie chart), you can resurrect.

Sekiro resurrection black slash FromSoftware/Activision via Polygon

There’s a cooldown after you resurrect, so you’ll have to wait a few minutes or kill some enemies before you can do it again. You can’t resurrect back-to-back, and you’ll know when it’s unavailable because there’s a black slash through the resurrection icon.

Every time you rest at a Sculptor’s Idol, you’ll get all of your resurrection uses back.

Death penalties

If you can’t (or choose not to) resurrect, you’ll die. When you die in Sekiro, you lose two things:

  1. Half of the experience you’ve gained toward your next Skill Point
  2. Half of the sen (the currency you’ll use to purchase most things in Sekiro) you were holding

Losing half of what you had also means that you’ll keep half of what you had, so death isn’t a total loss. If you were carrying 100 sen, you’ll arrive back at the most recent Sculptor Idol you visited with 50 sen. You can’t recover the other 50 from the place where you died. If you die again before collecting any more money, you’ll arise with 25 sen.

You can’t recover everything you’ve lost unless you receive Unseen Aid.

Unseen Aid

Receiving Unseen Aid means that you keep the Skill Experience and sen that you’d normally lose when you die. When you arise again, you’ll see an unambiguous overlay that tells you that you’ve received Unseen Aid.

Sekiro Unseen Aid
Unseen Aid (1), Skill Experience (2), and sen (3)
FromSoftware/Activision via Polygon

How do you receive Unseen Aid? It’s basically a roll of the dice. As you can see in the image above:

  1. We have a 13 percent chance of receiving Unseen Aid. If we were to die, there’s a bit more than a 1 in 10 chance that we’ll arise again with …
  2. the 703 Skill Experience that we’re carrying and …
  3. the 284 sen we’re carrying.

If we don’t get Unseen Aid, we’ll arise with 352 Skill Experience and 142 sen.

Rot Essense

As you die in Sekiro, Unseen Aid’s percentage decreases. It starts at 30 percent, giving you effectively a 1 in 3 chance to recover your sen and Skill Experience.

When you resurrect a lot, you’ll occasionally receive an item called Rot Essence. There’s a story-based explanation for this, but each of the Rot Essence items you receive lowers Unseen Aid’s percentage. In the screenshot above, you can tell we’ve died a bunch and received Rot Essence items because we’re only at 13 percent.

Explore everything and everywhere

Sekiro may be the friendliest FromSoftware game, but that’s relative. It won’t hold your hand, and it’s your responsibility to explore the world.

Here’s a practical example of how that works: Early in the game, you’ll confront enemies holding enormous shields. You could avoid them. Or, with a ton of persistence, you could defeat them with your standard sword. But if you’ve explored the area leading up to your encounter, you’ll find a new weapon that makes the shields a non-issue.

That’s how Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice operates. It’s not an open world game, but you’ll be exploring wide open areas. There’s not something around every corner or behind every wall, but you should explore to find everything.

Sure, you can sprint past optional areas, but you’ll miss out on a lot of helpful items. Be curious. Enter every building. Climb every ledge. Talk to every character. You’ll find items and get hints. They may not make the game easy, but they can make it easier.

Vitality, Posture, and Deathblows

Health in Sekiro works basically like you’d expect, but with a bit of a twist. Everybody has a Vitality bar for health and a Posture bar. Vitality drains as you take damage, but Posture fills as you do things like block or get grabbed. For your enemies, it drains when they block, too.

Wolf’s and an enemy’s Vitality and Posture gauge locations
Wolf’s and an enemy’s Vitality and Posture gauge locations
FromSoftware/Activision via Polygon

When an enemy’s Posture damage gauge is full or when they’re unaware of your presence, they’re open to a Deathblow — you’ll also see a red dot appear in their chest letting you know. A Deathblow is almost always fatal. Stronger enemies like mini-bosses and bosses might require multiple Deathblows, but they’re rare, and you’ll see two red dots over their Vitality bar.

The system takes a second to grasp while playing, but understanding — and using it — will help you know how to fight. For example, if you have an enemy whose Posture damage fills with only a couple hits, you know you don’t have worry about timing your attacks — you can just swing away until you drop them.

Always balance offense and defense

Throughout Sekiro, you’ll learn new moves and gain new tools for your fights. Your job is not just to learn to use them, but to learn how to mix them into your repertoire. Skills evolve and compliment each other. You’re never going to stop using the sword you start the game with.

Every new tactic, skill, move, and tool is additive. Applying the fundamentals is the key to winning, even dozens of hours in.

Each enemy has an approach that works against them, from the first guard you fight to the final boss. And Sekiro will tell you — sometimes subtly, sometimes with a sword to the face — what works. Watch your enemies’ Vitality and Posture gauges, and watch how they move.

Watch for things like:

  • If your first attack fills their Posture damage halfway, you’re probably safe to press the attack until you get a Deathblow.
  • If they shrug off your Posture damage, it’s time to deal some Vitality (health) damage.
  • If their attacks cut through your defenses, you should probably be dodging instead.
  • If they rely heavily on sweeping attacks, use them as an opportunity to deal Posture damage with a Jump Kick.

Plan your attacks and think vertically

Direct confrontation is almost never the best way to approach a fight, and rushing in will get you killed. Instead, survey the area first, preferably from a rooftop or similar vantage point. Come up with a plan, and then execute it.

Sekiro rewards a considered approach. Focus on the low-level guards before you tackle a boss. Take out the archers or gunmen around the periphery of an arena before venturing into the open. Use Ceramic Pieces to draw one at a time away from groups so you can fight one-on-one.

Think about sightlines and plunging attacks. Dropping onto an enemy will almost always take them out of the fight, but it won’t do you any good if it also alerts his friends nearby. Start around the edges of a fight and work your way in. Take the long way around and attack from behind.

Sekiro isn’t a stealth game, and fighting earns you skills

One of the earliest questions we had about Sekiro was whether you could play it like, say, a Metal Gear game: super stealthily. The answer is not so much.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice incentivizes both stealth and combat — and it gives you options and opportunities to employ both in almost every situation. The best and most successful approach balances the two.

Sneaky backstabs should always be your first priority when starting an encounter. They make quick work of low-level grunts, and can cut your fights against mini-bosses in half. A backstab requires your target to be unaware of you, and that means staying out of sight. Luckily, the design of most areas gives you this option, either in deep grass or on rooftops.

You have to fight, though. When you’re out of obvious stealth targets, be offensive and drain your enemy’s Posture with every hit.

Defeating enemies earns you sen, the in-game currency, and Skill Experience. When you earn enough experience, you’ll get a Skill Point. And then you can use the Skill Point to buy — wait for it — skills.

That means Sekiro incentivizes fighting. You don’t have to take out every single enemy, but there’s always a reward when you do.

Always be eavesdropping

Sekiro eavesdropping FromSoftware/Activision via Polygon

Eavesdropping is more than a cute trick in Sekiro. Your enemies’ conversations usually give you a clue about something nearby or an upcoming boss fight. Eavesdropping is a hint system disguised. Keep them in mind while you you explore the area nearby. Combine them with the loading screen tips, and you’ll often be able to piece together a reasonable guess about what you should do next.