PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC; From Software/Activision
This often breathtaking game of serial assassination in 16th-century Japan is a treasure chest for players able to commit to learning its secrets
This is a game about fighting through a supernaturally tinged recreation of 16th-century Japan as a deathless assassin with a sharp blade and a weaponised prosthetic arm, but there are plenty of moments when the sword is sheathed and the game shows a quiet cinematic discipline. A castle aflame on a hilltop, illuminating the gardens and courtyards below in the dead of night. Stolen minutes crouched hidden on rooftops, surveying patrolling guards, or strolling up an avenue lined with blossoming trees. Short, opaque conversations with dying samurai. Hiding in tall grass from a gigantic, bone-chilling serpent that tastes the air with its flickering tongue as it slithers massively through a valley. I have seen some extraordinary things in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, and still, after weeks, there is more ahead.
Sekiro’s set-piece fights are breathtaking, clashing songs of steel whose different rhythms defy familiarisation. Fighting a hooded shinobi-hunter with a spear is a different dance from fighting a general on horseback, or an elite swordsman, or a flaming beast. Avoiding attacks is usually impossible; instead, you must deflect them with your blade, seizing each momentary opening to retaliate with your own slash, until an enemy’s posture is broken and they’re left open to a finishing blow.