The truth is, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice isn't really meant to be any easier or harder than Dark Souls. It's just its own thing, off to the side. From Software has been making hardcore action RPGs for about a decade, so it's no wonder that it would want to shake things up every now and again. It did so to an extent with Bloodborne, and that's arguably one of the studio's best games. However, its most recent effort takes things a step further; Sekiro is adjacent to Souls, having abandoned some of its hallmarks while forging a new path of its own. The result is yet another success for the Japanese studio, and one of the year's best titles.
We could dwell on the similarities this game has with its predecessors, but what's far more exciting is what it does differently. Sure, Sekiro has a large, interconnected world to explore, specific points at which to rest, and larger than life boss fights that will really test your mettle. What you don't get in Souls, though, is the nerve-shreddingly intense, parry-based combat that makes this game so thrilling to play. It puts the emphasis on action, swordplay, and trading blows, and it makes for some of the most brutal fights you'll find on PlayStation 4.
You don't have to worry about stamina, but that doesn't mean you can just flail your katana around. To eliminate your foes, you'll need to whittle down their posture bar by parrying attacks consistently before ending things with one satisfying blow. Fighting even the most basic of bad guys will take discipline; timing and controlled strikes will win more encounters than brute force. It's this unique combat system that makes Sekiro special. Mastering the game's blade-clashing battles is a huge challenge, but we're not sure you'll find many more examples of such gratifying gameplay.
It's an agile game that encourages you to experiment with the tools you're given. You're not min-maxing your stats here, but you do have access to a suite of useful items, prosthetic tools, and combat arts with which to expand your options. There's no filler content; everything has its use, and you're left with a game that, while quite large, is surprisingly lean. Even the resurrection mechanic doesn't feel cheap because of its restricted use.
We could go on about the game's bleak but beautiful world, or its understated story of honour and loyalty, or its incredible lineup of boss battles. From Software's experiment paid off; the studio has made a title that stands shoulder to shoulder with PS4's best action games, and it does so while confidently exploring new ideas. Unflinchingly brutal and refreshingly different, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is absolutely one of 2019's best.
What do you think of Sekiro? Is it one of your favourites this year? Does it improve upon the Souls formula in a meaningful way? Grapple into the comments below.
How we decide our Game of the Year: At the end of November, our editorial team creates a list of nominees for Game of the Year based on our own review scores and a number of other factors. After much discussion, we trim the list of nominees down and ask all Push Square staff to vote on their five favourites using a points-based system. The ten games with the most points by the designated deadline are our top ten PS4 titles of 2019. We then use this same order when writing about each game.