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Great moments in PC gaming: When Sekiro’s sword combat clicks

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Big PC gaming moments are bite-sized celebrations of some of our favorite gaming memories.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

A shinobi with a sword and a wrist-mounted flame slot

(Photo credit: Activision)

Year: 2019
Developer: FromSoftware

In each of the Dark Souls games – including offshoots like Bloodborne – I was either hiding behind a large shield or was extremely good at pressing the dodge button. In Sekiro, the action RPG game made by software where you play as the one-armed shinobi, you absolutely shouldn’t get close to combat. The moment that clicked for me was one of the most powerful epiphanies I’ve had while playing.

Sekiro goes and talks like Dark Souls, but it really is a disguised rhythm game. Rather than dodging or blocking attacks with a shield, your best defense option is to parry them by pressing the button right when an enemy is about to hit you. Not only can this create openings that do absurd damage, but it can also lower the enemy’s posture so that when they are exhausted, you can kill them with a single blow.

However, none of this is actually communicated to you at the beginning. Explanations are there, but I was so brainwashed by Dark Souls that by default I played Sekiro the same way. Instead of holding my own and fending off attacks, I kept stepping back and trying to keep my distance. For the first 12 hours, something didn’t feel good about Sekiro and I wondered if the game just wasn’t that good.

But then it clicked. I fought a mini-boss with a large spear for what was probably my 24th attempt, and became extremely frustrated with how quickly he had impaled me. Nothing seemed to work, but then a tooltip on the loading screen happened to mention how the Shinobi win by overwhelming their enemies with vicious attacks. OK, I thought, this time I’ll go on the offensive as hard as possible. 20 seconds later that miniboss was dead and I finally realized that I had been playing wrong against Sekiro the whole time.

A shinobi with a sword

(Photo credit: Von Software)

Rather than sit back and be patient, Sekiro encourages the opposite: rush your enemy, strike first and parry their attacks to create more openings. With this strategy, I was able to instantly go back to two separate bosses that felt impossible a few minutes earlier, and beat them both on my first try. The high of these victories was intoxicating.

Everything was powerful at that moment, and the way in which it led me to an assassination attempt by all the bosses who had previously foiled my attempts to beat Sekiro was powerful.

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Robert Dunfee