• Andrew Jonhardt

And now for something completely different

I'm going to start posting design reviews of various games I'm currently playing on slow weeks. I spent the past weekend redesigning my card game, but I'm not looking forward to testing it again so soon. Feedback is painful, no matter how necessary, and my ability to trick myself into underestimating the progress of my card game only makes the pain worse. So, I'm saying I don't have much new to say about my card game that wasn't covered by last week's blog.

I could gush a little about Godot. I've finally gone through some tilemapping tutorials, and I love how easy tiling and tilemaps are in general. However, because I have no idea how to tile in Unity, the engine I spent a years more time with over Godot, I'm currently facing some feelings of inadequacy I'd rather not dive into. Plus, I have a hard time wanting to share information I'm only using as part of a tutorial that anyone can go find (and that I've linked to previously). It's be like gushing about any homework!

Anyhoo, let me just go ahead and say I will never cover any game made by Nintendo.

This week I will be discussing Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice.

Sekiro is an Action game with Stealth elements. You can sneak around, but your rewards for doing so are minimal. Stealth is an (often powerful) option that becomes less interesting the more you play of the game.

The reasons Stealth becomes less interesting are many. The bosses, and many mini-bosses, provide no opportunity for a stealth attack. The level design in multiple areas, featuring clumps of foes with long sight-lines, discourages attempts to use stealth to pass through. The rewards you get for killing bosses are so poor that you will need to confront the areas filled with foes to unlock much of anything (skills, attachment upgrades, special vendor items, etc.). And, once a foe sees you, all other foes put on alert with little room to escape.

Why are hindrances to stealth a problem? They illustrate a dissonance I feel whenever I play Sekiro. The main character is supposed to be a shinobi, or ninja, yet the way encounters are structured reminds me more of playing a samurai. One arm of this shinobi is a prosthetic that you can cram full of toys, yet the currency required to use said toys is so limited (you can only carry so much currency for the arm gadgets at a time) that you're actively trained to avoid using abilities unless absolutely necessary. Half of the skills you can unlock don't provide much more than what you already get from your base abilities.

It could be argued that this dissonance actually works to highlight the combat. I have to admit, I've been enjoying the swordplay a great deal. Never before have I felt like I was actually playing with a sword instead of a stick in an RPG, while avoiding the aggravating attack/block angle systems of games like Mount & Blade and Chivalry. However, when I look closer at the argument for the dissonance highlighting the combat, I'm left wondering why From Software couldn't just enhance the combat instead.

The Ninjitsu system is a great example of a missed opportunity. Ninjitsu works with both stealth and execution (in-combat) attacks, and could easily serve as a point to allow the player to freely move between both approaches. Unfortunately, I've only encountered 3 Ninjitsu in all of my playtime. Each provides an interesting ability (possession, creating a mist of blood), only with a high cost to actively dissuade me from using the ability. The player skills, with so many uninteresting or useless options, fails to pick up the slack.

The combat in Sekiro feels like a fun system forced into a set of ideas and other systems that don't really match. I still enjoy the game a great deal, but it's clear Sekiro needed a little more baking time. Or, if the production at all mirrors my own game design experience, a bit more pain.

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