Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is a difficult game. It's also somewhat vague and requires a lot of wandering before you can really get your bearings. With the following guide, I can only hope that we can cut down some of that wandering by pointing out some very useful advice that I wish I had when I started playing this instant classic from the twisted mind of Hidetaka Miyazaki.
You will die more than twice
This feels like it should go without saying. These FromSoft games signature move is killing you again and again. Just like in those games, we encourage you not to get discouraged. Take a break here and there. Grab a bagel or something. Just don't let the frustration of constantly being thwarted staunch your will to press on. Ultimately, you'll be glad you didn't.
I know, things are hard and combat is scary. You want to just run forward to the next statue and away from danger. I have to warn you against that. There are things you will really like to have off the beaten path. Besides several more useful consumables like sugars, Pellets, and Piles of Ash, chances are side paths can lead you very important components to your prosthetic. You'll be very sad if you miss things like the Firecracker and the Axe just because you didn't turn left once an hour ago.
Stealth is a big part of Sekiro. Getting into position to strike or bypassing encounters all together is key to a healthy and productive run. Crouch walk whenever you aren't sure where enemies could be lingering. If their's tall grass or overhangs to crawl under, use them. Grappling up to higher ground is a great idea too. It can help you get the lay of the land beneath you, and further sharpen your route to an exit. But be wary, it's not uncommon for the Ashina clan to prop snipers on the roof to stop just such surveillance.
Stealth won't take you through Sekiro indefinitely. At some point, you will have to square up with the many men and beasts looking to send you back to the grave. So sneaking around is more a means to get an advantage in inevitable combat - making sure the fight can remain on your terms. When you approach an enemy that is unaware of you, you will get an automatic deathblow on them. No need to break down their posture first! Which means you'll have to take great care in getting good positions and watching enemy patrols.
Transitioning from stealth to open combat is all about making the ensuing fight as easy for you as possible. The best way to do this is to start by killing enemies that serve a higher priority threat than the others. If they have a pan or a torch in their hands, they will use it to alert nearby foes. They will probably have to go first. Enemies with big axes or ones wearing more armor than the others might be more useful to kill first as well to save yourself the struggle of doing it the hard way.
Exploit the Deathblow
These one hit kill states are gonna be currency when it comes to the delicate economy of killing a group of foes as quickly as possible. Once you've stealth killed that high priority target, you want to focus on getting another enemy's posture broken ASAP. When you do, take note of the advantages of deathblowing while in combat. Firstly, you'll take an enemy out of the picture, regardless of if you depleted their vitality or not. Secondly, you are invulnerable during Deathblow animations. This means that the more time you spend deathblowing people, the safer you'll be. Third, Deathblows are a quick way to replenish your Resurrection meter (those pink dots above your health bar. The faster you can kill, the faster you can get back a lost revive and keep your run alive.
Blocking is good, Deflecting is better
A lot has been said about the benefits of deflecting incoming attacks in Sekiro. Besides doing posture damage to enemies, deflection can mitigate damage completely while putting you in a good position to counter attack. The issue with deflecting is that it can be tough to get the time right, especially against groups of enemies all swinging at you inconsistently. Bosses often have long chains of attacks and deflecting all of them is near impossible.
This is where blocking can be useful. You can block at anytime, and hold it for as long as your able. But the damage you take while blocking is only reduced, not completely negated. Also, you're posture meter will grow quickly under the stress of many blows. Creating distance will always be the end goal, but blocking can be the difference between getting out of a bad situation beat up and not getting out at all. When not taking attacks, blocking will also regain your posture at a higher speed than normal, so blocking is absolutely worth doing.
In some instances, Running is best
Sometimes, a tough fight just isn't worth seeing through. There's too much on the line. Dying halves your resources, and can cause the dreaded Dragonrot, which infects NPCs in the world and changes how they interact with you. No one wants that. If the going is getting tough and you're not so sure that you're going to make it, why not sprint your way to back to an Idol, where you can rest up and try again fresh (minus any items you used.)
Running can also be useful for getting to that boss that keeps smiting you quickly. Tiptoeing through places you've already seen can be time-consuming and frustrating. Often, just sprinting until you reach a boss can be the fastest way to get back into the fight you really want to have. It's risky, of course, but an option.
The Mini-Boss Risk/Reward
There are a lot of enemies in Sekiro that are stronger and more dangerous than your average fair. These "mini-bosses" are identifiable in a few ways. They are physically bigger than the enemies around them, more often than not. They have names, like General Tenzen Yamauchi. They also have two deathblow pips above their health bar, suggesting that even if you did get the drop on them, you wouldn't be able to stealth kill them out right.
These battles are fierce, and in many cases, optional. If you find yourself running into a path that ends in one of these guys, consider trying to find some alternate route before deciding to take them one. You'd be surprised how many of them you can just bypass completely. If you do decide to challenge them, know that your struggle won't be in vain. All boss characters drop Prayer Beads, which you need to increase your power. As the only reliable way to get them, fighting these fierce foes might be worth it, in the long run.
Mini Boss picking on you? There might be a skill for that!
There isn't a lot of room for too much customization in Sekiro. Unlike previous Souls games, you can't really switch up your gear to change your play style, or grind souls to boost stats. What you have is, more or less, what you get. That said, you might find that the clutch mechanics of some bosses are pretty peculiar. And maybe even very easily countered, if you take a hard look at your skill tree. Sometimes, the difference between being slain by a tough foe and succeeding against the heavy challenge before you is having the right tools.
If a guy with a spear is giving you a guff, consider investing some skill points in the Miriki Counter. This ability is risky, but if you pull it off, you'll do massive posture damage to a thrusting enemy, and set them up for big counter damage. If you find that an enemy is giving you no time to breathe, consider using the Firecrackers to stun them and slow them down.
Use your items
You pick of a lot of odds and ends in Sekiro, and many of them are useful. Don't get into the habit of relegated them to the inventory menu because of pride or whatever. These things will save your life. Be it the Sugars, that boost damage output or defend against vitality loss, or a Fistful of Ashes, that can daze an enemy if thrown at their feet, these tools are all at your disposal. Use them and gain advantages where you clearly need them.
Go back to the Dilapidated Temple regularly
It's important that you visit Emma and The Sculptor often, because they will have a lot to say to you. Seemingly anything that happens in your travels can spawn a new set of dialogue to either open up the story a bit, or provide you with some very valuable skills, items, or advice in how to deal with the situation in front of you. Many very important features begin with a conversation at the Temple.
Hopefully, these will get you on the right track for the early game of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. If you need more information, come to our Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice Wiki!
Jarrett shares his love of video games and geek culture through feature articles on Gamepedia. He prides himself on his deep attraction to Japanese beat-em ups and his god-like Bushido Blade talents.