So when Shadows Die Twice was revealed at E3, from the good ol’ people at From and headed by Miyazaki, showing off a far-eastern astatic with cool gadgets, increased verticality, enormous bosses, and all the Dark Souls flavor that I had grown to know and love, but evolved and improved in exciting and innovative ways, one would think that my levels of hype would be through the ceiling and over the moon… right?
Strangely enough… the answer was no.
At the time I sort of chalked it up to a sort of Samurai fatigue. After all, there were a lot of games like Shadows Die Twice announced at E3, and maybe they all just sort of bled together. But then, Nioh 2 was also announced at E3, and I was pretty darn excited for that even though it had the same problem. So I figured maybe my lack of knowledge about the game would raise my hype levels, but when information did trickle in: about the death mechanics and the difficulty, about the assassination mechanics and the arm gadgets, about the story and the world… I found the opposite happened. My interest waned even more. And like an old man at a strip club, I was left wondering why none of this was getting my blood flowing.
I’m the #1 SoulsBorne fan. A guy who memorized the layout of the first game so profoundly I could probably narrate a playthrough with my eyes closed. Someone who’s watched hours of lore videos and, as mentioned, spent hours crafting articles talking about how great the series is. What exactly is going on here?
Well, I gave it some thought. And while I by no means speak for all Souls fans here, some of whom I’m sure are very excited for this game, I’ve compiled a sort list of all the reasons I’ve figured out this game doesn’t excite me as much as it logically should. And this isn’t to say you shouldn’t be excited, if you are: this is for those of you who might be left wondering, like me, why this game doesn’t seem to scratch the same itch that Dark Souls did. So, without further ado:
1) The loss of your own story
The great thing about Dark Souls? It was the perfect canvas to tell your own story.
And I mean that in just about every respect. The lore was so convoluted and hidden that you could believe whatever theory you wanted and there was a better than good chance you were right in some respect. But it also meant you could think up your own world and it would work just as well: at its core, it is a story of adventuring knights and wizards and clerics, and that’s an easy template to slap your own ideas on top of. You could edit parts of the existing world, think up new ones, and just ignore the proper nouns the NPC’s use as you went on your merry way. I liked that.
And of course this translated into the game proper. From how you could build your own character from scratch, pick their weapons from a wide selection and improve them in a number of unique ways, build cool armor sets to make yourself look like a badass… it wasn’t just the world you could reshape, but your character as well. Just about every aspect of them was under your command, and it made it fun and satisfying to make new characters and play over and over again. In that respect, Dark Souls was the ultimate doll-house, which I’ll admit, I like way more than I probably should.
Shadows Die Twice, on the other hand, isn’t that. The story and your objective is more clear-cut (From what we’ve seen, at least), and your character customization options are just way more limited. And on one hand, playing a pre-defined character is better for telling stories, but on the other hand, I never went to Dark Souls to have a story told to me. I went to Dark Souls to discover a story, either the in-game one or one that was in my own head. There are better games for that kind of stuff.
2) I’m sorry but the death mechanic is still not as interesting.
When Miyazaki introduced the world to the new death mechanic used in Shadows Die Twice, where you respawn at the exact place where you were killed, he promised that it would actually make the game harder. To be exact, he said:
“There’s one thing I’d like to make sure isn’t misunderstood: the resurrection system was not introduced to make the game easier. If anything, it actually can make the game harder because it allows us to push the edge of risky combat where the player can die at any moment.”
A statement I found kind of baffling, because it goes contrary to my understanding of Dark Souls. I, and I feel, many others, were never drawn to Dark Souls because it was “hard”.
It’s true that Dark Souls is hard, don’t get me wrong. But it’s a very specific type of hard. The bonfire respawn mechanic was never about being “punishing”, it was about giving you the chance to learn from your mistakes so you would die less. Dying was a tool to help you get better, and everything around the game was designed to encourage that learning, from the bloodstains to the respawning enemies. And as you died a lot in the early levels, you would also die less as you went along, because all those deaths in the early game taught you things that would keep you alive even against new enemies in new environments.
Respawning at the exact spot where you died, on the other hand, has been framed as a different type of gameplay tool, where you use your own death to make the most of a bad situation. In Miyazaki’s own words,
“One of the general concepts for the game is that you can kill ingeniously — a ninja is so resourceful that he can even make use of his own death to gain an advantage. That’s kind of the idea we had.”
Here’s the thing: not only is that not quite as unique as you might think, it’s also an enormous departure from the Soulsborn mentality. And if everything else about the game is married to the traditional souls style, then basically it’s robbing you of the chance to improve and learn systemically. Death might become less of a hassle, but it’s hard to imagine overcoming the walls the game has put in front of you will be quite as satisfying, or prepare you for what’s ahead without even hinting as to what those things might be.
And who knows, maybe it works out really well and it’s another revolution of game design on par with Dark Souls. But for the sole purpose of getting me hype? It doesn’t do that.
And that brings us to point three:
3) This isn’t a Souls game.
There was this broad assumption, an assumption that everyone had the moment Shadows Die Twice was announced, and one that persists to this day, that Shadows Die Twice would be a game similar to Dark Souls. And looking at the Gameplay, it’s easy to see why someone might feel that way. Mechanically, the game looked startlingly similar to the other Souls games, although perhaps more to Bloodborne than the titular Dark Souls series.
But the devil is in the details, and the more we learned about the game, between the lack of customization and the loss of one of the most important features of the Souls series, as well as the many gameplay reviews that have come out since E3, the more convinced I became that the real reason I’m not excited for this game is that it’s not actually a Souls game at all.
Which, to be fair, GameSpot had actually reported way before I started this article but I only discovered now when doing research for it. My bad.
There are lots of souls-like games coming out in the future that I am excited for. The weird anime trappings of Code Vein. The hitherto unknown Nioh 2. The possibilities of Lords of the Fallen have gotten my attention. And that’s on top of all the other new Souls-like games that are out I haven’t gotten to try yet, like Dead Cells. Compared to all those, Shadows Die Twice just doesn’t seem like it scratches the same itch.
And that’s not a bad thing: heck, that’s probably really good that Miyazaki is out trying new things and making new types of games. But whatever Shadows Die Twice is, some hyper 3D mix of Mark of the Ninja and Hotline Miami, it’s just not for me. And that’s okay… if a little sad.
But hey, if it's for you? You enjoy, you crazy animal you.