It took a dozen hours before I decided not to see Sekiro's end. The giant ogre was beaten, the forest Shinobi Hunter was killed. Several prosthetic modifications were in my possession. I fought off a huge snake and let a drunk rot. I had pushed through to believe that maybe I had learned the lesson I should learn, and that lesson was that I should be equally careful and aggressive. Sekiro is a game that involves combining instincts that seem to be at odds. Or maybe it's not about that, and that's why I'm bad at it.
But it's definitely a game where you have to learn how to play games again, and there's agreement that From Software Souls veterans purposely punished for their muscle memories. I played The Division 2 and it kicked my ass sometimes, but I never had to learn anything about it. I had to show and shoot, but I did not have to do it very well, and other games showed me how to point and shoot ̵
Dark Souls games are tough and people who deny it are either arrogant or lying. However, they all have the safety net of their cooperative system, which I used until exploitation. In all these three games that I've never learned to parry, I've never done anything fancy, I'm just dodgerolled and stealing. I did not like fights against bosses in Dark Souls, at least not alone: I liked the atmosphere and the feeling of discovery, I loved exploring the world. And I could do that as long as I could dodgeroll and swipe with reasonable effectiveness. That will not work in Sekiro.
There are plenty of skills to be learned in Sekiro, and most of the time, something new has to be learned. New combat skills, new prosthetic tools … all of this requires me to reconfigure the way I handle the buttons on my controller. If I listen to the clues and pay attention to them, I can find ways to better defeat enemies. But after an hour (often much longer) teeming with a mini-boss, there is always an insurmountable fight around the corner. Hence more lessons, more factors to adapt to. Sekiro's focus on consistent encounters – the abundance of mini-bosses – means that I spend most of my time unpacking the finer details of an enemy and spending much less time exploring the world.
It is far from me to deal with the broader narrative themes of Sekiro – I did not finish it and trust myself, I will not do it. There is, however, an undeniable clarity in the approach of From to fight here: every problem has its own complex solution, there is no coastline, there is no reliable rhythm or "loop" in which to find comfort. Some punish you for running, others require it, others punish you for jumping or dodging, others insist. Even the sandbox-style stealth arenas tend to play like elimination puzzles; they feel like infiltrations of the Miami hotline. Dexterity is a big focus in Sekiro, but also the unpacking of situational puzzles. It's a bit of a puzzle game, and I hate puzzle games.
I defeated the horseman guy, I defeated the angry fiery bull, I knocked myself out on the roof of Ashina Castle, and I saw the game in all Directions and the exploration begins. But I will not finish the game, I know it in my bones. And not because life is too short to punish me so hard. To be honest, life feels very long to me. But Sekiro has forced me to understand that today, when I play a video game, I want to be rewarded with numbers and ambushes and superfluous progress indicators.
I tend to ignore these indicators, although I am undeniably vulnerable to their effects. Sometimes I lay awake in bed thinking about how to reach Level 30 in The Division 2, or how gratifying it is to have a section of his SHD caches completely cleared. I ticked all the boxes, so to speak, wiped them up. In life, difficult and complex at the best of times, there are few achievable goals and milestones, so we find comfort in games. However, in Sekiro, my progress is mainly measured by how well I have learned this infinitely complex sword fighting game. And I do not learn it or at least I did not learn it to the end. And that's an end that I do not see. I know, because even after I had defeated the horseback, my trembling head dropped the controller even after I defeated the fiery bull, and I just wanted to shut the damn thing off to check on Sekiro. I was tempted because I finished every Soulsborne game. But PC Gamer would not have an overview of Sekiro if I had this task. Maybe PC Gamer's CEO would have dismissed me, my family would have fired me, maybe I would have to move out and for lack of work I would have to live in a cave and gradually go crazy. I avoided a bullet there. I will not finish Sekiro.