March 15, 2019 at 08:15 AM EDT

With Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, renowned director Hidetaka Miyazaki, of Dark Souls fame, presents a less forbidding entryway to the dastardly difficulty of FromSoftware’s games. Make no mistake, Sekiro (out March 22) is still exceptionally challenging, and it borrows a few beats from the Dark Souls and Bloodborne style, but it’s a brand-new experience that emphasizes stealth, uninterrupted bouts of fast-paced combat, and character-driven storytelling in ways designed to appease FromSoftware fanatics and curious casuls alike.

“FromSoftware has a really dedicated fan base, and we want to be sure that this game is appealing to those fans first,” says Michelle Fonseca, Activision senior director of franchise management and marketing. “Then, of course, if there’s the opportunity to broaden the funnel to a different audience, then that would be our second goal.”

Some of the biggest departures from recent FromSoftware action titles include grappling-hook-assisted vertical mobility, stealth assassinations, tactical resurrection, and a swordplay system built around breaking an opponent’s posture to deliver a deathblow. “Don’t go into it thinking you can play this game like Dark Souls,” Activision producer Robert Conkey says. “If you do, you’re not going to kill very much at all.”

Another major update to the studio’s action-RPG formula is a skill-tree-based upgrade system. Purchasable Combat Arts and upgrades to the protagonist’s prosthetic arm take the place of stat point allocation for a leveling scheme that seems, at least on its surface, a bit more approachable than the arcane number crunching of crafting a Soulsborne build.

EW reached out to Miyazaki for more details on the thought processes behind Sekiro and any insights he could offer on the recent past or the near future of FromSoftware. He was tight-lipped about the possibility of returning to the Soulsborne style (still no word on Bloodborne 2), but he did share some friendly words of encouragement to soften the blow of death after anxious death.

FromSoftware

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: For the last decade, you’ve been known primarily for the Soulsborne games, Dark Souls and Bloodborne. Why was now the right time to introduce a new action IP?
HIDETAKA MIYAZAKI:
I believe it’s important for us to have a diverse and free approach to making games in the way that we like. The Soulsborne games came about through this way of thinking, and it felt like a good time for a fresh IP once those projects wrapped up.

Do you want people to compare Sekiro to your previous games, or would you rather have them come in with an open mind?
It’s our hope that players will enjoy this title as something new in its own right. We do, however, understand that things will always be compared (something that isn’t unique to Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice) and would not discourage anyone from doing so.

Soulsborne combat is often about dodging, creating distance, and using hit-and-run tactics, but Sekiro’s Posture system is more about sustained combat and the “clashing of swords.” Why did you want to change the flow of combat that way?
In order to realize more intense, edge-of-your-seat combat, we found that this change was necessary. This was something we had envisioned from the very early stages of development as a very ninja-like style of combat with a Japanese flavor to it.

Would you say Sekiro is a more character-driven game than Dark Souls? NPC interactions seem to play a bigger role so far.
In Dark Souls the story is very much focused on the world itself, whereas in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice that focus is shifted to the characters. It’s because of this that we feel the story will be a little easier to understand, and the different way in which one interacts with NPCs is due to this type of storytelling.

FromSoftware

Dying has long been an important part of your games, but in Sekiro it’s used as a mechanic. Can you explain where the idea for the resurrection system came from?
The main intention behind the new approach to the death mechanic is to avoid having a negative impact on the pace of play. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is a very fast-paced game, both in terms of movement and combat, so we felt this was necessary to take into consideration. Resurrection is not a simple “do-over,” and avoiding this break in pace was something we had in mind when we decided to not include the “picking up dropped resources” corpse-run element for the Dark Souls series in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice.

Stealth is also a large factor in Sekiro. How much inspiration did you draw from previous FromSoftware ninja franchise Tenchu? Were there any other games you looked to for inspiration?
It’s true that there was a lot of influence from Tenchu. We even pondered making Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice a part of the Tenchu series at first. Of course, after that we researched and referenced many other games as well, but I think the largest influence was from Tenchu.

What is the hardest game you’ve ever played through? Why is a high level of challenge such a key part of your design philosophy?
I’m not very good at action games in general and find most action games to be hard. [Laughs]. There are so many that it’s hard to pick just one. The intention behind the high difficulty of the games I direct is to evoke a feeling of joy and accomplishment in the player when they overcome these challenges. To make this feeling of accomplishment as great as possible, we aim to make the level of difficulty high, but not unreasonable. The player should feel they are able to overcome such adversity.

What words of encouragement would you offer to people who might get frustrated playing a game as difficult as Sekiro?
“Death” is not all bad. It’s through dying that a player learns, adapts, and improves, allowing them to feel that strong sense of accomplishment after overcoming the difficulty. This in itself is one of the key values Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice offers, and “death” is a part of this. Don’t lose heart, keep trying, and taste that sweet sense of accomplishment for yourself!

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