I may have arrived late to the FromSoft pain train but I swear by Gwyn I'll die as their staunchest supporter! 'Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice' is the first time I've experienced one of these games on launch without any preconceived notions on what to expect or how to play. Discovering secrets and game mechanics myself while mastering the combat on my own terms was an extremely satisfying experience.
The swordplay is so much fun in this one because it's very challenging to get it right but when you do the fights start to feel like a dance to the point where it doesn't feel like you're fighting the enemy anymore but more like the enemy is fighting you! Keeping your block up empties your posture bar faster and the more you hit the deflect button the smaller the deflect window gets so you're incentivised to keep your block up and only hitting the deflect button when a hit comes your way. Pulling off a boss fight while never taking a hit and always hitting your deflections is hypnotizing because it creates a certain rhythm to the combat to the point where it starts to feel like you're playing a really violent version of 'Guitar Hero'.
The game's level design is more akin to the first Dark Souls than the later ones but it still doesn't reach the same level of interconnectedness as that game did. I think that's a shame because being able to reach every part of the game world by walking there and using shortcuts is one of the things that made me fall in love with the Souls games, yet it hasn't made a full-hearted return in any FromSoft title since. There are shortcuts you can open in this but since you can fast travel between sculptor's idols from the beginning they become effectively pointless. It's certainly not a dealbreaker but it's something that contributed so greatly to my enjoyment of 'Dark Souls' that I'll never stop looking for it in FromSoft games.
Attack, attack, attack! That's the name of the game in 'Sekiro'. Hesitate, and you lose. That is the way of war. The sooner you realize that, the easier the combat will be. The replay value in this game doesn't lie with different builds and experimentation with different playstyles but rather with how fast and flawlessly you can get through levels and kill enemies without taking damage yourself. Like all FromSoft titles your skill at the combat relies on rote learning but it's more akin to a hack and slash like 'Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance' rather than an RPG or a traditional action-adventure game. You don't get scored per level but if you want to replay the game to see if you can breeze through old challenges in seconds that had you previously stuck for hours while adding a bit of style and spectacle to it then there's plenty of replay value to be had.