Content of the article: "Sekiro’s handling of “block spamming” is one of the cleverest uses of mechanics I’ve ever seen in an action game."
Been waiting patiently for the right time to buy Sekiro as a Dark Souls fan of many years, and I'm mostly incredibly happy with it. I still think FromSoft aren't very good at teaching players how to play their games, however after watching some video guides mid-game I found myself having a lot more fun. While I still prefer DS1 and possibly DS3, it is right up there with both in terms of quality, and is arguably the best game they've ever made if you're all about epic boss battles.
So in Sekiro, the unique draw of its combat is that pretty much every enemy has two "health bars" – Vitality and Posture. Vitality acts as a typical health bar, and Posture acts as a dynamic 'stagger' scale that increases and decreases depending how much the enemy is getting wailed on. If that bar hits 100%, they will enter a stagger state that leaves them wide open to a one-shot kill. You can go for the kill via Vitality, however most of the enemy designs discourage this, and the best way is often to break their posture for the deathblow.
Now you, the player, have these exact same two bars, except with two specifics that are the basis of this post:
One – Blocking an attack at the precise moment it hits you will "deflect", doing massive damage to the enemy's posture bar and protecting you from staggering
Two – Holding block will lower your posture bar
Sekiro's combat is rhythmic in nature, and working out the best time to block to get the most deflects is how you get good at the game. However, because the human brain can be easily overwhelmed by chaotic combat, this naturally leads in these instances to "block spamming", wherein the player will spam the block button in hopes of getting the most deflects possible.
From a design perspective, the obvious solution to this unconsidered playstyle is to simply punish the player for spamming with heightened vulnerability to attacks. Game detects you're spamming? How about no blocks, nerd? Eat club.
Except Sekiro doesn't do that. You can totally spam if you want. Sekiro can only deflect at a certain rate, so good deflects are far from guaranteed, however if you're absolutely overwhelmed by attacks spamming may just give you the edge compared to holding block and be the difference between being staggered or not.
It would be unwise for the game to encourage such a playstyle as a default, however, as good blocking and deflecting are the cornerstones of the combat system. This is why the second rule is so important. Your posture bar isn't going anywhere if you keep spamming block. You need to hold it, and maximise your time doing so. Learning an enemy's attack patterns, reacting, and anticipating the exact moment you're in the clear to start holding and regain posture, is the difference between beginner and expert play.
This way, FromSoft allows the player to have their cake and eat it too. It's like they understood that their game was going to be mentally taxing on people's focus and energy, and put in a safety net to account for that, but had the game's design actively discourage against doing so, all without explicitly punishing them. Instead of being punished harshly for bad blocking, you're rewarded highly for good blocking. It gives the game a massive skill ceiling, while still catering to players at the bottom. I think this goes a long way in making its brutal combat more accessible to less skilled players, and it's a consideration I hope to see echoed in future games.
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