Which should be summarized with “well, duh”, but it still is nice to get a clear confirmation.
Dark Souls as a series is known for many things: tight combat, unique way of presenting its story, imaginative boss fights, but perhaps most importantly (or at least to me), the brilliant level-design of each game (Scholar of the First Sin not withstanding). The games usually allow the player the freedom to move around the world freely and even to access late-game locations very early on, with the caveat that the player better be prepared for the challenges.
While Sekiro does seem to do a lot of things differently, level design thankfully doesn’t seem to be one of those things, as confirmed by the director Hidetaka Miyazaki (praise his name) himself in an interview he held with the GameInformer. There’s more similarities to the well-known games in the series too as him and Yasuhiro Kitao, the marketing and communication manager at FromSoftware, explain.
If you’re familiar with the Souls games, you know how you can find NPCs in the world. Maybe they’re vendors, maybe they do something with you, maybe they head back to the hub, where you can speak to them and progress their quests.
So it looks as though the core elements of Souls gameplay are all here, including character advancement. This, as we already know, will not take the form of the classically RPG way of boosting stats, but will involve obtaining new gadgets and weapons, providing the character with new abilities. So I guess we can now start arguing whether this is an RPG if no numerical values are involved (here I come Reddit).
And of course I welcome the continuous usage of the main hub area as a focal point of NPCs and character advancement. Dark Souls 2 historically didn’t do a lot of things right, but the idea of having the player return to the hub to talk with an NPC who offers advancement, was a really solid one. It’s also interesting to speculate whether you’ll still be able to upgrade your main weapons in a linear fashion, given that we no longer have this huge Dark Souls variety of gear (I should say, allegedly).
As for the open-ended nature of the world itself, Miyazaki stated that Sekiro is probably even more open-ended than previous games in the Souls series. That’s a humble-brag that isn’t going to be easy to live up to, given Dark Souls 1 incredibly open-ended world, whose existence ushered a new era for speedrunners who attempted to divine the quickest route one needs to take to beat the game.
All I can say is: godspeed, Miyazaki-sama.