The game is not particularly difficult at any point, but there are some things worth noting before you start.
First, there are three things you need to accomplish in all twelve levels in order to get all of the achievements:
- Find all of the scrolls. This is a traditional collectible: within each level there are three scrolls hidden somewhere. The pause menu and the level select menu show you how many you've found in each level; you only have to find each one once across all playthroughs. You can even get a scroll and immediately die - it will still show up as obtained.
- Accomplish all of the level-specific goals, called "seals" in the game. In each level, there are special goals like "Get to the tower without being detected" or "Hide the bodies of five guards in dumpsters," etc. They are shown from the outset on the pause screen. Most of them are fairly easy to accomplish as long as you keep them in mind as you progress.
- Get all three "stars". I put this in quotes because, unlike the achievement suggests, at no point in the game are these actually called stars. It's referring to the tokens you get for meeting pre-set point targets for each level. Each level has a point value that you have to get to in order to get three stars, and at some point you'll need to hit that point total when finishing the level.
You do not have to combine any of the seals, scrolls, or stars in a single playthrough. As soon as you have earned a seal or found a scroll, that item is unlocked permanently in both your normal playthrough and your New Game + playthrough, even if you die or immediately reset the checkpoint. Stars, earned through point targets, are not awarded until the end of the level.
As far as unlocks go, some are awarded to you during play, and some you "purchase" with points earned by obtaining seals, stars and scrolls. Ignore any combat-oriented techniques when unlocking things (extra armor, a spin-kick, etc.). Focus on stealth kill techniques, which are very useful. Specifically, I used Bat's Prey, Emperor's Abyss, Twilight Gate, and Brief Shadow routinely. You will too. Also helpful are the Superior Lockpicks. You'll also need the Hangman's Hymn for one achievement, and it's helpful for another, so purchase it when available. The rest is your choice, but I wouldn't spend any points on anything but those until you have them all. Even then, save your points for things that might be useful later rather than purchasing unlocks available now that aren't helpful. I would not bother with any combat-oriented unlocks until you have everything else in the game.
There are several approaches to 100% completion in this game. What I did was to focus on each level as I played it, finding all the scrolls, doing whatever is required for each seal, and simply trying not to be detected as I went (this tends to maximize points). In many cases, it was possible to entirely finish a level in my first run. In others, I had to go back to find a scroll or get one particularly pesky seal. In only one case, it was necessary to play again to get the point total necessary for three stars.
Alternatively, you could focus on each level as you play but not replay the level to mop up leftover requirements until you've finished the game. The advantage to replaying the level immediately is that the level is fresh in your mind, but the advantage to waiting is that you unlock new techniques and equipment as you go through the game. It's very possible that what's tricky now might be trivial once you've progressed further in the game.
That's worth making a special note of: at any point in the game, you can return to an earlier level and you will retain all the skills and equipment you've unlocked in later levels.
The choice is yours. I'd recommend replaying the levels immediately, but if you get stuck on a particularly nasty seal, by all means come back to it with some more powers and see if it comes more easily later.
When you start a new level:
- Immediately pause the game and take note of the seals. You should keep these in mind as you progress through the level, and make an effort to get them as you go. If you see an opportunity to meet the requirements of a seal, don't be afraid to make use of the extremely friendly checkpoint system. Just pause, restart checkpoint, and try again. Checkpoints are very close together and reload screens are nonexistent, so costs are minimal for retrying.
- Attempt to get through the level without being detected. You get a bonus for doing this, and it's not that difficult in most spots. Guards can become alarmed - they get a little yellow icon over their head - but do not set off an alert (red timer starts counting down). In every level but one, I was able to get three stars by just making my way through without being detected.
- Whether you kill people or not is entirely up to you. There is a hefty bonus for not killing anyone in a level - that was how I got the three stars on the only difficult level to do so ("Set to Flight"). Alternatively, you can stack up quite a few points by killing people as you go. You can often get more points killing people and getting points for that than you do by getting the no-kill bonus (although the standard 400-point kill is a wash; see details on the Point System page). Just make sure that if you kill one person, you kill plenty more and go for bonuses like hidden bodies and special kills.
- You are awarded new "costumes" as you go that have specific bonuses and costs. If you are targeting a specific style of play, pay attention to them. For instance, if you know in advance you're going to try to kill nobody in a level, consider using the "Path of Silence" costume, which gives you silent running and an extra Distraction item slot (e.g., smoke bomb, noisemaker) but costs you your sword and your attack slot. There is also a costume you get for playing the side mission "Dosan's Tale," and it turns your kills into nonlethal knockouts. This can make the nonlethal bonus a lot easier to get.
You do have to play through the game again, and it is possible to mop up your seals and scrolls (and even try for your three-star point totals) on New Game +. I like the other approach instead - getting everything in your first playthrough - for two reasons. First, NG+ is slightly harder. Most things kill you instantly, you don't get visual cues for your noise, and it's tougher to kill enemies if you don't manage a stealth kill (or tool kill). Second, you'll have a specific technique that is unlocked at the end of your first playthrough that makes a speed run nearly trivial. You can finish the NG+ run in record time, but only if you're not looking around for scrolls or trying for difficult seals that would have been easier on your first run anyway.
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