Sometimes first impressions are wrong. Take Nioh, for example. When I first saw the game in action, I immediately labeled it as “Dark Souls with Samurai Geralt“. After getting some time in with the game’s Alpha Demo, I’ve changed my opinion somewhat, and Nioh has proven to be more than it seems.
Before we get into the meat of this preview, Nioh‘s demo gave me a chance to record some video footage, and I’ve turned that footage into a video preview. Give it a watch and if it’s well received, perhaps you can expect more videos like this (albeit of increasingly higher quality) in the future.
Nioh, a PlayStation 4 exclusive, has been in the works at Team Ninja (of Ninja Gaiden fame) for more than 12 years, and it was shown the light of day again at TGS 2015. Since then it’s been enjoying a lot of attention because of its dark setting and slick action. Recently an Alpha Demo of the game was made available to gauge interest and test the load on multiplayer servers.
Nioh casts players as a half-Japanese, half-Not-Japanese man named William. The only mention of the player character’s name in the demo comes via a lone item description. Players arrive on the shores of a tiny fishing village to find its populace slaughtered and the town overrun with bandits and demons. You must then explore, upgrade your abilities and cut a path through the forces of evil.
The Dark Souls similarities are quite obvious. Nioh is highly atmospheric, and the world is dark and hostile. You’ll always be on your toes, waiting for the next enemies to come screaming out of hiding. It’s tough as nails, maybe even more so than Dark Souls. Enemies are intelligent and ruthless, fighting with patterns and move sets that are difficult to memorise and recognise. Even by the end of the demo, common bandits were still more than enough to shred me to pieces.
Part of the difficulty stems from the stamina system. Like Dark Souls, you deplete stamina when you attack, dodge, sprint or take hits while blocking. Unlike Dark Souls, your character is temporarily stunned when out of stamina and this opens you up to massive damage. Blocking drains the gauge in one or two hits, so the Souls strategy of turtling will only get you killed. The same stamina rules apply to enemies as well, and the game encourages players to press the attack while foes are catching their breath.
Combat will take some getting used to, especially for veterans of FromSoftware’s games. Given that Team Ninja is famous for action games, it’s no surprise that Nioh has amazing combat. It’s far more in-depth than your typical RPG, and players can attack with lightning-fast strings of combos. There’s a broad range of weapons available, grouped into categories of longswords, spears, hammers and axes, as well as yumi (bows). Each weapon family has their uses and effective ranges, and you’ll quickly learn to switch up your load-out depending on what the next enemy will be.
Another neat feature is the stance system. Players can toggle between high, low and mid stances with all melee weapons. High stances deal slow, but devastating damage. Low stance is weaker but faster, and well suited to counter-attacking. The mid stance is the most well-rounded and offers more options for counters, ripostes and combos. You’ll probably find yourself sticking with mid stance for the majority of the game, but it’s fun experimenting with various tactics and strategies.
Rounding off the combat are the ninjutsu and magic abilities. These unlock various weapons and tools (like shurikens and caltrops), as well as spells that provide buffs, debuffs and weapon enchantments. You can also equip Spirit Guardians, mythical creatures steeped in Japanese lore. These add modifiers to your stats or let you see enemies on the mini-map. They can also be summoned in battle, although they feel relatively underpowered. It felt like it won’t be possible to make a dedicated magic build as the systems in the demo aren’t robust enough to allow for this.
Early on in the Alpha Demo repair items were scarce, and weapons and armour broke easily. Fortunately that wasn’t an issue for long, as enemies soon practically exploded in fountains of blood and loot drops, so it was easy to amass an arsenal. Nioh features hundreds of pieces of clothing and armour, so players can dress up characters however they see fit. Spare items can also be offered at checkpoints in exchange for experience points, so unwanted gear can quickly become hugely profitable.
As Chris mentioned, Nioh affords the opportunity to optimise either frame rate or resolution. For a console-exclusive title, this feature was unexpected. Although the difference between the two settings is hardly noticeable after a while, it begs the question of whether or not one setting has an advantage over the other. If the final game has some kind of PvP element, it’s likely having a higher frame rate will be advantageous. The demo did feature co-op multiplayer, but unfortunately I couldn’t get anyone to join me.
The demo did allow for a form of PvP. In Dark Souls, players leave behind a bloodstain when they die, and accessing these shows how they fell. Nioh has a similar death-marker, called Sword Mounds. These reveal more details about the deceased, including their PSN name, cause of death and the rarity of equipped items. You can access these markers to battle an AI-controlled version of the dead character, carrying the same equipment they used when they kicked the bucket. Besides always having tough fights close at hand, these are great for loot farming and item grinding.
All in all, my time with Nioh was highly positive. It feels familiar on the surface and it’ll definitely appeal to the Dark Souls crowd – but it’s also an entirely different beast. No matter how many hours you’ve logged with the Souls games, Nioh will give you that sensation of tension and awe that you got the first time you explored Undead Burg or Sen’s Fortress. It’s already great to play, handles perfectly and looks amazing. Keep an eye on Nioh. I know I will.