Nioh is the latest game so far in 2017 to really put PlayStation ahead of the other players, it’s only February and already we’ve more than a handful of excellent exclusives!
Team Ninja returns with Nioh, a game that is inspired by both the Souls series and Diablo. What Nioh does to fuse the two styles together, and create something much more from that, is remarkably exhilarating. The complicated systems work together to bring an exciting and thrilling experience from start to finish, as Nioh is relentless, brutal, and downright stressful to play.
Nioh is a very different game from what you expect from the development team behind Ninja Gaiden and Dead or Alive, as both franchise have seemingly fallen behind in quality with each installment. With Nioh, Team Ninja returns to form by providing a new and exciting game that intensifies many mechanics found in action games.
In Nioh, you play as William Adams, an Irish sailor who makes his way to feudal Japan. It’s here that we encounter demons and corruption and things that will make your hair stand on end. Playing as William, you’ll explore the early 1600’s, during the Sengoku period of history where Japan is faced with civil war and yokai that are ravaging the land. The story told here is fairly light and takes a backseat to the superb combat and boss encounters, providing information during cutscenes.
The meat of Nioh lies in the combat, which is heavily inspired by the Souls series. If you’ve ever played a Souls game, then you know that in order to succeed you must learn patterns, improve reactions times, and, be ready for anything that comes your way.
The introduction of Guardian Spirits throws another gameplay mechanic at you and provide a passive bonus and Living Weapon to utilize in combat. The meter for Guardian Spirits will take time, as the moves William unleashed are overpowered, this makes using this ability a bit more special than the others and there are many spirits to collect and use.
A major way Team Ninja’s game and From Software’s series differ is the introduction of stances in battle. There are three stances to choose from that make things more technical. There’s low, medium, and high stances and each behaves differently from the other, as each stance is required for different enemies. As you learn which stances work best for enemies, you’ll notice Ki is spent differently for each of the three stances.
As I mentioned above, each stance differs and each needs to be utilized to fight the bosses of Nioh. The designs of these area bosses are impressive and extremely challenging. Learning and memorizing attack patterns for bosses in Nioh is unlike in Souls games going into an even further unpredictable territory. I spent many hours facing the same boss and coming away with more knowledge to become the victor the next round. A lot of bosses are heavily inspired by Japanese culture and feature some downright impressive designs.
Much of your success is also tied to how well you manage your Ki (stamina in other games) and how well you can manage how it depletes. Hacking and slashing, blocking or deflecting, rolling or dodging this all drains your Ki and will leave you stunned when it’s depleted. One of the more important mechanics in this game is the Ki Pulse, which is a transparent meter that will flash white. This flash indicates when to tap R1 and will restore Ki, allowing you to continue your combo. The quicker you master Ki Pulse, the better you’ll manage in an encounter.
Another element that some will find familiar is the way XP is handled. Like in Souls, when you die, all your XP (or as it’s called in Nioh, Amrita) is dropped and awaits you at your grave to be reclaimed. If you die, all that Amrita is lost and you’ll begin slashing, stabbing and dodging your way to more Amrita.
You level up at shrines by spending your Amrita, of course, like in the Souls games once you use a shrine, the enemies in the area are reset and await the chance to strike you down.
If you’re like me and love getting new loot to incorporate into your character build, Nioh does this well by having new weapons and armour constantly come to William. These are also colour-coded by colour for rarity, allowing players to farm for better gear if they are stuck at a particularly difficult area or boss encounter.
Team Ninja has done well to include some graphical options for Nioh. Within the game you’ll find three modes to choose from and both offer something for everyone. With “action” enabled, you’ll find the game plays at a solid 60 FPS but with a slight graphical downgrade, and “movie” provides a more cinematic experience at 30 FPS but higher graphic quality. The third option gives you a mixture of the two, providing a variable frame rate and higher graphic quality that may go past 30 FPS.
Online co-op is standard and similar to the Souls series, as summoning other players into your world to assist is as easy as requesting help from the shrines sprinkled throughout a level.
By playing together, you can explore and take on the bosses of Nioh, providing a bit of relief that you don’t have to face the yokai alone and at the same time working together to gain new loot. It’s a great feature that rewards the player for working with others.
Another aspect that I assumed would be incorporated is the way the world intertwined, much like the Souls series. Instead, we are given a world map to use and the map has areas for us to visit, often varied by length. There’s also sidequests to do that will make you revisit old levels, often doing things different this time around, often being much harder than the first time you popped up in the area to slay any demons. Exploration of these sandbox levels will reward those who spend the time to explore every corner and crevice often with great gear and various loot.
Nioh is every bit the game we expected it to be and more. Team Ninja returns to form and proceeds to stomp all over us. Every element that Nioh borrows from is improved upon and is an extremely difficult game to put down. All comparisons aside, Team Ninja has created a franchise that rivals From Software’s Soul series in every way. And that is frightening in every sense to me.