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Nioh – Initial Review

So Nioh is the kind of game that makes me wish I had a lot more time. It’s just too bad that there are so many great games dropping right now, and many of those I also need to cover, because this is an experience that merits a lot of playtime. It boasts some nice depth mechanically and is just ridiculously dense in terms of the amount of content that it offers.

There are a few minor issues worth addressing, but when it comes down to it there really are only a few games that I’ve ever enjoyed playing this much. Alright so let’s get something out of the way right off the bat. How similar is Nioh to Dark Souls? The answer is that it’s incredibly similar, in so many ways it’s hard to count, but I don’t see that as a bad thing by any means. On the contrary, I’m not really concerned with the fact that Nioh borrows from Dark Souls so much as I am that it executes on those concepts to near perfection.

So basically if you enjoyed any of the Souls/Borne games, you should definitely be into Nioh as well. The approach to combat, leveling system, strong emphasis on stamina management, enemy placement with ambushes and traps, item placement, boss and level design philosophy, being required to go back and collect your experience from the spot where you died, item use and variety, status effects, checkpoint utilization, multiplayer, magic preparation… I could go on, but I think you get the point, it’s very similar. However, there are some key differences that help Nioh stand on it’s own feet, and for me actually make the game more fun to play than any of the Souls games. First of all, it’s faster-paced. It’s probably accurate to say that it’s more in line with Bloodborne in that sense, but sadly that’s the one game in that series I haven’t played enough to really comment on.

It encourages more offensive play styles and lots of dodging which I personally find a little bit more interesting than the defensive, methodical pace that Dark Souls tends to harbor in players. This is partly due to the fact that in Nioh you’re able to see not only the enemies’ health bar but also their stamina, which is referred to as Ki in this game. Just this one simple addition, being able to monitor your enemy’s stamina, adds a completely different dynamic to combat and gives you a sense of when you should hold back and when you should go all in. I also really like the Ki Pulse mechanic, which allows you to recover stamina more quickly after a flurry of attacks by pressing R1 with the correct timing.

It seems like such a simple thing but learning to use this ability consistently goes a long way toward mastering stamina management and improving your prowess in combat. There are abilities that you can unlock a little later in the game that allow you to perform a Ki Pulse by dodging with the correct timing, rather than using R1, which makes the player’s command of stamina even more diverse. There are two big keys to combat in Nioh that helped make it more enjoyable overall for me though. One is the fact that dual sword combat is much more viable here, and that’s because dual katanas are actually a weapon type in the game – which is to say that because of the way the controls are laid out, you can block attacks with dual katanas, which is something you can’t do when dual wielding in the Souls games.

Not only can you block attacks though, but all of the damage can be deflected, something that weapons can’t do in Souls games, which is why I’ve always found sword and shield combat to be preferable in those games, at least until you “git gud” right? Ever since I first played Dark Souls I’ve wanted a similar kind of game that allowed me to really effectively wield dual swords, and so far Nioh is the first that has provided what I was looking for. Additionally, one of the unique features of Nioh is that you can fight in three different stances, high, medium, and low. High stance is slower but more powerful, low stance is faster but less powerful, and medium is in-between the two, simple enough. Because I’m not the kind of person who naturally enjoys experimentation – even when I go out to eat I usually get the same thing, I’m not one for trying new stuff very often – I tried just sticking with one weapon type and one stance through most of the game.

The great thing about Nioh is that it sort of challenged me in that way. The enemies are designed so that switching stances can really help depending on the speed and amount of HP specific enemies have. So when I’d find myself taking a really long time to kill a certain Yokai in low stance, I found that later in the game (when I finally got the hint and began experimenting) it was just much better to switch to high stance against those enemies for added damage.

I thought that was awesome, and I always appreciate games that force me out of my comfort zone and require that I try different tactics to be able to proceed. Nioh did that on several occasions, not just with changing stances but also with equipment setup A lot of players have talked about their struggles against the game’s third boss, Hino-Enma, and the first time I fought her I got jacked pretty bad too. However, when I dove in and paid attention to my equipment setup (and then found and equipped a paralysis charm), I had a much easier time and ended up beating the boss on my third attempt. This was true of every major challenge that I faced in Nioh, excluding Nue… I had a really, REALLY hard time with this boss for some reason, I don’t know why.

Aside from that though, I’ve been able to defeat every difficult boss and challenge on the second or third attempt just by thinking about equipment bonuses and trying new tactics. Another unique mechanic to Nioh is the utilization of guardian spirits, which you unlock as you progress through game and beat specific missions. When equipped they provide passive abilities and grant the player with living weapons. A guardian spirit’s living weapon is a special attack that builds up as you collect Amrita, which is this game’s version of “souls”. Once the meter is full you can activate the living weapon, which boosts the strength of your attacks and makes you impervious to damage for as long as its active – generally between 15 and 20 seconds. This meter actually builds up pretty quick, so I found there wasn’t too much need to be stingy with using it. It’s another powerful ability in the player’s toolkit that can be very useful for getting out of tight spots and finishing off bosses. It’s also pretty interesting how much more useful long range weapons are in this game.

Sniping enemies is a lot easier here, especially if you pull off headshots, which I’ve found are almost always a one hit kill except on larger Yokai. On one hand I kinda like that long range weapons are this powerful in the game, but at the same time it makes it possible for you to do stuff like this. I’d say overall that Nioh is a little bit easier than the souls games because it includes some of these features I’ve mentioned, but I also feel like the level of difficulty is here is just right. It’s challenging but always, and I mean absolutely always fair.

One of my favorite aspects of Nioh is actually the level design. It’s probably important to mention that this game does not feature an open, connected world like Dark Souls does. Rather each level is distinct and separated, and are accessed from the world map screen. I don’t really have a preference for world contruction personally as long as the level design is on point, and here it really, REALLY is. I found that most of the levels are actually kinda small, but they’re just absolutely packed with secrets, hidden passages, collectibles, traps and ambushes, and so on. It really surprised me just how dense every level is, and because of this the exploration in Nioh is absolutely top notch. I especially enjoyed searching for the little Kodama spirits. It adds tons of replay value for the main missions, and it was probably the single largest contributor to my desire to really seek out all the nooks and crannies of every level.

In addition to this though, after you’ve beaten a level there are always side missions that will be unlocked where you go back through the same level again under different conditions, which I found to be a really nice reuse of existing assets to add even more content into the game while still keeping new missions fresh and interesting. One thing I wanted to touch on here was the amount of loot you get in this game. It took me by surprise at first, because you’re just constantly picking up new weapons, equipment, and items on almost every enemy you kill. After playing just a couple of levels your inventory becomes insanely cluttered, but I think the purpose of this is one – to experiment with different stat bonuses and elemental effects depending on the challenges you’re facing – and two – to be disassembled for materials to be used in the game’s crafting system.

This is where, again, I lament that I didn’t have more time to play the game, because I didn’t get to do enough experimenting with crafting unfortunately. My very limited experience had me crafting dual katanas, even with the highest quality materials, that still weren’t nearly as good as a pair of dual katanas I had just found in the previous mission. After that I kind of just stopped trying to craft stuff. Because of the amount and even the quality of loot drops throughout the game, I personally didn’t really find a particular need for it; especially because I seemed to be doing pretty well with the equipment I had. I’m sure that crafting can net you some really useful and powerful equipment, but like I said, I just didn’t have the time I wish I had to experiment with it.

I’ll get to it eventually, but for now this is unfortunately the limit of my experience. When it comes to criticisms, I really don’t have that many to be honest. I’ve heard some people online wishing there were more weapon types, but they’re going to be adding more really soon, and like I said I’ve been dying for some great dual wielding action in this style of game and tend to stick with what works for me anyway. I think the major missing piece here, when we make the comparison to Souls games, is the lack of PVP, but that’s also coming very soon along with an even harder difficulty mode. I really do wish there was more enemy variety though. It seems like you fight the same handful of enemy types a million times in this game, which also adds to the sentiment that Nioh feels a little easier overall, but if you get impatient or overconfident you’ll get punished for it for sure. I found that the human enemies are the most predictable by far, mostly because they wield all of the exact same weapon types that the player can use, and therefore use all the same stances and move sets.

Because of this it’s really easy to see what move is coming next and how much stamina it’s gonna consume and that kind of thing. Enemy variety is definitely something I feel could have been improved, but it didn’t detract enough from the experience to really bother me significantly. What disappointed me the most was the storytelling, which I was hoping would contain a lot more depth than it does. When I saw the promotional material that contained cutscenes and what appeared to be strong character interaction I got really excited, but ultimately I found that the storytelling in Nioh is pretty shallow. The cutscenes are generally really short and give only the most basic context for where you’re going next. Character development is almost non-existent, and usually I would see this as a pretty big negative, but the gameplay is so strong here that it’s easy to forgive.

The story content however, is pretty fascinating. It feels a bit reminiscent of Onimusha, blending just a touch of the real world history – in this case the story of William Adams – with a whole lot of japanese myth, but it’s the way that content is presented that didn’t grab me at all. Again, luckily the game is so much fun to play that this didn’t phase me too much, but I do have to say that whenever a developer decides to make a game with the storytelling presentation and quest structure of the Witcher 3, but combines that with a combat system like Nioh’s… that will conclusively be a perfect game in my eyes. Ultimately Nioh has delivered an experience I’ve been wanting for a long time but wasn’t necessarily finding in the Souls series. After obsessing over Demon’s and Dark Souls, to the point where I made a full playthrough for both games on this channel a few years back, I found myself fatigued a bit by Dark Souls 2, and while I enjoyed Dark Souls 3, after I lost my save data I had no motivation to go back through and make up the lost progress.

Nioh, however, has breathed fresh life into a gameplay style I was once extremely passionate about. While it borrows a lot from Souls, it also expands on it and in my opinion does a lot to improve upon the formula. I had an absolute blast playing it and definitely recommend it, especially if you’ve played and enjoyed any of the Souls/Borne games. The world and story content are fantastic, even if the delivery of the story is a little bit weak, but what really shines here is the amazing combat and wide variety of customization available to the player. You should definitely pick it up if any of this sounds interesting to you. I really don’t think you’ll regret it.

As found on Youtube

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