Nioh doesn’t waste time with welcoming you into its world. A short cinematic introduces you to William, the protagonist of the game with his spirit animal. You quickly get a weapon, some armor, and a fight right after you open the first door. The first level acts as a tutorial level with pop-ups appearing when you enter a room, encounter an enemy or an item. Though here Nioh will send you a message; the enemies that you encounter can outright get the player killed if they’re not careful. The story hook starts right off after players defeat the very first tutorial boss.
In the next few minutes, players will be presented with choices that will dictate their first starting spirit animal, weapons, and stats. I find this to be really useful to get players straight into the action but limiting to those who prefer to allocate their character points ala the SoulsBorne series. The reference to the SoulsBorne series will be made a few times further down the review as Nioh is mostly compared to.
Nioh has got a lot of similarities with the Dark Souls series while also being different in some. The very first obvious similarities would be shrines. Players are greeted with a shrine a few feet away from where they start. Shrines are where players change their spirit animals, redeem DLC through boons, receive Kodama blessings and level up by banking in Amaritas (You’ve guessed it!) or in other term, souls. One great feature I found is that players can offer loot that they picked up to gain a few extra Amaritas, and if better loots are offered, better rewards other than Amaritas will be given.
Combat plays a huge role in Nioh. And it is deep. I can say that Nioh has one of the deepest combat systems out there. Combat is dictated by ki, also known as stamina. Unlike the recent Dark Souls, when your ki drops to zero, Williams will just stand there huffing and puffing, open damaging attacks from enemies (you can’t even roll away). The other system I found really fun is stances. The high stance, mid stance or low stance. Midstance creates a balanced style while high stance creates a more aggressive style and the opposite with low stance. This also opens up creative ways in handling enemies (coughs) crawling enemies…
Downed enemies provide EXP in terms of Amaritas. Players can bank in their Amaritas at the shrine to level up, and make sure you do when you have a large sum as you drop them where you last get killed and can lose them if your character dies before getting there. There are three different stat for three different skill trees; “Samurai” for weapon skill trees, “Ninja” shurikens and poisons, and “Onmyo” for consumable items which grant temporary stat boosts.
Loot drops are huge in Nioh. And one that was a surprise for me coming from Dark Souls. Nearly every enemy that you down will drop loot whether it’s equipment or useful items. Weapons and equipment can look the same from first glance but look deeper and you can see the difference. For example, one katana is different from another similar katana through their stats; one gives extra damage while the other gives extra ki depletion. Each weapon also has their own “familiarity” status. This means the more players invest in it the better damage output the weapon has.
The opening level, not to be confused with the tutorial level, is long. It took me about an hour and a half but that would also be dictated by the player’s skills. Throughout this level, players will be refreshed with pop-ups of a tutorial as well but not as much this time. At the end of the level, players are greeted with their first boss that truly tests your patience and skill. After defeating the boss players will be transported to a world map. Yes, you’ve heard it right, a world map. See this is where Nioh detracts itself from the SoulsBorne series. (Think Shadow Warrior 2) Nioh’s level are split up into a mission like structure with each coming with their own side missions, difficulties, loot and Kodamas to unlock. Here, twilight missions are introduced. These missions are nightmare versions of the vanilla missions. But with great difficulty comes great loot! Players can also forge, buy and sell, upgrade and go on dojo missions.
Boss battles are some of the things that players look forward to in these games. Nioh’s bosses are no different. They are tough and requires timing and skill to successfully beat them. From my time with the game so far they vary randomly in difficulties. For example, the first boss is easily beaten when you get the pattern, but the second boss has a sudden difficulty spike by having random attack patterns and damage. Would the battles here satisfy even the most hardened vet of the SoulsBorne series? Yes.
One very obvious con after a few hours of play is this, the difficulty of the overall game drops or rise depending on how much one player grinds the enemies. While Dark Souls offer difficult enemies with skill Nioh offers enemies with health damaging attacking. So a skilled Dark Soul player can go through normal mobs with careful timing, a skilled under leveled Nioh player has to hit a normal mob about twenty times just to kill it.
On the multiplayer front, online co-op is available through offering items called “ochoko cup”. The caveat though is that players can only call in for co-op from those who’ve already beaten that level. This is a huge change from the open beta as players can take on Nioh with their friends all the way through. On the PVP side, pools of blood activated and phantoms that come after can be fought. Depending on what the phantom players are equipped with, they can sometimes drop them. So the risk and reward here are quite tempting. If you look closer, these pools of blood also reveal what caused the demise of those poor souls. Hence, do read as most of the time they can prove useful about the dangers that are coming up.
Graphically Nioh does not disappoint. It has all the tinks, tinkers and shine that the current gen should have. Effects isn’t too distracting and the animation is great! (Much better than the beta, thankfully). Audio wise, the devs did a good job, the slice and dice of blades, thumps of hammers and swoosh of spears all sound as good. So far in I haven’t encountered any bugs, which does point to a very optimised game.
The question still remains, would I recommend it though? The answer would be plain yes. Yes if you are a Souls series fan, ARPG fan, loots and numbers fan or lastly a samurai fan. If you’re not either of them but you love a good combat? I would say sure why not? Just remember to thank those little green guys eh?