If you’ve experienced Nioh during its three public tests, where it had an alpha and beta last year before a Last Chance trial the weekend before last, or indeed seen our previous previews, you’ll know that Nioh is Team Ninja’s take on the Souls-like genre. Of course, they’ve made challenging combat games about ninjas before with the likes of Ninja Gaiden, but the combat here is refined to the point where even the stances mean a great deal.
We’re not quite ready to give Nioh a full review – a game of this size needs time and, alas, we’ve not yet completed the game prior to this embargo – but with 15-20 hours under our belt, we’ve certainly played enough of it to give you our first impressions of the finished product.
The most tangible difference to the combat comes with the three stances. At any point, you can switch between low, mid and high stances, altering the light and heavy attacks that your melee weapon can unleash and how they can combine together. It also changes how you’re weighted between attack and defence, with a low stance offering a better defence while a high stance leaves you more vulnerable, but lets you dish out more damage.
Inspired by the history behind the first Western Samurai, Nioh puts a more mythological spin on William Adams’ journey, as he engages Yōkai manipulating the war during the Sengoku period. Each Yōkai defeated, character met and mission completed will count towards unlocking more of the lore behind them, which is surprisingly in depth and in the case of the Yōkai, very well researched. As for the overarching plot, it’s full of deception and intrigue with more than a hint of the supernatural.
Going for a mission-based structure does limit Nioh a bit, since Souls games and Bloodborne have always had lots of interconnected areas that make one big map. That said, it does open up the possibility of sub-missions and training sessions, with each one gaining you a significant reward, such as a decent blade or a guardian spirit that imbues your character with their strengths.
As you earn amrita and level up, William is deeply customisable, whether you focus on a more physical build that uses magic to enhance your attacks, or a more ranged style that focusses magic and ninjutsu skills on warding off enemies. I personally focussed a lot more attention on onmyo to gain access to the elemental attacks, though more options are unlocked through training after beating certain missions.
The enemies you face are fun and engaging to fight against, but occasionally frustrating to deal with, yet they will fall easily once you have their patterns of attack memorised. As they get harder, though, equipment management starts to become more of an issue. Thankfully the blacksmith can not only forge new weapons and pieces of armour, but also upgrade existing items, dismantle them for parts or change attributes that don’t work in your favour for potentially better ones. Most likely, you’ll want to upgrade your existing equipment, with bonuses given for being more familiar with using a particular weapon, but selling them for money or converting them to amrita at shrines is also an option.
If you want to find parallels to the Dark Souls games, then think of the shrines as bonfires and the amrita as the souls you collect. Just as there, taking a moment to tend to a shrine resets all of the enemies is the area and acts as a point that dying will send you back to, dying also sees you leave all of your amrita at the point at which you fell. If you manage to get back there – albeit without the help of the guardian spirits that stand guard at that point – then you recoup all your saved up amrita. It’s this amrita that you need to spend in order to level up William, so as you gain more and more of it, the stakes of each fight get higher and higher.
So far, while I’ve enjoyed the boss encounters, few have felt too challenging for the more experienced Souls player. In fact, I’ve had more trouble with one or two of the more normal enemies, dying a dozen times to one Tengu, than the three or four deaths that occured with most boss battles. It’s not that the bosses don’t hurt – they really do! – it’s that they generally have one attack that either kills you outright or makes it impossible to escape the blows that follow.
Overall, I’m really happy with how the game has turned out thus far, and it’s certainly a game that a Souls fan should be paying attention to. Come back next week when we’ll have a more more in-depth review.