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Review: Nioh
Nioh Review
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There is absolutely no question that Nioh has been inspired by the Souls series - Team Ninja’s latest game wears its influences on the sleeves of its gi. But where the development team could have emulated the tropes of the series soullessly (no pun intended), we’ve seen them create a game that deviates from the muted Souls aesthetic and consequently create something more accessible and energetic.

The first thing you’ll notice (thanks to a couple of cutscenes, remember those!?) is that the story in this game isn't just hidden in the architecture or buried away in dusty tomes held by a skeleton king in optional areas of the game. No, instead Nioh shoves the story down your throat, having you sit in on meetings between ‘anjin’ William Adams and a series of key historical figures from Japan’s Sengoku period.


Bring it on! I've got two scythes!

The basic premise of Nioh is this: Japan is in chaos because the country’s clans are vying for control of the capital, and William is caught in the middle of it all - aligning himself with the likes of Hanzo Hattori and Tokugawa Ieyasu in an effort to bring the clan warfare of the period to a close. In the background, an English occultist is manipulating events and playing everyone off against everyone else, and your pseudo-task is to neuter his plans.

But that’s all just dressing. The real point of the game is to kill shit. Because Japan is in such a war torn state right now, there are a lot of unhappy souls, and these unhappy souls are manifesting as demons - or 'yokai', as the game calls them. These yokai form 80% of the enemies in the game, and in true Souls form they’re all monstrous, evil and deformed bodies, with unpredictable attack patterns that - occasionally - will scare the shit out of you.

Once you begin to fight these yokai, Nioh really shows its mettle: some enemies will one-shot you, some will trick you, and some of them even somehow manage to emulate how other real-world players fight in PvP encounters. Just when you think you’ve learned to read an attack sting, the enemy will change it up, and you’ll be dead. Again. Thing is, thanks to varied enemy types and inventive enemy design, Nioh never gets predictable - even with its tricksy way of feigning tells. It’s a game that keeps you on your toes throughout, and we appreciate that.

It does a good job of pacing, too: titles like Bloodborne can really feel like a slog, no - a war. Death is constant and unremitting, and the whole game weighs on you until you’re ready to cave. Nioh is different - some levels are actually a breeze, and it’s a nice change of pace to bang your head against a boss for hours, clear it, and actually make some decent progress in the hours after.

The key to survival though is ki - or stamina, if you were educated in action-RPGs by Dark Souls. The main conceit this game has that its genre stablemates don’t is the ki-draining pools created by your enemies that you can dispel by dodging or chaining moves at the right time. This makes the game quicker, sharper and forces you to think on your feet more than Souls, I feel, and makes fights feel much more like an aggressive sprint versus From Software’s endurance marathons.

The game also goes out of its way to empower you in other areas - there are a plethora of admittedly confusing menus that (once you decipher) confer mad boons and buffs throughout the game. It’s another small mercy that Nioh grants you, and if you can focus on a build and stick to it - even if the Diablo-styled loot system tries to draw you away - you’ll find the game gets gradually easier as you progress to the end.


It's scary here...

Or you could just cheese the whole game and do it in co-op, but you’ll have to finish a chapter on your lonesome to open up that gameplay.

The enemy design, boss design and the environments that inhabit Nioh drip with character and personality - where the aesthetic of Souls and Bloodborne can get tiresome (there’s something oppressive in the towering architecture these games love so much), Team Ninja's game is a feast for the eyes with its lush Japanese environments. The game still revolves around ruin and death, sure, but the rich colour palette and the whole execution of the setting really, really does Nioh some serious favours.

What I like most about Nioh is the threat of death still bears down on you (as it should in a game like this), but it feels like the game will reward your skill and pat you on the back when things go well, without letting you get cocky. There’s a wonderful rhythm to the modular levels - ditching an open world design for this genre is a great choice, it turns out - and side missions offer a pleasant respite from often punishing jaunts through the main game.

Nioh is a game for people that like the punishment of Souls-like games, but want something a bit more traditional, too. It’s a hard game but it’s fair - something we couldn’t always say of From Software’s roster. It’s a fantastic alternative to what’s already out there as far as hardcore action-RPGs go, and we hope to see more from Nioh and Team Ninja in the future: it’s had that much of an impact on us.

 

A great soundtrack, some flooring sound design and a voice cast that knows how to be light-hearted when it needs to be make this game a joy to listen to… if you can block out the sounds of constant death.

PS4 Pro enhancements really make the game sing, but even on a vanilla PS4 Nioh looks great: enemy design is inventive and interesting, the environments are positively dripping with character, and the animations really make you aware of what’s about to happen (for better or worse).

I’ve been unable to put it down. ‘One more life’ embodied in a game. An addictive experience thanks to skill-based combat is heightened with a loot system that’s so complex you could probably get through the whole game without fully understanding it.

The flow and rhythm of the missions makes the game more enjoyable than entries in the Souls franchise (at least from a pacing perspective) and the addition of a proper story to this kind of game ties everything together quite tidily, too. Dojo missions and training also deserve a shout-out: they’re vital.

This is going to be a hard game to 100%... there are some rewards on offer for fulfilling secondary objectives during missions, and there are others for exploration. Then there’s all kinds of mastery-based trophies too; good luck getting those, because they’ll take you quite a few hours to unlock.

Laced with collectibles, empowered by an RNG-based loot system and unpredictable in its own right, Nioh is a solid contender to the  hardcore action-RPG throne that’s been held by From Software since the genre’s arguable inception. Team Ninja has proved the Souls-like is a genre with as much potential and variation as any other - if you’ve been tempted by this kind of game before, but had reservations about getting involved, Nioh is a beginner-friendly, fun-to-learn but hard-to-master essential for you. We recommend it highly.

 
 
 
Game Info
Developer:
Team Ninja
Publisher:
Koei Tecmo
Genre:

Release:

US February 07, 2017
Europe February 08, 2017
Japan February 09, 2016

Players: 1
ESRB: Mature
Collection:578
Wishlist:51
 
 
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