Nioh is an action RPG in the vein of a Dark Souls game. I’m a Dark Souls addict, so I’ve had my eye on this game for a long time. It came out a couple weeks ago, and I’ve been playing it here and there. I haven’t come close to finishing it yet, but I’ve spent enough time with it to talk about it intelligently.
Nioh takes place in feudal Japan. The player character is William, some white dude from London that is fighting his way through Japan. Honestly, the story is so dumb I’m skipping through any cut scenes I come across. I don’t really know why anything is happening in the game, the storytelling doesn’t come close to the level of Dark Souls so I’m just pushing past it. I’m not playing this game for it’s story or it’s characters, I’m playing it because it has taken the Dark Souls combat and run with it.
The levels are spread across different regions of Japan. You select a mission from an over world map, and each level is a self contained environment. I don’t know how long the game is, but I just beat the 8th boss and traveled to the third Japanese region.
Combat in Nioh is excellent. You pick one of five or six weapons and build out your character using stat points (a la Dark Souls) and skill trees. The stat points feel familiar, but the skill trees add another dimension to character progression. In Dark Souls, each weapon has a predefined move set. There are many weapons, so combat feels varied based on how many weapons you use. This game has much fewer weapons, but the move sets slowly build out as you progress through the skill trees. While this system limits the variety of weapons, it gives combat a progression that Dark Souls doesn’t have.
In addition, there are multiple stances for each weapon. Low stance does less damage but makes your character more agile for dodging. High stance does high damage but makes dodging much slower. Mid stance is a balance between the two. Depending on the situation, you have to switch stances to adapt to your enemies. Sometimes you need to change stances mid fight. You can also change between one of two equipped weapons at any given time. The combat is fast and fluid, and I’d say it’s even faster than Bloodborne. Bloodborne is probably the pinnacle of the Dark Souls series for me (I know it’s not an actual Souls game), so the fact that the combat is faster and feels more dangerous is huge praise.
The enemy design is interesting. Many of the enemies are based on Japanese folklore. There are yokai, which are demonic monsters and regular human enemies. The yokai are fun to fight against, but the human encounters are more challenging. The yokai each have about 3-4 different moves they’re locked into, so they’re attacks are easy to predict. The human enemies are much more nimble, and can move between stances just like you. This makes encounters with human enemies far more interesting than yokai, as their attacks tend to be much less predictable. There are also red swords dotted across each map. These swords represent a player character in another world who died in that spot. You can summon a copy of that person’s character and fight them in your world.
The bosses are probably the least interesting enemy so far. Many of the bosses have a one hit kill attack. Many of these attacks are not telegraphed in any way. This means that you can start making progress against a boss when all of a sudden, through no fault of your own, you’re dead. Bosses are a huge part of my enjoyment of Dark Souls. When you come across a new boss in Dark Souls, there is a learning process that occurs. You slowly come to learn the attack patterns of the boss and eventually overcome them. There is a huge amount of satisfaction from learning these patterns and beating a boss. In Nioh, when you’re trying to learn the patterns of a boss and you’re one-shotted, it can be extremely frustrating. However, I’ve been able to make slow and steady progress against the bosses. I haven’t come across one that is completely unfair yet.
As I outlined above, I have a few problems with the game. It’s certainly not perfect. However, the combat is excellent. It absolutely rivals the combat in Bloodborne, my favorite Dark Souls game. I’m not sure if I like it more than Bloodborne yet, but I definitely plan on playing through to the end. I may or may post an actual review once I’m done, I’ll play that by ear. Either way, Nioh is a fantastic experience and I’m having a great time with it.