Real Talk By: Zombie Zac
Nioh is not an accessible game and like Bloodborne, and Dark Souls before it, success requires many, many deaths. There are tutorials, and the game throws you hints, but none of that matters when it comes to the skill that’s required to battle through it’s many missions. As William, a European Samurai, you traverse through a fantasy 1600’s Japan, heavily influenced by Japanese folklore, slaying Yokai (Demons) and dueling historical figures. With loot runs, complex combat, detailed stats and a difficulty that encourages you to sit up and pay attention, Nioh wants to intrigue you, kill you, but then make you crave more. Whether it’s learning to master spirit animals as weapons, ninja abilities and ancient magic, or relaxing in a hot spring, Nioh steals your attention. The icing on the cake is the rewarding co-op and a buffet of options that you normally only see on PC.
I’m a huge fan of this game, and I have over 100 hours into it for this review. I am also a huge From Software fan (the developer of Bloodborne, Dark Souls) and while I don’t prefer Nioh to those games, I do think it brings up some unique gameplay ideas which elevate it from simple imitation. But, there is no mistaking it, this is very similar to a Souls game and with that comes a number of things that you either love or hate. When you die, you leave your experience points on the ground and you have one chance to make it back and retrieve it or they’re gone. Bosses are massive damage sponges and sometimes require multiple tries to understand their moves. It’s cryptic and doesn’t explain many of it’s core mechanics clearly. You cannot pause the game, and to quit out of missions you have to use an item that is limited in quantity until later in the story. All of this is a positive, or negative depending on what you like in games.
Team Ninja hasn’t had a lucrative hit for a while and they have a tendency to release awful stuff like Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball. Until Nioh, I had pretty much written them off completely. I loved Ninja Gaiden for NES, and especially the reboot for Xbox, but it just got more derivative from there until the series imploded. Even Nioh almost imploded. There were reports that it was in and out of development for around 7 years. It’s clear to me that instead of focusing development time on trashy beach bikinis and programming boob physics we could have had this game 3 or 4 years ago. Thankfully it was finished and it isn’t some weird fetish game. Instead, it’s a love letter to From Software fans and old school action aficionados. It’s also a major comeback to relevancy for the developer.
The combat is without a doubt the finest aspect of Nioh. Each weapon has three stances that you can switch between, and customizable skill trees and abilities. Weapon mastery feels much more in-depth than a Souls game but never unwieldy or confusing. Nioh does a fantastic job of pacing your abilities to where you are in the game and if you’re finding something particularly hard its most likely because you need to master a new skill. The fighting is even a bit rhythmic, requiring the player to manage a stamina bar while dodging and swinging with the tap of R1 at the right moment. It’s similar to how you can get a reload bonus in Gears of War, but in Nioh it creates a “Ki Pulse” that regains stamina back which gives the advantage in a duel.
Unfortunately, the more you play to sharpen your skills, the more cracks you’ll find in Nioh’s armor. While the enemies are interesting to fight after the first few encounters, later they lack variation and because of that it becomes easier to predict and defeat them. The story is broken up by missions which can sometimes leave the levels feeling cramped, and their pacing predictable. Unlocking sub-missions is great for adding more content, but the luster wears off when Nioh recycles levels (which how do I keep seeing the same field and river when I’m no longer in the same place geographically on the world map?). Higher difficulty versions of missions, called Twilight Missions, compound this issue. Instead of finding interesting limitations to make you play differently, or changing the enemy AI to be more challenging, everything is the same except enemies deal more damage and there’s more of them. Boss design is also a mixed bag, with too many samurai battles that feel like PVP against the computer.
Which speaking of, PVP is said to be added later as a free update. There’s enough here to not feel like you’re missing out on anything, but I am interested to see how PVP plays out in this game. Finally, while co-op is fun, it does make the levels significantly easier and bosses unthreatening. This could have been remedied by more of a difficulty hike to accommodate two players. It is a missed opportunity that you cannot play co-op with friends on levels that neither of you have completed. You’re forced to replay levels with friends, but beat new levels with strangers. Also, why is there not a mail system so I can trade all this gear that I just end up selling or breaking down?
With Nioh there is always something new around the corner to find, a new stat to play with or a new skill to learn that makes it rewarding. You can nitpick a lot about the game, but it would do Team Ninja a disservice to dwell on those things. It’s also great that there’s solid PS4 Pro support built-in from day one (increased frame rate and resolution options). Nioh is without a doubt one of my favorite PS4 experiences so far, and I am eagerly anticipating what future DLC will bring to its world. Where I am most excited though is what the franchise will do with this as it’s foundation when it inevitably expands into a sequel. With a great atmosphere, challenging and addictive gameplay, and the right mix of combat, story and personality, Nioh is a fantastic exclusive for the PS4.
4.5 Out of Five
+Challenging and rewarding
+Tons of game options from menu UI to resolution and frame rate
+Unique personality and historical slant
+Fun online co-op
+PS4 Pro optimization
+Stats, Stats, Stats
-Not enough enemy variation
-Recycled levels, general repetition
-Missed opportunity with how co-op works
-Stats, Stats, Stats