Developer: Team Ninja
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment & Koei Tecmo
Release Date: February 07, 2017
ESRB: Mature / PEGI 18
Players: 1-2 (Solo & Online Co-Op)
Available Platforms: PS4
Genre: Action RPG
When you first boot up Nioh you are greeted with the option for a short and basic combat tutorial. Aside from this initial explanation the game doesn’t take you by the hand. There is a steep learning curve and you have to figure out most things on your own. At first, the choice of weapons, skills and crafting can be a bit overwhelming. There is a lot of content and even though there are only 5 weapon types the combat is very diverse (Sword, Dual Swords, Spear, Axe, Kusarigama). This is thanks to the 3 stances that each weapon has. Low stance consumes the least KI (the game’s version of stamina), plus it has the quickest attacks but lowest damage per hit. Mid stance is a good allrounder. High stance lets you deal a lot of damage in a single hit but is slow and exposes you to enemy attacks. It’s fun to test out each weapon, to see what works best for oneself. After that it’s a matter of learning enemy attack patterns, evasion, buying new combat moves and leveling up attributes.
The attributes include: Body for more health and spear damage, Heart for more KI (stamina) and sword damage, Stamina for carrying heavier armor, Strength which is mostly for axe damage, Skill for Dual Swords and guns, Dexterity for using special Ninjutsu techniques (such as throwing stars or poison), Magic for casting stronger magic, and Spirit for the bond with your Guardian Spirit.
The combat feels a lot like Dark Souls and Bloodborne. And even though it borrows a lot from these franchises it does some things very differently. Having 3 stances for each weapon adds a lot of tactical freedom. Each stance comes with its own moveset. Guardian Spirits provide helpful buffs and let you summon a “living weapon”. These living weapons render you invincible for a short period of time and deal massive elemental damage.
The samurai and ninja theme is awesome and the weapons plus skills that come with it quite unique (the Kusarigama being a classic Ninja weapon).
The game takes place in Japan around the year 1600. You are William, who is based on a real historic person (William Adams) that actually lived and became the first western samurai. The game is rooted in real history but similarly to franchises like Assassin’s Creed a lot is fictionalized. The fact that it’s based on real events is very interesting though, and all the main characters are historic figures. No matter who you Google there’s always an interesting backstory.
This game will surely keep you busy for a while – with a campaign playthrough (including side quests) ranging from 40-80 hours. It is largely dependent on personal skill and whether you explore for loot, collectibles or clear out all enemies. Even after all missions are done the fun doesn’t stop. There are two twilight missions each day (extra hard versions of normal missions) and you get access to New Game+ which drops better “divine” gear.
New Game+, or “Way of the Strong” difficulty as the game likes to call it, makes for a fresh experience. Enemies are a lot tougher to kill, move and attack MUCH faster and deal increased damage. Just like in the early game you die in 1-3 hits and even the first boss becomes a challenge once again.
One thing that stood out to me is how many boss fights there are. I counted a total of 32 unique bosses. A lot of these bosses show up more than once. Sometimes when you encounter a boss the second time they learn completely new moves and are much harder to kill. Most of them, however, are just copy and paste jobs and reappear with the same moveset in a side mission. This isn’t necessarily good nor bad. I did get a bit tired of fighting Onryoki 7 times over the course of the campaign, but he’s the exception. Other bosses don’t reappear so many times and it can be fun to test a different tactic against them. One issue, though, is that human bosses all feel the same. The same strategy works against all of them. Dodge behind them, do a few hits, dodge away, wait for them to miss an attack, repeat.
There are many things to do aside from combat. You can even spend hours crafting better gear. There are simulated online clan battles (whichever fraction collects the most glory wins), disguises and haircuts can be bought and many collectibles are to be found. The collectibles in this game actually have some use which I like a lot. There are 150 Kodama – little tree spirits – that will grant you increased item drop rates or more Amrita (XP). The more of them you collect the stronger the effect will grow. Hot Springs, which are required for trophies, are pools of water that replenish your health and give you a buff for automatic health recovery over time. This is super helpful to use before a boss battle. Exploring definitely pays off. There’s also loot everywhere and certain items that can be consumed for more skill points.
During your playthrough you also meet revenants, the ghosts of other players fallen in combat. They actually keep the exact gear the player was wearing upon death. This makes them perfect for farming gear, but they get repetitive real fast. I found the same combo worked on almost all enemies. The spearfall move for example, knocks enemies to the ground where you can follow up with a finisher. This usually insta kills them. The AI is bad at countering certain moves, so naturally you’ll find yourself spamming the same moves over and over again. The mobs (small non-boss enemies) are no challenge once you get the hang of it. The same few moves work against pretty much anything. Only big enemies require some focus.
In terms of difficulty I found the first 8 bosses to be harder than Dark Souls. After that difficulty keeps dropping. After hitting level 60 it drops to a point where your character level becomes almost irrelevant and it’s all about the gear. At this point the story got way too easy. I ended up playing level 135 missions with a level 97 char. Interestingly, once you beat the main story there are some side quests in which you fight 2 bosses at the same time. Here difficulty spikes to a 10/10 and for the average person it will be very challenging, if not impossible to beat all missions 100%. The game is geared towards hardcore gamers who are willing to invest time into it. The combat is very unforgiving. If you die you lose all unspent XP but get one chance to pick them up again (at the place of death). If you die again without picking up your XP they’re gone for good. In the early game you will run out of elixirs (health potions) very quickly which makes it hard to clear all enemies from an area because you die in 1-3 hits and need to keep health potions for bosses.
If you think co-op’ing would make it any easier you’re not in luck with Nioh. The co-op in this game is underwhelming at best. You cannot play new missions in co-op at all. Both players must have beaten the mission solo to join a co-op session together. But why would you bother replaying low level missions you’ve already done before? That makes no sense. You can summon players at shrines without having beaten the mission yourself but this costs Ochoko Cups (which are very limited) and your co-op partner gets kicked from the game when either of you die. If you’re looking to play this with a friend from the start the answer is: you can’t. It’s an odd system and the game doesn’t explain co-op mechanics at all.
The graphics are just about average, sometimes a bit “washed out”. It all runs very smooth in Action mode, which is geared towards a high framerate. Loading times are super short compared to games like Bloodborne and Dark Souls. On death the loading is almost instant, hardly any waiting time. Some of the maps are really complex as well. All areas are memorable and each main mission takes place in a new area. Side missions on the other hand often to take place on the same maps as main missions. Only a few of them have their own unique areas. You can select mission from a world map and replay them at any time. So thankfully you can go back everywhere and nothing is missable.
The trophy list is also to my taste. As previously mentioned, there are lots of collectibles (150 Kodama and 20 Hot Springs) and they have some actual in-game use that makes them worth collecting. There are a bunch of funny miscellaneous trophies like feeding dungballs to the dung lover or using a fire-breathing mask to kill an enemy. Most of the trophies are geared towards completion.
In my 136 hours of playtime I didn’t encounter any serious bugs. Very positive for a game this size.
+ Combat is fun and more than just a Dark Souls clone
+ Fast loading times (especially on death) and solid overall performance.
+ Lots of boss fights
+ Endgame content
– The same few enemy types appear too often and always die by the same combo (Yokai, Skeletons, Humans are horrible at countering Spearfall combo)
– Overly restrictive Co-Op (both players must have beaten the mission to play together)
To buy or not to buy?
If you are a dedicated hardcore gamer looking for a challenge this is for you. If you are a casual player this game might be a tad too frustrating (as you’ll die a lot), but in the end it’s worth it.
Nioh is a great addition to the PS4 exclusive lineup and hopefully we’ll get to see more of it in the future.
Played on PS4 Pro, Review Copy provided by Sony / PlayStation.
Thanks to Sebastian Fox from over at Gamondo for helping to test online features.