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March 2018


Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4
Genre: Action
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: Team Ninja
Release Date: Feb. 7, 2017


PS4 Preview - 'Nioh'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on June 27, 2016 @ 1:30 a.m. PDT

Nioh is a dark, samurai-centric action RPG where players will traverse war-torn Japan as William, a blonde-haired swordsman whose background as a fierce warrior and seasoned knowledge of the blade allows him to survive in the demon-plagued land of the samurai.

Pre-order Nioh

One of the first games we saw at E3 2016 was Tecmo Koei's Nioh. The title has a long history, having been in development in some form or other since the days of the PS2. Nioh follows the story of William, based on the infamous "English Samurai" William Adams, as he battles demons and monsters as he travels through a more mythical version of feudal Japan. Our demo thrust us into an early part of the game, so we could see William's adventures firsthand.

Nioh wears its Dark Souls inspiration on its sleeve. The game has a number of features in common with From Software's classic. Death leaves behind a grave marker that you can return to so as to recover your Amrita, this title's version of experience points. Likewise, you can pray at shrines, which are also save points — not unlike bonfires. Unlike bonfires, you can level up and customize your character at shrines. There's a ton of customization options for your character, and there are multiple stats you can level up. There are some interesting customization options, such as equipping Guardian Spirits, which give passive bonuses and provide access to special Living Weapon attacks.

Don't mistake Nioh for a blunt Dark Souls clone, since its distinct features really shine. The most prominent example in our demo was the combat system, which shares high-intensity brutal combat with its spiritual inspiration but has a samurai theme. Weapons are more disposable and less distinctive than in Dark Souls. Rather than focusing on a single weapon, Nioh seems to have you focus on a class of weapons, like ax, katana or spear. You can upgrade the weapon types with new skills and abilities, and you can customize your combo tree to equip special attack finishers to each combo. This allows you to set up different special moves that can be used to devastate enemies.

Each weapon also has multiple stances: high, medium and low. High stances are high-damage attacks that drain a lot of stamina and are slow but damaging. Medium stances are even in all attributes. Low stances are fast but weak. You can swap between stances at any time, including mid-combo, and some of the most effective ways to attack involve quick swaps. It gives the game a very different feel from Dark Souls, not in the least because of the way it impacts stamina.

Stamina plays an extremely big part in Nioh's combat. Both the player and the enemies have stamina, and learning to manage it is an important part of success. Attacks take stamina, and some attacks take more than others. Unlike Souls, running out of stamina in Nioh is devastating. You'll become vulnerable and unable to move, leaving you easy prey for powerful enemies — but enemies can also be in this situation. Also important is the Ki Pulse system. When you use stamina, it recovers relatively slowly. However, proper timing allows you to instantly recover your stamina while simultaneously swapping attacks.

Thus, combat in Nioh has a very different feel. You dart in and out, carefully managing stamina and hoping to weaken enemies. It feels akin to a samurai film, with fast moments of violence. When you get a feel for combat, you can chain Ki Pulses to perform much more complex combos to overwhelm your enemies before they can respond. This is where Nioh finds its own style and flair, since the combat feels nothing like Dark Souls. It's still extremely deadly, though; a single mistake can lead to a giant Oni caving in your head with a club.

We only spent a bit of time with <i<Nioh's dungeons, but they have the same devious charm as Dark Souls. We ran into a nasty hallway. At one end was a dart trap, and at the other end was a shiny treasure, an unaware enemy, and a hidden pressure plate. Charge in thoughtlessly, and you'll get darted in the back; alert the enemy, and die from a two-pronged attack you could have easily avoided. Be intelligent, and you can use the same trap against the enemy and collect precious loot with minimal risk. It's hard to judge how well the level design holds up from the demo, but at very least, it has a lot of potential.

All in all, Nioh was one of the most pleasant surprises at E3 2016. Dark Souls is a hugely inspirational franchise, and it's no shock that developers would follow its lessons. Nioh is shaping up to be a great example of how to mimic Dark Souls without just copying it. The samurai-inspired combat and gameplay give the game a tremendously distinctive feel, and it makes it just plain fun to play. Nioh is due out later this year exclusively for the PlayStation 4.

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