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


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PC Review - 'Nioh: Complete Edition'

by Cody Medellin on Jan. 11, 2018 @ 1:30 a.m. PST

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.

PC gamers have been conditioned to view any Koei Tecmo release with both anticipation and dread. On the one hand, the company has been responsible for some really fun games on consoles, with more than a few becoming hits, and it's nice to see them branching out and making the PC another supported platform. On the other hand, they have the reputation of being one of the last Japanese developers that's still having trouble with the PC. At best, some of their games exhibit control issues and a lack of general options that players have come to expect. At worst, they take the most inferior version of a game and port it with some features missing, even though they could've used a more superior version. That mix of excitement and concern continues on with Nioh, another one of the heavy-hitting games of 2017 that has made a surprise appearance on the PC as Nioh: Complete Edition.

The story is interesting for many reasons. It's the 17th century, and England and Spain are locked in a war that will determine who controls the known world. Tired of the prolonged fighting, Queen Elizabeth has decided to rely on the divine and supernatural to end the conflict. To that end, the English have found a resource that could help them: amrita. The only source of this resource is in Japan, a country facing conflict of its own, and an Irishman named William Adams knows how to get. Imprisoned for his knowledge and planning an escape, he stumbles upon a plot led by Edward Kelly to keep Japan fighting and to steal more amrita for his own use. William sets forth to Japan to rescue his spirit companion and eventually stop Kelly.

The use of historical figures is normal when you remember that the Musou series loves to use them. After all, this is how most Western players know about Oda Nobunaga, and adding more figures like Tokugawa Ieyasu is always appreciated. Mixing real people with more fantastical elements is a good move, since it provides some interesting tonal shifts in the tale. Serious moments are bookended with some slightly humorous and sometimes touching tales from some of the friendlier spirits you find along the way. Bear in mind that the story itself isn't that engaging or memorable, but the characters make it pleasant to experience.

As far as gameplay is concerned, the most succinct description is that this is essentially Dark Souls with a feudal Japanese theme. Nioh is the kind of game that punishes you for rushing in and button-mashing through enemies. Your ki meter acts like your stamina, giving you a limited amount of time to unleash attacks and perform defensive maneuvers, like sprinting and dodge-rolling before getting too tired to perform either. All of the enemies can take quite a bit of damage before being killed, and while they also suffer from stamina issues, their hits take a good chunk of your health if they connect.

Saving can only be done at special shrines, and there's no way to regain health except at these shrines and with healing items. Also, death means having to return to your death spot to get your amrita stash and guardian spirit. At the very least, you have a myriad of weapons to fight back with, including axes, chain and sickle, dual swords and flintlock rifles, but you need to be aware of your surroundings since the narrow corridors and miscellaneous objects can prematurely halt your attacks.

There are a few things that Nioh doesn't do as well as its inspiration, however. For starters, only the boss yokai are interesting to fight. There's not much strategy to employ on regular foes beyond dodging and waiting for a counterattack, and enemies have a tendency to respawn if you visit a shrine. The environments, while more historically accurate, aren't that exciting to explore, which is amplified by the fact that stages are separate instead of connected to one expansive world. It might encourage replayability, but it sacrifices some immersion.

If Nioh simply imitated a Souls title beat for beat, then it would've been fine since it does those base elements well. However, there are other mechanics from other titles that make the game feel different and, in some cases, better. For starters, there's a ton of loot for players to pick up. You don't have a wide variety of weapons, but there are so many that it can feel like you're playing an action RPG, especially since all of the loot is random and has associated rarity levels. You can sell weapons and armor at shrines, but rather than currency, you get points to level up stats, so you have an incentive to pick up all items.

By far, the main difference between this game and its contemporaries is its increased focus on action, making it a faster Dark Souls or a slower Ninja Gaiden. Your ki meter charges up at a very fast rate unless you're blocking, so there isn't much time spent on the defensive. There's also the ability to perform a ki burst, a move that instantly gives you a significant amount of ki and becomes more useful when you're fighting against yokai in areas that slow down or stop your ki regeneration.

The game also introduces stances, which make up for the smaller weapon variety by giving you different attack types based on your stance. There are four stances in total (high, medium, low, and weapon sheathed), each one exchanging different levels of speed for attack power. You can change your stance on the fly, even in the middle of an attack sequence, so your combos can be wildly varied as a result.

The use of guardian spirits is the final major action-related element. Most of the time, you get passive buffs depending on the chosen spirit. However, fill up the appropriate meter, and you can use your guardian spirit as a living weapon. You're invincible while the weapon is out, and the damage you deliver is slightly increased, but each time you hit an enemy, you'll decrease the amount of time the weapon is out. It's an interesting mechanic that serves as a damage buff without becoming a crutch for passing tough areas of the game.

That small bit of kindness to the player is a prevailing theme throughout game. Weapons become stronger the more you use them, and there's another incentive to get more loot so you can find one with a higher experience limit. Dying means you'll lose your amrita in a spot, but all of the equipment you've acquired thus far stays with you; it's a big advantage when you're facing enemies that have respawned from a shrine trip. The game rewards smart play, but at least you have something that makes it easier to improve.

Arriving this late on the PC does give this version some advantages. For starters, this version comes with all of the previously released DLC and higher difficulty levels. If you have the hardware for it, you can force your way to a native 4K 60fps without having to choose between a lower frame rate with a more beautiful-looking game or sacrificing beauty for smoother gameplay. You also have customizable controls for both the controller and keyboard and mouse combination, though you had to wait a while for a patch that enabled the latter. Finally, for Nvidia Geforce owners, there are ShadowPlay commands and a quick library viewer built into the game.

Having said that, the port is far from perfect. The game starts off with a launcher for configuration purposes, a necessary evil since the title doesn't feature all of those options in-game. Those used to a plethora of graphical options to change will find this rather lacking. It also doesn't help that some of the options, like Rendering Resolution, is rather obtuse unless you experiment with it. Those with high refresh rate monitors will hate the fact that there's no unlocked option, leaving you with only 60fps or 30fps. Finally, despite the number of patches released thus far, there are still a number of people reporting bad performance with otherwise decent hardware.

Graphically, the game looks beautiful. Textures are very clean, and the same goes for the character models. Animations are smooth and react quite well to any action, whether it's weapons colliding with the environment or the protagonist dying in extravagant ways. Particle effects are abundant enough, and the lighting is superb, especially when you're near light sources that are snuffed out. With some spectacular-looking bosses, this game is a looker.

Similarly, the audio is a real treat. The music is haunting at times but more action-oriented than expected. It doesn't play often, but it still feels at home in a faster-paced action game. The effects aren't different from what you've heard before, but the voice acting is very well done. There's a good mix of several different languages, and each  actor performs his/her role and delivery masterfully.

If you're lucky enough to not have been plagued with port issues, then you'll find Nioh: Complete Edition to be a wonderfully difficult action game. Though it brings along a high level of difficulty that seems to be en vogue for recent action games, its emphasis on faster action makes it a perfect complement for the competition. Similarly, the loot drops are a great addition, and the oddball story makes the game feel more distinct. It would've been nice to see more PC-specific optimization, but Nioh is worth checking out for fans of difficult action games.

Score: 8.5/10

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