I’m not really in the mood to write an extremely well thought and reviewed piece on Nioh, so I think I’ll just jot down whatever comes to my mind. Here goes…
If you want to summarize what Nioh plays like you would basically say it’s a faster paced, samurai themed Souls game with a Diablo like loot system. Now, I know this doesn’t really provide any type of description if you don’t know what the previously mentioned games are so I’ll try not to liken it to them anymore. Just know that if a mechanic sounds like one of the Souls games, it most definitely is.
Nioh is part of a sub-genre of 3rd person action titles that is focused on stamina management or in this case, Ki. Almost every action you take will deplete your Ki bar. Attacking, dodging, sprinting, and blocking will consume Ki. Ki regenerates when you stop performing any of these actions, but there is a mechanic that makes this much different than other games. The Ki pulse. Each time you finish attacking, whether it be a single strike or string of attacks, you can press R1 at a specific time to instantly recover more Ki. This also acts as a way to purge the Yokai Realms which are small aoe zones that debuff your Ki regeneration. Mastering the Ki pulse will greatly increase your effectiveness in combat, allowing you to do more actions than normal. To be fair though, you probably don’t have to master this skill in order to beat the game, but it helps.
Another aspect of the combat that sets is apart from its brethren are the different stances. Each of the five weapon types have 3 separate stances with different normal and heavy attacks. Each stance has its advantages and disadvantages. High stance generally dishes out the most damage and has good defense, but is slow. Low stance, which I would recommend learning first, has the best evasive techniques, but low damage. Mid stance is somewhere in-between.
Nioh also includes a skill tree. Each of the five weapons have unique attacks and skills that you can unlock such as pulling enemies to you with the kusarigama, or catapulting over enemies with the spear. It’s a nice system that really adds to the combat as some skills overlap so you will have to choose which ones you prefer. Luckily, there is a respec system that will return all your skill points and experience (amrita) for you to rebuild your character. In addition to the five weapon skill trees, there is a ninjutsu and onmyo magic skill tree. These provide you with consumable items that buff/debuff enemies, increase ammo capacity (you can fire a ranged weapon), lay traps, and throw shurikens.
Also, being able to see you enemies Ki is a big deal. When an enemies Ki is fully depleted they will start to get stunned when you attack them. You can also deliver a grapple or knockdown attack for massive damage when they are in this state. Creating strategies around depleting your opponents Ki is… well… key to victory in some cases.
Lets talk real quick about how you level up and invest in your character. When you kill enemies or complete a mission, you will start to gather amrita. Amrita is then used at a shrine to increase one of the many rpg-like stats such as strength, dexterity, spirit, etc. Some weapons/armor require certain stats in order to gain the benefits of their special effects. You need to be careful though because if you die, your amrita will be left on your corpse where you will have to retrieve it. Unfortunately, if you die on the way back, the amrita will disappear forever so keep that in mind.
Gold is the other big form of currency in the game. You receive gold from enemies and completing missions, much like amrita. Gold can be used at the blacksmith to restock on ammunition, forge new equipment, refashion, re-roll stats, and soul match gear. If you like one particular item, but it’s item level is starting to appear really low compared to the new equipment your picking up, you can upgrade it to an item’s level that you own, therefore increasing its damage.
You also will acquire and choose a spirit guardian to assist you in combat via passive and active abilities. They provide many passive bonuses such as increased defense, resistances, a heal when an enemy is killed, and so on. There are about 20 or more guardians to choose from. The other aspect of them is the living weapon activation. During the course of a mission as you collect amrita, the living weapon guage will increase. When it is full, you can activate the living weapon which will provide temporary invincibility and give you special attacks based on your spirit guardian. It really helps when you are in a jam and things aren’t looking good.
The game progresses through selecting missions via a world map. Different regions unlock as you move on which provide varying main story and side missions to complete. You will earn amrita, gold, and special items for completing each mission. There are a good variety of locations you will visit over the course of the game, but it still felt a little repetitive visiting castles over and over. I wish there were more larger zones with some of the lesser used topography (desert/snow areas). The mission structure is fine and works well with the overall game, but I would much rather have had a big connected world similar to the Dark Souls franchise.
All of these gameplay aspects fit together nicely for the most part. The game is difficult at first, but feels rewarding once you get used to your weapon attacks, Ki pulsing, and enemy patterns. There is a good variety of bosses with interesting mechanics and weaknesses. Normal enemies however suffer from overuse by showing up with different elemental properties over the course of the game. It’s not that bad, I just wish there were more vastly different enemies. One thing about the loot system is that you can really create overpowered and fun builds if you work (grind) for it by min/maxing gear (infinite ammo/ninjutsu/magic, +% stance damage, etc.).
There is online coop for those of you that want to help strangers and mess around with friends. There are two types of coop available. One where you are summoned into a random strangers game where if you die, you are sent back to the mission screen. The other coop option is a bit different. You and another person join up with each other at the mission select screen. The host chooses a mission and you both partake in trying to complete the mission without using any of the checkpoints available. However, you both share a death meter that is depleted every time one of you dies. You can revive your partner and continue on until that meter is fully depleted, resulting in a failure.
To be honest the story didn’t interest me that much at all so I can’t consciously tell you about it besides that there is a lot of in-game lore that you can choose to read over and study if you want to really dig deep into it. There are menus full of descriptions for each character, enemy, and spirit guardian you meet throughout the game.
So that’s all the good stuff. Now onto some of the things that drove me crazy.
I loathe the loot system. I’m quite frankly sick and tired of the randomized stats on the hundreds of pieces of gear I’m constantly picking up throughout the game. You can hold up to 500 pieces of weapons/armor on you at once. I really don’t feel like going through the 50-100 new pieces of gear I just picked up after completing a mission, so I let it sit there because most of the time it’s garbage and not an upgrade AND I don’t feel the need to even upgrade the pieces I’m using at the moment anyway. Having to sift through each piece of gear for a randomized stat that you want that you can also use to transfer to a different piece of gear so that you can truly stat fix your way to an overpowered build is a chore. For people that like to min/max, this is great. I’m just not that person anymore and want a more simple solution to getting the best gear.
The game helps out a little bit by allowing you to sort and select all of a certain rarity of gear so that you can easily sell or dismantle them, but this didn’t really help me until new game + where a new rarity type is presented to you, divine pieces (green). These are the best weapons and armor in the game, which can be further upgraded by some convoluted divine only soul matching mechanic. But you still will want to transfer a specific random stat or skill, most likely ‘change X stat to A scaling’, from other weapons anyway. And managing this stuff with the in-game menu is probably the best it can get with a controller, but it still takes too long.
Being able to refashion gear can be both good and bad. Yes it’s nice to be able to completely customize the look of your character to whatever you want without consequence. However, I see it taking away the unique aspects of a particular weapon or piece of armor. Now when I look at someone, I have no idea what actual armor they are wearing or weapon they are wielding. This doesn’t really affect single player titles as much as a pvp multiplayer focused one where seeing what someone is wearing could give you a sense of what they are actually capable of in terms of abilities.
And there will be PvP added to the game in the future, which I’m sure will be an absolute mess littered with overpowered stun locks, sloth talismans, and unlimited ninjutsu builds.
The character customization is limited to only several hair and beard options, along with complete character transformations that you can unlock later in the game. However, as far as I can tell, these complete transformations will aesthetically override the armor you are wearing.
There are a couple of gimmick boss fights with terrible invisible hit boxes and hit detection that can be frustrating at first.
And finally there should be a much better character save system. This genre promotes different characters and builds to mess around with, but there isn’t an easy file selection system like in the Dark Souls games. I’ve heard a number of people that started a new game on the same profile that actually DID save to a separate file one day, only to overwrite his previous save file and character on another day, losing 10’s of hours of gameplay. It seems inconsistent and I don’t even want to try it out until it’s fully explained.
Having said all of that, the game is still excellent and I would recommend it to any fans of this stamina based 3rd person action game genre. The end game allure of creating an extremely overpowered character and grinding for the best equipment doesn’t really interest me that much anymore, but the journey there did. The combat is fun, intuitive, and satisfying to master.
What keeps me coming back to these types of games ultimately is the combat. Nioh delivers on that aspect just like it’s siblings do. The dlc is supposed to add new weapon types, armor, and missions which would be a great addition to the game.
Wow. Well, I didn’t think I would write this much but I guess I had a lot to get off my mind. Nioh, it’s a good game.