Team Ninja, creators of the super-fast Ninja Gaiden series, try their luck with a slower and more methodical title heavily inspired by FromSoftware’s Souls series. If you always wished to know how Geralt of Rivia would fair in a 1600 feudal Japan, fighting against demons, you have come to the right place.
There is no getting around it. You will die, a lot. The game is punishing and it doesn’t hide the fact. You will have to use everything at your disposal to just claw a couple of steps farther before being slayed by the next batch of enemies. It is a different type of difficulty than in the Souls franchise, testing your twitch skills and reaction timing more than slow and methodical planning.
Things are even more punishing here than in FromSoftware’s Souls games. If you are unprepared, two hits are really all that is needed to bring you down. Dashing, defending or attacking consumes your stamina gauge, and doing this when low on stamina leaves your character exposed as he tries to catch a breath. This is one of the biggest differences and forces you to always be aware of your stamina. Once you do accept that this game is not Dark Souls you will have a far easier time.
The AI here is relentless. A single foe can be challenging, but if you attract the attention of more than one, prepare for a world of hurt. Enemies dodge, guard and even actively stay away to gather their breath.
Littered throughout the level are glowing red graves, marking where other players have fallen. If you so wish you can summon them and battle against a computer controlled version in order to get some of their valuable loot. These battles are extremely challenging and require a lot of patience, since a single wrong move can bring you a shameful defeat.
Like in Dark Souls, when you finally do die, you will drop all your Amrita (this game’s primary currency used for leveling up). Your corpse is then guarded by your Guardian Spirit, which lets you retrieve you Amrita by returning to the same spot before you die again.
The game offers a lot of possibilities from the outset. If you couldn’t overcome a boss in Dark Souls you could always level up a bit, upgrade your weapons, equip items which increase your resistance for the given situation and try your luck again. Changing up your approach there took a lot of time. On the other hand, the alpha demo of Nioh just instantly gives you access to a huge number of options. By the end of the two hour demo you will have seen or used, swords, spears, axes, bows, Ninjitsu and Onmyo Magic.
Speaking about equipment there is a ton of that here. You will come across a bunch of stuff left and right, and considering that equipment will wear out with use, you will constantly have incentive to switch up your gear. Equipment plays a vital role in Nioh. In the beginning two hits are all that is required to bring you down, but once you equip that first part of armor you will fare much better.
You have a variety of stances at your disposal, which feel like Bloodborne’s weapon transformations. Striking with an overhead stance deals a huge amount of damage, but is slow and uses up a lot of stamina, likewise a lower stance allows for faster reaction, but has smaller reach.
The visuals could use a bit of work. The game just doesn’t stack up against other titles on the PlayStation 4, with its average looking backgrounds and lower quality models. The blood splatters and decapitation make it more gruesome than Dark Souls. From what we have seen the environments are not as complex and multi-tiered as the beautifully architectured world from Souls, but the feudal Japan setting and beautiful environmental effects can be breathtaking at times.
For probably one of the first times for a console game, you are allowed to chose your graphic options. The game runs at 1080p 30fps in the so called movie mode, but if you so choose you can set the game to action mode where the visual quality takes a hit, with a 720p resolution, but the frame-rate runs at a silky smooth 60fps. This is a great decision from Team Ninja as it allows people who prefer a steady frame-rate to enjoy the action, while not angering those who just want things to look as pretty as possible.
Nioh feels like a breath of fresh air, taking inspiration from the amazing Dark Souls franchise but spicing it just enough. The alpha demo does its job flawlessly; it demonstrates everything the game has to offer and by the end makes sure you are wishing for more. Nioh has all the strokes of an excellent game, but it still has a way to go.
Nioh Alpha Demo will be available on PlayStation Store until May 5th.