Nioh Review-in-Progress: FromSoftware's Formula Evolved

Team Ninja's SoulsGaiden-like marries the best of Dark Souls and Ninja Gaiden with a little Bloodborne stirred in. 

10

In case you missed the memo, FromSoftware is done making Dark Souls games. Unless studio president Hidetaka Miyazaki changes his mind, next month's Ringed City DLC is not only Dark Souls 3's final expansion, it's the last piece of Dark Souls content ever.

Rather than leave that bloodstain to dry, Nioh pays homage to FromSoftware's modern classic while driving the genre forward at breakneck speed.

Heart and Souls

Developed by Team Ninja, Nioh evokes Ninja Gaiden and Dark Souls with a little Bloodborne thrown in for good measure. The basics will be familiar to anyone who's at least dabbled in a Souls game. You'll creep through dozens of areas painted in shades of grim and bleak, fighting enemies using a bevy of weapons, resting at shrines that both heal you and reset enemies and traps, spending amrita instead of souls to upgrade attributes.

Instead of playing it safe and conforming to a winning pedigree, Nioh builds on FromSoftware's ideas by injecting them with the raw speed of its 3D Ninja Gaiden series. Every weapon has a light and heavy attack, but your character can switch between low, mid, and high styles on the fly, effectively giving you six basic strikes.

Besides amrita, you earn skill points that you can spend on skills unique to each weapon class. Specializing in kusarigama (a wicked sickle-and-chain combo) afforded me access to skills like a kick that drains enemy stamina, a flurry of strikes that chews through life meters, and a throat slice that deals massive damage to winded enemies who neglected their stamina.

Minding your stamina, known as ki, is paramount in Nioh, but Team Ninja put a twist on the mechanic. Every time you finish an attack, you'll notice a blue glow surrounding your character. Tap R1 at the right time and you'll recoup all the ki you expended in a flash. Performing a ki pulse is reminiscent of getting hit in Bloodborne and being able to reclaim lost hit points by counterattacking quickly, but you always regain at least a smidgeon of ki even if your timing is off, so you won't feel punished if you prefer defense over aggression.

Ki regeneration has the added benefit of dispelling portals of dark energy that spring up around certain enemies and bosses. You can fight in those pools, but you'll regenerate ki at a snail's pace while inside them, and the rate of regeneration usually means the difference between success and respawning at the nearest shrine.

All of this boils down to layered and rewarding combat. You're never hurting for ways to dispatch enemies, and the staggering amount of options at your fingertips encourages you to switch styles and strategies depending on who or what you're fighting.

You almost have to. Dark Souls let you get away with picking off enemies one at a time while their buddies stood gaping at the growing pile of corpses lying at their feet. Nioh's mobs know when their friends are dying. Sniping with your bow or rifle gives you enough time to kill one, maybe two before the rest of the pack is on their feet and stampeding toward you.

Tell Me a Story

Nioh's two biggest departures from Dark Souls lie in how you explore its world and digest its story. Instead of reporting back to a hub after killing bosses or exploring vast and interconnected environments, Team Ninja went with more traditional levels. The notion of selecting missions at a map screen may seem jarring to players accustomed to world design that communicates story, but every individual level of Nioh I've played has been deftly interwoven and dense with nooks, crannies, and side routes.

I was surprised by how much I appreciated having a minimap as I played. The map itself is bare bones; it exists only to point you toward your main objective. You can ignore the marker and explore at your leisure; when you're ready to move forward, you'll know which way to go.

Instead of creating your own character and customizing every pixel down to the shape of your eyebrows, you play as a character—William, who's based on a real samurai of the same name, minus all the supernatural elements. And get this: William talks. Cutscenes are sparsely used to move things along, but I was able to skip them without missing any gameplay beats, yet engaging enough that players interested in a more traditional narrative will enjoy them.

Nioh-like

To call Nioh a copycat would be doing it a disservice. Combat is tight and layered with options, levels are gorgeously rendered and ooze atmosphere, and the story is entertaining enough to keep me interested yet can still be set aside when I'm more interested in perfecting my ki pulses.

If, like me, you've sunk thousands of hours into Souls games and were concerned that the genre would dry up after Dark Souls 3's conclusion, you owe it to yourself to immerse yourself in Nioh's samurai-fantasy world.


This review-in-progress is based on a PlayStation 4 disc provided by the publisher. Nioh will be available exclusively for PlayStation 4 for $59.99 on February 7. Refer to the Shacknews Nioh guide hub for tips on solving levels and honing your skills in combat.

Long Reads Editor

From The Chatty

  • reply
    February 6, 2017 5:10 PM

    David Craddock posted a new article, Nioh Review-in-Progress: FromSoftware's Formula Evolved

    • reply
      February 6, 2017 5:45 PM

      Woo. 3 hours

    • reply
      February 6, 2017 6:25 PM

      It's so good.

    • reply
      February 6, 2017 8:58 PM

      I somehow always felt like Ninja Gaiden 1 (xbox) was a similar game in some ways to Dark/demon souls. It scratched a similar itch for me.

      • reply
        February 7, 2017 4:08 AM

        Same. The combo of these games clicks for me. Ninja Gaiden was my favorite OG Xbox exclusive by a mile. I loved that game.

        • reply
          February 7, 2017 9:34 AM

          Yep, same here. I think it made me better at video games.

      • reply
        February 7, 2017 9:36 AM

        Both games demand exacting execution in order not to fail.

    • reply
      February 6, 2017 9:02 PM

      Any news on a PC release?

      • reply
        February 6, 2017 9:08 PM

        Game director said in an interview recently there are currently no plans to port to pc.

        • reply
          February 6, 2017 9:32 PM

          Bogus!

        • reply
          February 7, 2017 8:41 AM

          Shit like this is what might push me to buy a Ps4

          • reply
            February 7, 2017 9:03 AM

            it looks fucking amazing on a ps4 pro with my 65" tv. gonna try out "movie mode" tonight to see what the even more enhanced graphics look like, but will stick with the 60fps for actual play sessions i'm sure.

        • reply
          February 7, 2017 9:01 AM

          Yeah, Sony published the game stateside, so unless they change their stance on bringing Sony-published games to PC a port will never happen.

          • reply
            February 7, 2017 9:03 AM

            On that note, I'm hoping Microsoft's Play Anywhere initiative, which lets you play select Xbox One games on Windows 10, nudges Sony in that direction. I rarely use my PS4 and get kinda grumpy when I have to. It's not that I dislike the system, it's just not convenient. I also have a nice gaming PC and prefer to play on it whenever possible.

    • reply
      February 6, 2017 9:30 PM

      Unf! Looking forward to hearing more of your opinion on this game, Craddock!

    • reply
      February 6, 2017 11:51 PM

      Ugh why is this exclusive

    • reply
      February 7, 2017 7:09 AM

      Played until 2am last night. Shit's good man.

    • reply
      February 7, 2017 11:02 AM

      Hey while mentioning similarities to Dark Souls-- one of the things I was most interested about in the DS series was its lore and the excellently voice-acted characters within it, doling out their perspective. In the full review I'd be really interested to hear about this aspect of Nioh and if it has any of that.

      • reply
        February 7, 2017 11:04 AM

        To elaborate, I felt like the charavters and story of Dark Souls was a great reward after all the (excellent) combat/exploration. But a game with just excellent combat/exploration I don't know if I'd be into.

      • reply
        February 7, 2017 11:42 AM

        Certainly! I plan to dig deeper into that. I scratched the service in this review-in-progress. You can refer to subsection "Tell Me a Story" for an overview.

        The long and short of it is that Nioh handles storytelling quite differently than Dark Souls. Instead of playing your character, you play a specific character. He's fully voiced, and cutscenes pop up occasionally as you make your way through levels to move the story along.

        I'm enjoying it so far, for two reasons. First, the writing and voice acting are solid. Second, the story is structured so that anyone interested in it can pay attention, but if you just want to explore, fight bad guys, and level-up your character, you can skip cutscenes and gloss over mission descriptions without missing a beat.

        Hope that tides your curiosity over for the moment! I'll definitely expand in my full review.

    • reply
      February 7, 2017 1:01 PM

      Man I wish I had a PS4 Pro :( , why did I have to sell my PS4 :(

      I can't wait to play this as soon as I get my PS4 back.