I’ve been saying for a while now that i’ve wanted to see a Dark Souls like game set in a non western setting, so when I heard about Team Ninjas “Samurai Souls” game Nioh I was interested right from the start. After spending a few hours with the Alpha Demo, I’m reasonably happy with it. Although there are a few ideas I hope either change or get nerffed altogether, I enjoyed most of my time with the game even though i’ve never been much of a fan of Team Ninja’s other work.
Unfortunately the demo didn’t start off on it’s best foot. Nioh seems to be taking Dark Souls’ lack of sign posting to a simply ludicrous degree. Upon starting the game I fought another players phantom thinking it was a tutorial enemy. It took me way too long to figure out that wasn’t the case. It also took too long to figure out the games controls. I’ll admit that it’s been a while since i’ve played an action game where you primarily use the face buttons to attack so maybe it was my fault my first few deaths were due to me doing nothing but running around like an idiot, but I still feel like there should have been something there to teach players how to not die. Another thing that needs a change is the number of one or two hit kills enemies have. Even as I was gearing up to fight the boss at the end of the demo basic enemies could still kill me in no time. Not even in the Dark Souls way were you have to pay attention or risk death, I was literally getting killed in one hit from the first few foes even after a few hours in. This is bullshit. There’s really no other way too put it. But as much as that pissed me off, once I got use to how the game played, I rather enjoyed myself.
New weapons and armor drop rather frequently, pushing the player to switch between Swords, Axes, Spears and Hammers often. On top of that there are three different stances with light and heavy attack that change damage output, stamina usage and attack speed. While there are wet-stones that can repair weapon durability, I hardly found myself using them. The constant switching of weapons, armor and stances kept the combat interesting as I could never quite get comfortable with my current equipment.
Enemy encounters play out in ruffly the same way as they do in dark souls: you want to draw out enemies and fight them one on one as groups can easily overwhelm you. However, there are too many times when the game forces you into fighting multiple opponents at once. With only a limited block that’s easy for groups to flank around and a dash as your only defensive options, these encounters become increasingly more frustrating. Luckily the combat itself was rather enjoyable once I had a real understanding of how to play the game. Just like you the AI enemies all have a visible stamina meter under their health that you can use to your advantage, just like they can do to you. When stamina runs out you and the enemies have a short period where you can’t move as you recover. If you hit the enemy with a heavy attack you can do what amounts to a visceral attack that does massive damage. Be careful though, as your enemies will also pull this trick should your stamina deplete.
As you progress you also unlock new skills for each weapon as well as magic abilities and secondary throwing items. The weapon skills add something of a combo system to the combat, making the game play more like a mix between Dark Souls and Ninja Gaiden had Ninja Gaiden not been a pile of wank. Magic abilities so far are more like limited use Resins, but I found them rather useful, even if a little cumbersome to use. Once you unlock the ability to use magic, bombs or shurikens you then have to go back to a shrine (the games version of a bonfire) and equip it. And should you upgrade these skills to give yourself a higher allotment, you then have to go back and make sure the upgraded skill is equipped. For skills with divergent upgrade paths, like adding poison or fire to shurikens this makes some sense, but why on earth would I not want more earth or fire magic as soon as I upgrade it?
As dumb as this may sound, those shrines are possibly my favorite change from Dark Souls. Not only can you do the usual stuff like level up and attune magic, but there are a few new ideas that I really enjoyed. Scattered throughout the game world are lost deities that you can send back to the shrine for in game bonuses to choose from. You also have the option to change your “guardian spirit”, but I couldn’t figure out what exactly that did so I choice not to mess with it. But the best part of the shrine was the “make an offering” option. Here you can sell old or useless equipment for the currency used to level up (I never did learn what that was called), but you also get gifts regularly as well. So while only 3 life restoring Elixir are replenished after death, I had a full stash of 10 for most of my play time after selling junk I wasn’t going to use, whist keeping competitive equipment on reserve for when my current stuff began to break, then I’d sell that off and the cycle began anew.
As of right now, not everything the game has to show for itself works in its favor, but I had fun and with a few tweaks I can see this becoming the first real Souls-like competitor to really rival From Software’s beloved series.