Nioh Alpha Demo Impressions0 Comments
When a game gets stuck in development hell, it's difficult not to worry about how well the end result will actually turn out. In the case of Nioh, fans have been waiting 12 years for something they could finally get their hands on. No doubt there's a lot riding on this game for the folks at Team Ninja, who have finally managed to bring this samurai action title to life. To help assuage the worries many might have had, they made the smart decision to release a playable demo this week. After playing it all the way through, I can safely say I'm no longer worried about Nioh's future.
From the little that we've gotten to see prior to this demo, many had jumped to a lot of conclusions about what the game would actually be. Some thought it might be Onimusha for a new generation, while others just thought it would be a Souls clone in ancient Japan. The truth is much more intriguing than all that. Nioh pulls inspiration from many places, some obvious and some not-so, but the end result is something wholly unique.
Combat is the highlight of Nioh, and is built around three stances — low, medium, and high. Low stance is quick with a focus on dodging, but individual strikes are weaker. High stance is slow and powerful, for when you're okay with taking a bit of extra damage for the sake of dealing that much more. Medium stance is, as the name implies, right in the middle — balanced in speed and damage, with the added ability to parry attacks while blocking. These can be swapped between anytime by pressing R1 with the corresponding face button.
There are three different types of weapons as well, each of which can be utilized in all three of the stances. Katanas are your all-around balanced weapon, spears have reach and sweeping attacks, and axes/hammers are slow, but powerful. Each of these weapon types has its own skill tree that you can work through at largely your own pace to customize how each functions in the various stances. The same skill points are used for all three trees, but you have quite a bit of freedom in how you fill them out. Prefer only using high stance for axes and only medium stance for katanas? Then you won't need to worry about putting points in low stance abilities for either.
Skill points are acquired by leveling, as you might expect, and the leveling mechanic is one that Souls fans will be familiar with. Defeating enemies rewards you with experience — called Amrita — and any unspent experience will be dropped on the ground if you die, to be lost forever if you die a second time before reaching it. You'll use an increasing amount of it to level, gaining one point for the game's various stats, as well as “Samurai Skill Points” for filling out the weapon skill trees.
Nioh's combat is a deadly game of stamina management. Performing actions such as attacking, dodging, or sprinting consumes stamina, as you'd expect. However, weapons deal stamina damage as well, with the amount depending on the weapon. If you run out of stamina your bar will turn red. Attempting to perform a stamina-consuming action at this point will cause your character to get winded and become a sitting duck for a couple of seconds. This can be combated with one of the game's cooler mechanics — ki blast.
As you attack, the portion of the stamina bar that your combo has used will turn red. When your combo ends, that red bit will slowly fill up with white. Pressing R1 during this time will cause you to regain all of the stamina that has turned white, potentially regaining almost all of the combo's cost. If you're in low stance, you can actually trigger this by simply dodging instead of pressing R1, which can both save your life and net you a nice stamina refund. Nioh's combat is full of these sorts of little intricacies, and it's probably the most fascinating thing about the game. It can take some getting used to, don't get me wrong, but mastering it is so satisfying.
You'll also have your choice of celestial companion, which you can call on in moments of need for some burst damage and then a period of awesomeness called “living weapon,” during which the celestial imbues your weapon with extra power, replacing your life bar with a new meter that functions like stamina. Once that bar runs out, you're back to normal. When you die, your celestial stays behind to guard the experience you left on the ground, meaning you can't use it until you've recovered your grave. If you're not interested in picking back up what you left behind, you can simply visit the shrine to call it back to you and give up what was left at your grave.
The demo is quite meaty, as well. It features two full missions, both of which are fairly lengthy if you choose to fully explore their locations. The level design is awesome, with large areas that wrap around themselves and have plenty of shortcuts and secrets for you to discover. There's also plenty of loot for you to horde, which functions in a Diablo sort of way, with randomized rarities and stats. This means you'll constantly be upgrading and swapping out gear, and all of your outdated stuff can be offered to the shrine for some extra experience, along with occasional extra healing items and other goodies.
There's so much to toy around with in this demo. You can find a bow and do some sniping, or put points in ninjutsu to toy around with various gadgets, such as exploding shurikens and poisonous gas pellets. The difficulty is challenging, but never impossible, and the bosses — particularly the last one — can make you work for your kill. You'll even get some free DLC as a reward for beating the first mission, which will seemingly only be given to those who play this demo. Oh, and did I mention it also lets you choose between prioritizing framerate or resolution? More of that, please.
I went into Nioh with cautious optimism, but I've emerged a believer. It's shaping up to be one incredibly exciting, challenging, and enjoyable outing. Team Ninja have taken their time getting Nioh in our hands, but it certainly seems like it may be worth the wait. This isn't Samurai Souls. It's not Onimusha or Japanese Witcher either. What it is, is freaking awesome.