Finishing From Software’s Dark Souls III left a void in me. After pouring hour upon hour into the notoriously difficult action RPG, I emerged victorious, but then found myself wondering what would come next. Thankfully, Koei Tecmo knew what was going on and released the alpha demo for Nioh, a game 12 years in the making. Featuring similar gameplay elements, a samurai setting and punishing difficulty, is Nioh a classic action game in the making?
Nioh Alpha Demo Impressions
Developed by Team Ninja / Published by Koei Tecmo
Coming to the PS4.
Being an alpha build of the game, the demo represents a work in progress, but whats available so far is definitively promising. Players wash up on a dark, lonely shore as a mysterious, white haired, European samurai known as William (loosely based on sailor/samurai William Adams), and are left to their devices to figure what’s going on for themselves in this mysterious new world.
So far, a step in the right direction.
Armed with a sword, players soon find out that it’s similar to the Souls series, with the main character having the typical health bar and a stamina meter that drains with most actions, known here as Ki. Players are armed with light and heavy attacks, can hold the blade in front of them to block attacks, and can quickstep in a direction to avoid attacks. Pretty standard stuff.
But then as I walked on the shore and slowly crept up to dry land, I found a lone soldier peacefully sitting on the ground. Not sure if he was friend or foe, I drew near with the sword at the ready, and sure enough he quickly rose, blade drawn to cut me down. It’s then when I started noticing the small differences as my life hanged in the balance.
The first thing you’ll notice in Nioh is that if you exhaust all of your energy, you’re pretty much screwed, as William will enter a stunned state that lasts a couple of seconds. That’s bad news as it’ll leave him exposed to enemy retaliation, and trust me, even the lowliest grunt can hit hard. The second thing of note is that players can switch between three combat stances at any time: high stance, mid stance (the standard option), and low stance. Switching between the three offers different movesets, strategic options and varied KI use, so players can play around with these three options to adjust and adapt to different scenarios. Getting stunned because of reckless offense? Very dangerous. Switching styles to take on different enemies? Awesome.
If you win the battle, you get to collect money, items, and souls, *cough* Amrita. If you die, you lose your collected Amrita, and start at the last shrine you rested at. It’s pretty similar to other games, though here you don’t transform into an undead or are at a weakened state when you wake up, which takes away the hassle of dying.
Now, as you travel through the level that’s huge and full of different paths and areas, you’ll also encounter the death sites of other players who’ve unfortunately got owned by the game. Instead of showing you how they died however, players can challenge the revenants to earn loot and more Amrita. I’m not exactly sure how the rewards work out if you defeat them, but these tough one on one bouts are pretty cool and definitively not something you want to try when there’s enemies around.
As players progress, they’ll encounter even more enemies with different types of weapons, and in greater numbers. Fighting them off each time is a thrilling and nerve-wracking experience, and if you don’t watch your back and correctly manage your stamina, you’ll be dead in no time. That’s where items and Amrita come in, allowing players to spend their hard earned currency at a shrine to level up their various stats, or equip new pieces of armor gathered from fallen foes or collected from chests and dead bodies. Leveling up is standard stuff, so Souls fans would be right at home with the systems here, but item management is different, as there’s various pieces of armor and weapons in the game, and collecting the same items can produce different stats on them. Items also degrade pretty quickly here, so players will constantly be switching up items as the get damaged and get reduced stats. Leveling up and equipping the right items is crucial to progressing though, so it still feels familiar to the Souls series, but it’s still pretty entertaining here.
Players also get to unlock new skills, allowing them to improve their combat skills by opening new attacks, combos, defense options, buffs to stats and more. Since there’s more than one type of weapon in the game, which include but are not limited to swords, axes, spears, bow and arrows, and more, players can unlock skills relevant to each type of weapon, getting strong in one or rounding out their skills across a mix of weapons.
Other than that, the rest is very familiar, as players explore, fight tough enemies that don’t forgive mistakes, open shortcuts to skip sections of the area, and fight larger foes that’ll test your overall mastery of the game’s systems. It’s a punishing game that’ll force you to think before you act, and it’s fantastic.
At the end of the day, the Nioh Alpha Demo left me wanting more, because it’s so good. While it’s very similar to what’s been already seen in the Souls series, there’s enough here to set it apart, and I really dig the samurai setting. Frankly, I cannot wait for this game to be released. I love it.