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Nioh is far more than a Dark Souls clone

February 16, 2017

By Alexander Cattani - G4 Canada

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NiohIt would be disingenuous to claim that Nioh doesn't borrow heavily from the Souls series of games. While Team Ninja's latest wears its inspiration on its sleeve, Nioh manages to introduce a multitude of meaningful mechanics that separate itself from genre contemporaries.

Nioh predominantly takes place in 1600's Japan during the conflict rampant Sengoku era and follows the escapades of William. After having his spirit guardian taken from him by the villainous Edward Kelly, William sets off on a tumultuous journey to the Land of the Rising Sun in search of retribution. The overall narrative in Nioh is amusing but takes a back seat to the rest of the game. While not forgettable, don't go in expecting a historically accurate account of Japanese history here.

Visually, Nioh fails to impress, with the exception of a handful of enemy bosses. Human enemies decked out in full samurai regalia should look menacing but largely come off as looking like the enemy fodder in an early PS3 era Dynasty Warriors title. The demons fare a bit better but not by much.

NiohIn regards to locations, some are rife with feudal Japanese iconography while others feel lifeless and drab. An overreliance on cavernous locales such as woods, caves and highlands made for little to no mission ambience. These settings aren't exactly lifeless in a doomed post-apocalyptic type of way but rather in a vacant and dull manner. Thankfully, only about half of Nioh's mission backdrops suffer from being this monotonous.

While these flaws may seem significant, they turn to mere nitpicks when compared to the game's complex and dynamic combat system. The moment-to-moment gameplay in Nioh is fast and frantic. Stamina management is absolutely essential if one wishes to survive the game's hostile environments. Simply charging into battle with little regard for your surroundings will only result in a quick death. Though simply waiting for your stamina, or KI as the game calls it, to recharge after a string of attacks isn't your only option. With a well-timed button press, KI can be immediately earned back. This system, also known as "KI pulse" rewards the keen player and keeps the flow of combat at a swift pace. Think Gears of War's active reload system applied to melee combat with stamina in place of ammo.

NiohEach weapon has three stances, high, mid, and low. Attacks performed in the high stance consume more stamina but inflict a high amount of damage. Attacks doled out in the mid-position burn though less stamina but damage output is subsequently toned down. And finally, attacks performed in the low stance take little stamina to pull off but inflict minimal damage as a result. At first, I felt overwhelmed with such a myriad of readily available attack stances. That initial feeling slowly grew into a feeling of accommodation as I leveled up and gained new weaponry. Whether you prefer to be heavy and powerful, quick and nimble or something in between, Nioh will have options that suit you.

Upon leveling up and progressing through both main and side missions, you will gain the ability to customize your move set for specific weapons types via a surprisingly dense skill tree. Each skill takes experience earned from fallen enemies to learn. Reversals, parrys, charges and stylish finishers are amongst some of the potential new disciplines to be learned. Helpful videos that display how and when to use each move serve to mitigate some confusion. When it comes to upgrading your character, things are pretty standard fare.

Funneling experience into slots to support a certain play style is what some gamers will undoubtedly do upon starting their journey. But allocating experience points evenly across multiple areas is also a viable option. I started my playthrough doing just that because I was undecided on which avenue to go down. Did I want to be a tank-like warrior and absorb damage? Did I want to make quick work of my enemies at the cost of being weaker? When I had eventually discovered a style that resonated with me, I didn't feel like I had wasted anytime up until that point. Each confrontation was a learning experience and each upgrade point spent still bettered my overall character. This forgiving approach to character leveling is appreciated.

NiohOn their travels, players are sure to notice swords plunged into the ground with an ethereal red glow surrounding them. These mark the graves of fallen players who met their fate in the immediate area. Much like the Souls games, these markers can serve an educational purpose and can be the difference between running headfirst into an ambush, and approaching the next area with heightened caution. A unique twist on this feature, which debuted in the Souls series of games, is the ability to engage in combat with an NPC version of that specific fallen player. This inventive twist on the formula makes these graves more than just cautionary symbols. The multiplayer elements don't stop there. Players can join up with one another to tackle areas in tandem. Though it should be noted that at least one of the two players would have had to complete the selected level prior to joining up.

Nioh is more than a Dark Souls clone. Team Ninja's approach to combat and skill trees is deep and original. Furthermore, their willingness to expand on previous mechanics made popular by other titles shows that merely copying what worked isn't Team Ninja's M.O.


Format: PlayStation 4
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment, Koei Tecmo
Developer: Team Ninja
ESRB Rating: M for Mature
Official Site:

Rating: 8 / 10

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