As you all know by now (at least I hope you do), I am a massive Soulsborne nerd; in fact I’m the resident Soulsborne nerd at GP, and I wear that badge with honour. Like many fans of the Souls series, I was saddened to hear that Dark Souls III would be the last entry into the Souls games (by Miyazaki at least). But then a new game by Team Ninja, which they managed to slip under the radar, added a beta onto the PS4 Store, after releasing an alpha a few months back. I was unlucky enough to miss the alpha, but I did get to play the beta. But is it the Soulsborne replacement many fans have been hoping for?
The story we’ve been given so far is…lacking, but that’s understandable for a beta. We play as William, a European warrior who has come to Japan for an unknown reason (unknown to me at least), as evil spirits known as Yokai invade the country. It’s certainly an interesting concept, so far anyway, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it pans out.
The gameplay itself is very well done. Movement feels fluid and quick, allowing players to sprint and sidestep quickly. Players are able to dart left and right to avoid enemy attacks or to simply move faster, and it’s a lot of fun. Both this and the combat feel very familiar to the Soulsborne games. However, combat goes further and becomes more in-depth. There was a fairly small array of weaponry in the beta, from the speedy dual katanas to the slow and massive warhammer, alongside three classes of ranged weapons (bow, matchlock rifle and hand cannon). Of course, they could always add more once the full game comes out, but given the setting of the game – Feudal Japan – it wouldn’t be a surprise if they left the weapon types as they were.
While the combat is similar to Dark Souls (I heard one player say it was “Ninja Gaiden meets Dark Souls), it actually goes deeper than that. Each weapon (except ranged weapons) have three stances; low stance, mid stance and high stance. The three stances have different effects on your combat style; low stance is good for fast, albeit weak attacks; mid stance is best for blocking your opponent; high stance is for slow but hard-hitting attacks. Everyone probably has a favourite stance – I prefer speed so tended to use low stance most of the time – but while playing in one stance only is viable, learning to switch between stances during combat can be the difference between dying or surviving.
Another tactic that the game demands you learn is the Ki Pulse. Your “Ki” is essentially your stamina bar; run out of Ki and you can’t dodge or attack until it replenishes, like most, if not all fantasy RPGs. Where this differs from the rest though, is that you can instantly get it back with a button press. As your Ki regenerates, it’ll reach a point that was your original amount of Ki before you used it; a lighter blue bar will represent how much you used. Once the Ki bar fills the light blue bar, you can press the R1 button to instantly gain it back, allowing you to get away from the enemy now swinging for you. The best comparison would probably be Gears of War’s instant reload if you press the button at the correct point. Unlike the stances, which you can probably just get through without learning how to switch between them, the Ki Pulse is a must-learn if you want to survive in this world.
The leveling system was, like the combat, similar to the Soulsborne games, but it went deeper. There were two kinds of leveling up; character leveling and combo leveling. Character leveling seemed to be very inspired by Souls. The layout of the screen, the system at which you increased your levels, even the currency needed to level up (Amrita, gained from killing enemies and certain usable items) was very akin to From Software’s games.
However, the combo leveling is where it differed. The combat of the game focused on you performing all kinds of combo attacks, but these combos needed to be unlocked. Each weapon had a different skill tree, and required different points to unlock these combos. Each combo could only be performed in certain stances too; dual katanas had a combo where the player slashed wildly at an enemy to deal a ton of damage, but this could only be performed in low stance. But other skill trees were part of this too, allowing you to craft items such as shurikens, or even level up your Guardian Spirit – a special ability that once charged up, changes your style of combat until it runs out (I used Kota, the Fire Wolf, which imbued my weapon with fire and allowed me to hit for heavy damage while pulling off crazy combos, but would deplete the amount of time left on the Kota everytime I was damaged.
There’s so much more I could go into regarding Nioh, but going into detail and fanboying over every detail would take me, and you, forever to finish this article. Overall though, this game, whether it’s the next Souls game or not, is definitely one to watch. The overwhelming difficulty, as well as the combat, gameplay and world, make it a big competitor to the Soulsborne games in my eyes, and that makes me very excited.