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Nioh Alpha Demo Preview

We take Geralt’s Japanese cousin for a spin in a Samurai-themed Dark Souls game.  Nioh is an upcoming PlayStation 4 exclusive title, developed by the guys that brought us Ninja Gaiden and the awesome beat-em up Dead or Alive.

I’m sure by now you’ve been hearing about the samurai Dark Souls mod.  Well jokes aside, Nioh really does feel like a Dark Souls game in a Japanese setting and Geralt of Rivia as the protagonist.  That’s quite a mish-mash.  Team Ninja, the developers behind this game,   have done a great job at emulating Dark Souls, adding their own flavour.  But don’t write this game off just yet, those similarities and all the clone jokes aside, it is a challenging and very competent RPG.

Geralt moonlighting as a Samurai in his downtime
Geralt moonlighting as a Samurai in his downtime

Bare in mind, this is still an Alpha demo, so there’s still quite a bit of work that will go into the game to polish it and improve it.  Even so, I can’t help but think this could potentially be a really great game.  The game is very similar to Dark Souls in terms of it’s game mechanics, there’s no denying that.  When you start off, you’re not even told how your fighting works and are almost instantly killed by the first enemy. It really doesn’t hold your hand at all, there’s a lot of trial and error that happens while playing this game.  Then you figure out, how to equip a weapon and how to lock onto enemies, now you’re cooking with gas!  You’ll notice there’s what almost looks like bonfires littered all over the game world, what that actually is, is the “Ghosts” of fallen players.  There’s an interesting feature at play there, where you can battle out those player’s Ghosts and if you successfully defeat them, you gain their equipment.  But they’re extremely hard to take down, in fact at starting level, I was killed several times by these guys.  Only when I levelled up a bit and had better weapons and gear, could I take down my first ghost.  When you die in the game, you loose all your “Souls” called Amrita, which you gathered so far.  These are used for levelling up. But a really interesting feature is that when you die, they’re guarded by a Spirit Guardian, which stays at that location until you reclaim them.  However, catch is, if you die again without reclaiming them, they’re gone for good.  Pretty brutal.

Controls are fairly simple.  You have the above mentioned lock on function, you have a fast attack, heavy attack and block.  As with Souls, each attack drains your Stamina meter, fast attack drains little while heavy attack drains a lot.  You also have some quick shortcut slots to equip throw able items such as Shurikens or ranged weapons like arrows or throwing daggers.  Items to recover your health and for magic power ups.  Your character also has different stances to use in battle.  The low stance increases your attack speed and uses much less stamina.  A High stance does heavy damage, executes your attacks really slowly but takes a huge chunk of your stamina.  The medium stance is as you guessed the middle of the two.  Depending on the type of enemy you are facing and the weapons they’re using, you’ll switch up your stances on the fly to try and dispatch your foes as efficiently as possible.  Once levelled up, you will gain access to magic power ups I mentioned earlier, depending on the power up, your weapon can be engulfed by flames increasing damage to enemies, other power ups make you a supernatural killing machine where your stamina doesn’t get affected at all and your damage is greatly increased.  All of this levelling up happens at a shrine.  Think of shrines as the Dark Souls equivalent of bonfires.  Here you spend your Amrita on increasing your stamina points, your health points, strength and the like, very much like Dark Souls.  You also can select different Spirit Guardians here, each with their own perks to buff up your character’s stats.  As for your equipment, the ones you don’t want, can be offered for Amrita.

Heads will literally roll in this game
Heads will literally roll in this game

The combat itself is really challenging, seriously…expect to die a bazillion times before progressing further.  The enemies are sometimes predictable, but they’ll surprise you and just capitalize on a minor mistake you make, ending in your death.  That’s just one enemy, when faced with 3 or more, prepare to die.  Don’t think running away will help, you’ll only die tired.  The enemies don’t let up, they’ll give chase right across the map until you run out of stamina and will slaughter you then. You have to attack strategically, and better your chances for success by attacking enemies one at a time.  There’s times where the game got really frustrating, as I got killed by an enemy I had killed several times by now with no problem, because in Nioh, when you die, all the enemies respawn.  You will have to face them again, and again and again.  But with each death, you learn to tackle them more efficiently, you get better at fighting the enemies.

Another thing I was very interested in about Nioh is the performance modes I wrote about in another article.  Basically, you get a Movie Mode and an Action Mode.  The former bumps up resolution and decreases framerate, while the latter turns down the resolution and bumps up the framerate.  I tried it and my goodness it works.  I’ll be honest the game is not the most gorgeous out there.  But it’s decent enough.  Run it in Movie Mode and the textures are much higher res, the particle effects are bumped up but the framerate drops to 30FPS.  Switch to Action and immediately you can feel the framerate bump to 60FPS, the game feels like a different beast with much more fluid animations and motion.  As for the visuals, well the draw distance is reduced and there’s far less foliage on screen.  The textures look a little muddy, and the reflective water reflects much less.  Going forward I’m very curious if this will become a new gaming trend, I honestly preferred the framerate increase, as the game doesn’t look that amazing enough for me to worry about the finer details.  Perhaps as the game approaches completion, Team Ninja will polish it and improve on those visuals, they’re about the only thing about this game I can knock. Besides the difficulty.

Prepare to die...damnit with the Dark souls references
Prepare to die…damnit with the Dark souls references

I’ll be the first to say, I hate Dark Souls, in fact I hate games with brutal difficulty, this game is no doubt one of those game with a steep learning curve.  Yet, it kept me playing, I kept going back for more, pushing further and further into the map.  Team Ninja has done a phenomenal job on Nioh, taking the best parts of Souls and adding a little bit more in their own unique world.  The game is fun, difficult yes but every victory feels earned not given, because of the demo, I may even go back to Dark Souls and give it another chance.




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