The term “Souls-like” is thrown around a lot these days. Any game with a focus on difficulty is described this way, rendering the comparison to the Dark Souls franchise almost moot. In reality, only a few games can be directly compared: The Surge, Lords of The Fallen, and Bound By Flame are some top-of-the-head titles. Earlier this year Nioh joined the group on PS4 and has now received a PC port with all downloadable content thanks to Koei Tecmo Games. Despite some glaring port issues, it’s probably the highest point this genre has ever seen.
Nioh places you as a European man by the name of William, who sets out to Japan to chase after a Spirit Guardian stolen from him by an evil man named Kelley. On the long trip over, William learns the way of the samurai through books. Upon arrival, you find that Japan has been at war for the past century over a mysterious material known as Amrita. William agrees to help fight on one side of the war in exchange for help finding Kelley. What follows is a series of battles between the two opposing leaders, Tokugawa Ieyasu and Ishida Mitsunari.
Nioh is hard. Much harder than any of the other games mentioned. To combat this difficulty, it gives you a deep variety of tools to master. Of the five types of melee weapon, each has three stances to switch from, and multiple skill trees to delve into - each tied to one of the three stances. High stance provides slow but strong attacks with little defense, low stance attacks are quick with low damage, and mid stance is a balance of the two. Your attacks are monitored by a stamina bar, also known as Ki. The stronger your attack the more Ki it uses. On top of this, there are three ranged weapon classes, a ninja skill tree, a magic tree, a Guardian Spirit super move, and a whole slew of creative items to assist you in battle. You’ll need to level up the proper skills to use them all, but the diversity available in Nioh lends itself to tons of build combinations that ensure each character’s uniqueness shines through.
It took me some time to get used to all of these combat mechanics, but not many games can compete with the flow instilled in me once it all clicked. The hack-and-slash combat is tough but forgiving. You can see Team Ninja’s Ninja Gaiden experience coming out during the quick and intense battles. Trying out different stances on the same enemy keeps engagements fresh. While I had my two main weapons, I made sure to keep other weapon types in my inventory to use on enemies I couldn’t find an advantage on.
Nioh experiments with its enemies early in its 40-50 hour campaign. The Yokai (monsters based in real life Japanese folklore) are in every mission. Some resemble giant demons with a variety of weapons, while others are gross takes on cyclops or other mythical creatures. Most of these designs are in the game from the start and carry over into later missions with color and skill variations. You’re fighting the same demons from mission one all the way on mission thirty, but the later one has pink crystals and a couple of new moves.
Each mission then has its specific humanoid enemies based on the location. For example, going to take over a ninja temple has you fighting groups of ninjas - novel, right? This blend of recurring and new adversaries means you need to be continually adapting or you will die.
The recurring Yokai monsters can get a bit old, however. Even with the new move-sets and more powerful attacks, fighting the same monsters in the late game gets tiring. I found myself running past most of them to get to the new enemies. Not even extra Amrita could entice me into these repeat fights. The Yokai are a terrifying race. There’s so much potential here for more horrific enemy models, but it’s wasted on a small pool of repeat designs.
There’s also the three post-game DLC packs. Each of them are around six missions long with creative twists on enemy design, new ways to interact with the environment, and some of the toughest bosses you’ll encounter. It tells a story that’s much easier to follow, and are overall worthy follow-ups to the excellent main experience.
While this all seems overwhelming, Nioh does a fantastic job explaining everything through tutorials and makes sure to open content up slowly throughout the campaign.
Nioh: Complete Edition is a fantastic experience. It does so much on its own that comparing it to the Souls franchise it’s so obviously inspired by is a disservice. It features one of the most complex combat systems this side of a fighting game, a significant PvE campaign with heaps of post-game content, and strikes a great balance between being difficult but giving you the tools to master that difficulty. The story isn’t anything worth following, but it’s easily dismissed and does little to ruin the experience. Had the game been ported over better I’d say it’s a must buy for any PC gamer, but those with lower-tier machines will have a lot of trouble getting it to run smoothly. If you can put up with the lackluster graphics settings and convoluted storytelling, you’re in for a rewarding adventure that will crush you over and over until you can find the will to break through, and one of the best gaming experiences this generation has to offer.
Our Nioh: Complete Edition review was conducted on PC via Steam using a copy provided by the developers. The game is also available on PlayStation 4.
While not a perfect port, Nioh: Complete Edition is a full-fledged experience. Both complex and challenging, it's a worthwhile journey for any action game fan.
- Content as Far as the Eye Can See
- Complex Fighting System
- DLC Brings Welcome Changes
- Lackluster Port
- Weak Enemy Variety