Darks Souls On Rails With Its Own Interesting Ideas – Nioh Demo Impressions (PS4)
Nioh has slowly been creeping upon us. While most PS4 exclusives generate a constant buzz, Nioh has been a much more subtle affair. After its initial reveal (technically re-reveal given the games origins start in 2004) comparisons with Dark Souls were unavoidable.
The comparisons are pretty spot on as confirmed by the recently released demo. Nioh is somewhere between Dark Souls and past Team Ninja titles like Ninja Gaiden. Movement is more free flowing than From Software’s famed works. Each enemy presents a genuine threat, forcing the player to approach them with respect and caution.
Nioh’s demo instantly presents fresh ideas while being eerily familiar. Killing enemies rewards the player with Amrita (think Souls) which can be used to level up. Each time a player levels up they gain skill points. These points unlock a number of abilities tied to Nioh’s weapons. Swords, axes and spears all have their own unique skill tress. Further abilities can be unlocked in the ‘Onmyo Magic’ and Ninja trees, essentially two forms of supporting skills.
Having abilities tied to a class of weapon sounds like a restriction, but it’s not strictly true. Nioh has three variations of attack offered by three different stances. Lower stance is fast and aggressive, Medium provides a strong middle ground while Heavy is very much risk and reward. All three stances can be developed and fleshed out via the before mentioned skill tree. The level of depth on display is hugely impressive, even in this ‘Alpha Demo’ form.
Nioh’s combat focuses more on combo attacks than burst damage. A number of abilities are triggered after a sustained attack, giving the game an aggressive pace. The pace starts off as a welcomed surprise but its problems soon become aware, mainly due to some questionable design choices.
Each section of Nioh’s demo is jam packed with enemies and tight areas. Locking onto a enemy is easy enough, keeping sight on them is a different story. The camera struggles with anything in the environment, be it walls or set dressing. It’s a huge issue which results in the camera randomly zooming in, making things far too awkward to see. Player’s will often soak up cheap hits, or even deaths, purely down to how poorly the camera performs.
The issues is further highlighted by the sheer amount of enemies in some of the areas. They’ll dive out and close down the player in lightening time, all while the camera tries to catch up. Encounters with multiple enemies within smaller zones feel frustrating and painful to play through. At times, Nioh seems to understand what makes challenging games like Dark Souls fun…only to go and mess it up.
Some enemies can pull off grapple moves, inflicting heavy damage on the player. These moves seem to come out of no where, often glitching through hits and obstacles. The results is difficulty that feels cheap, rather than legitimately challenging. Nioh’s intentions might be good, but the mechanics mixed with the level design and camera just make it feel far too cheap.
Among the problems are some genuinely nice ideas. Loot is handled in the same way as most dungeon crawlers work. Enemies drop plenty of items, each with random stats and effects. From swords with increased gold per kill to helmets with buffed stats. The sheer amount of loot that drops keeps things feeling rewarding, even when Nioh is at its most frustrating.
Each area is littered with glowing red swords marking the death of other online players. Interacting with said swords spawns the respective player’s ghost, starting a rather full on encounter. These ghosts act much more like actual players than AI. It’s a neat little touch, even if it’s nothing ground breaking. On the flip side, players can also be summoned in to aid players, similar to how Dark Souls handles the process.
Nioh’s features a few quirky mechanics that soften then general challenge at hand. Players can imbue themselves with the spirit of an animal, which when activated, unleashes a number of buffs. The spirits can only be triggered after taking down a number of enemies, stopping the mechanic from becoming a crutch for players.
It may only be a demo, but Nioh is interesting enough to keep eye on. The mixture of elements from Dark Souls and Ninja Gaiden creates a bizarre, but enjoyable, experience. Constantly picking up new items provides great motivation to replay the same sections over and over. With so many skills to unlock, Nioh offers a huge amount of depth in its core gameplay.
Team Ninja still have work to do. The camera seriously needs addressing. Constantly wrestling with camera angles becomes frustrating and tiresome, detracting from the experience. Cheap challenge also niggles away throughout the demo. Nioh doesn’t seem to understand the difference between challenge and being cheap, often thrown too many enemies at the player at once.
Interestingly, Team Ninja have included options to help optimize the game. The demo includes options to either play the game at its best resolution or frame rate. These kind of options should be common place in more consoles games, hopefully Nioh starts a trend.
Dark Soul’s influence is flowing strongly through the heart of Nioh. Hardcore souls fans may feel this is nothing more than ‘Dark Souls on Rails’ but there’s still plenty of promise shown in the demo. Team Ninja could be onto a winner, or at the very least a cult hit.