Nioh isn’t a fun game. I mean, it’s brilliant, but it doesn’t pull its punches. It requires an investment of time and patience, as you learn the ins and outs of its complex design. Understanding the world of Nioh is nearly as important as mastering its ruthless gameplay, however the rewards you reap from doing so far outweigh the confusion and anger you are sure to encounter.
Developed as an action role-playing game by Team Ninja (the minds behind Ninja Gaiden), Nioh bears a striking resemblance to Bloodborne and Dark Souls — two titles which are infamous for their unforgiving gameplay. Aside from its frenetic hack n’ slash combat, Nioh’s gorgeously gritty visuals and clever level design, set the backdrop to an addictive and engrossing experience. As a samurai Irishman named William, your task is to extinguish the many monsters that roam across Japan in the year 1600.
Facing off against these monsters will require skill and it took several hours before I grasped the basics of combat and its in-depth, detailed inventory system. Weapons come in many shapes and sizes, offering options for ranged and close quarters combat. The more you use a weapon, the more familiar (and therefore more powerful) you become with it. I decided to stick with traditional swords for the majority of my playtime, since they were generally the easiest to control and I could focus on levelling up their specific skill tree.
Its story campaign is a solo venture, but you can ask for help (something I took advantage of regularly) by inviting another player to join your quest. That said, doing so requires an Ochoko cup; an item which you present to a shrine (I’ll get to these in a bit) before using it to allow a random stranger to join your game. Ochoko cups can’t be bought, neither are they a common commodity, they can only be obtained through loot drops, sometimes.
If you die at any point whilst playing with a co-op partner, then they disappear from your game entirely and you get reset to the last shrine you encountered. Shrines are scattered across each level and serve as a hub/save point for you to catch your breath. There’s no pausing in this game and you might be tempted to save once you clear out a group of enemies, but sadly once a shrine is used enemies immediately regenerate.
This game is out to get you. It offers a gruelling journey that forces the unlikeliest of odds upon you. Death becomes common place and whether your demise comes at the hand of a mighty boss fight, or an accidental fall into some water, dying is an absolute certainty. It might not sound enticing, but its the great sense of accomplishment you receive from overcoming even the smallest of threats, that makes it all worthwhile. There’s nothing I would change about Nioh and its fragile world, it’s an absolute treat to explore. You might find some aspects unfair, such as the inability to easily obtain Ochoko cups for co-op, but it’s all been meticulously designed to ensure you pay attention and never take anything for granted.
I could probably write a book about the game’s intricate network of details, but instead I’ll leave them for you to discover. You lucky sod.