Preview: Nioh Beta Demo Impressions

Nioh has been on our collective radar for a while now. Following in the footsteps of Team Ninja‘s previous series, Ninja Gaiden, and taking more than a little influence from fellow Japanese developer From Software’s Dark Souls games; Nioh has all the hallmarks of the kind of sleeper hit we just love to see come west. Pure PlayStation’s Dom O’Leary has been following the game closely since the pre-alpha stages and after a muted but promising showing from the game’s Alpha Demo, he’s dived right back into the Beta to bring us his impressions on how the game is shaping up. Fellow Gaijin Samurai can join him below for the low-down.

Let me start by disclosing something. I am a massive fan of the Souls games, and I loved several (if not all) of the installments of Ninja Gaiden. So it’s easy to see why I would be excited for the release of Nioh; it promises to blend the awesome risk v reward tension of the Souls series with the combo driven over-the-top combat that made the Ninja Gaiden games famous. To me though, the Alpha Demo fell a little short of my expectations; it was easy to see the promise in the game’s formula, but it was a bit slower and much more punishing than even I expected – to the point where the difficulty felt unfair at times.

You can imagine my delight then, to see the Beta Demo has removed almost all my concerns in this regard. For a start, the addition of some new weapons and abilities from the range that will be on offer in the main game has helped to broaden the scope of combat. The dual swords, for example, allow for a faster approach to encounters; quick sidesteps and vicious combo attacks letting your character dip in and out of enemy’s range with relative ease. It’s more reminiscent of previous Team Ninja games and works well with the slightly nerfed difficulty level to make players feel empowered while still providing a stiff challenge.

‘When one sword just isn’t enough’

The amount of ranged options and secondary equipment has also been further revealed. There are now long-range rifles and more powerful hand cannons, as well as buffs and usable items in the form of ‘Omyo magic’ and ninja skills. The latter were present in some form in Nioh’s original outing, but their use has been expanded here. They feel like useful additions to your arsenal too, providing an extra edge to your attack and defense in more difficult fights, like  the semi-optional ‘Yokai’ (Japanese demon-type things) encounters and the punishing bosses.

When Nioh was first announced, and before I had a chance to see it for myself, I had a slight concern that it would be a mere ‘me too’ game attempting to capitalise on the runaway success of the Souls franchise and resurgence of ‘difficult’ games. From the first moments of the Alpha demo, though, it was clear that the game had an identity all its own. The imagery is all very appropriate to the feudal Japan setting and the somber atmosphere is reinforced through the environments and even the snippets of dialogue found on item-giving corpses. The Beta demo preserves this atmosphere and the greater range of armor sets on show helped demonstrate some of the cooler samurai getups that the lead character, William, can sport.

‘With this mask, my sideburns are invincible!’

A greater range of environments also demonstrated that Nioh can be pretty as well as relentlessly dark. Open sunset fields and the flashes of blue sky in the cavernous mountains of the new map helped to contrast the dark and fiery starting village that returned from the Alpha. I believe this distinctly Japanese blend of gore and death juxtaposed against more beautiful or ‘cute’ imagery and scenes will help to make Nioh stand out from the crowd. Take the example of the utterly adorable ‘Kodama’ (little green umm… plant people?) that inhabit your shrines and confer passive bonuses. Finding these little guys and guiding them on their way became kind of an obsession for me.

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