Can A Game Be Harder Than Dark Souls?
The wind is lapping at the waves, creating an unsettling, sucking noise as the waves crash on the desolate beach. I can see torches and boathouses further up the coast. Civilization, maybe? There is a sizeable herd of boulders between myself and the first boathouse; some of them as big as the boat that I sailed here on and others roughly the size of a man. As I step over the monolithic rocks, I look down and the moonbeams from above reveal the gaunt, horrifying visage of these “rocks.” “My God,” I murmur; there were a half dozen mutilated corpses before me, on the beach. Suddenly, I didn’t find as much hopeful solace in the signs of civilization up ahead.
I cautiously crept toward the first structure; it appeared to be a loading/unloading warehouse for fishing boats. There was a man sitting down outside, tending to a fishing net. I gripped my katana a little tighter and approached the man. As soon as he saw me, he threw down what he was working on and brandished a rusty sword, and charged at me with a terrible ferocity. I guess talking is out of the question. I parried his swings and thrusts; he was far more skilled than a fisherman should be, but alas, he was no mat– His rusty blade pierced my chest, killing me in a single blow. What in the actual hell? WHY IS THIS GAME SO HARD?!
Nioh is a Playstation 4 exclusive action-role-playing game set for release sometime in 2016. It is similar in gameplay to the Dark Souls series, with some very welcome innovations, fresh ideas, and a unique setting. With incredibly intense combat and deep, varied skill customization and progression, Nioh encourages approaching each enemy encounter from multiple angles and weighing the cost of each and every run-in that you have with baddies. Where on your first path through a zone, you get overzealous and charge straight into what you anticipate being a 1-on-1 with the only enemy visible, only to be chopped to bits by the other two hiding in the brush, on the second path, you know that the other enemies are hiding and can approach the battle from a different angle, or possibly avoid it altogether. There are myriad methods to undertaking battles and ways to tilt a potentially unfavorable opposition to be more in your favor. Combat is a bit like chess, in that you have to know when to attack or cease attacking, so as to preserve some precious stamina for a block, parry or dodge-roll. When stamina is depleted as a result of running, attacking, dodging, et cetera, it becomes paramount to learn how to carefully monitor your stamina, so that you don’t overexert yourself in combat and leave your defense wide open for a devastating attack. Stamina is everything.
One of my favorite elements of Nioh is how varied and deep the skill progression options are. There are three primary weapon types: swords, spears and axes. Swords lend themselves to those who prefer faster combat and can perform more attacks for less stamina at the expense of dealing less damage overall. Spears and axes are both significantly slower to use than swords and are wildly liberal with their stamina use, but deal massive damage to enemies. Spears can keep baddies at bay, with wide, sweeping slices and enough range to keep the potentially fatal axemen far away from you. Axes don’t have as much range as spears, but are grotesquely powerful if you can land your swing on an enemy. Going along with each of these weapon types are plentiful power-ups and talent specializations to make your choice of weapon more stamina-friendly, deal more damage or open up your options for massive, destructive combos to decimate your foes. Besides the skill trees for the primary weapons, you can also gain access to ranged weapons like a bow and arrow or shurikens, as well as ninjutsu and magic. While Nioh does not have classes per say, the game does allow for something more exciting; to be able to shape and mold your character into whatever type of fighter that you prefer, using all manner of weapon specializations, magic and the martial arts. Armor also plays a huge role in Nioh, as it protects you from attacks, making them less effective to you, at the cost of slowing down your movement speed and increasing the cost of stamina based on movements like running or dodging. All of these variables are based upon how heavy the armor is that you are wearing.
Nioh takes place in an indeterminate time within the Warring States period in Japan, and focuses on a semi-fictional version of the English samurai, William Adams. While the plot has not been fully revealed, it is immediately evident that this incarnation of Japan is not without some supernatural influences; as there are ghosts and whatnot scattered all over the landscape. From the demo, it appears as if William is caught up in a conflict between different groups of Japanese soldiers, as well as various types of paranormal entities.
The overall presentation of Nioh is incredibly fascinating. The dimly lit fishing villages are haunting and feel sinister. The moonlight shines down on bloodstains and crazed soldiers and villagers are waiting around every corner. Without even seeing any ghosts or demons, it is obvious that something is awry and people are out to get you. While I’m sure the entirety of the game does not take place in the region that the demo is located at, or that it is nighttime for the whole progression through the game, these elements of setting immediately piqued my interest. It is not common that we get games set in this time period, other than the Warriors games from Koei Tecmo, so it is refreshing to battle through a vividly detailed, spooky version of Warring States-period Japan.
Overall, Nioh seems to offer a lot for fans of these types of games. It is certainly of the “high-risk, higher-reward” flavor that we see a lot in video games today. Between the unique setting, the sense of accomplishment that you feel from conquering a particularly challenging battle or area, the deep customization and skill progression and the chess-like, calculated, risky combat, this game should prove to be very interesting in its final form. It could prove to be a legitimate competitor in the mindshare of the From Software games. I can say from just playing the demo, if you fancy yourself a “hardcore” gamer, try Nioh.