If you frequent other video game sites, you may have seen some reviews popping up for Nioh, the new action/role-playing game from Team Ninja. So where is Polygon’s review? Unfortunately, it’s not ready yet, but we do have some initial thoughts to share.
We’ve only had our review build from Sony for about six days. With a lot of games, that would be enough time to sprint through and get a review finished while maintaining our sanity. With Nioh, not so much.
Nioh is an extremely long and incredibly challenging game. This isn’t shocking for a title that has happily embraced comparisons to Dark Souls, but even our experience with From Software’s series couldn’t quite prepare us for how much Nioh demands of its players. This is almost certainly the most difficult game we’ve ever had to review in our decade-plus of writing about games.
The real question is whether or not that difficulty is a good thing, and the answer with Nioh is complicated. As previously covered in our pre-review of the game, it layers on mechanics, adding complexity to an already complicated formula. Most notable is the ability to swap between three distinct stances on the fly during combat, giving each weapon type three different movesets.
In Nioh’s best moments, we find ourselves flying between stances with ease, leaping in out of combat range, using the “ki pulse” mechanic to constantly refill stamina. In many of the game’s encounters, getting into the proper flow can feel downright transcendent.
However, to pull this off, you need to be on 100 percent of the time. A single moment’s distraction, accidentally slipping into the wrong stance or tapping the dodge button a half-second late, and main character William can get stun-locked into a series of enemy attacks and drop from full health to dead in just a few hits. Even the weakest enemies in the game, the human bandits and skeleton archers that act as mere roadbumps along the way, can absolutely devastate your health bar if you screw up.
This may sound obvious. Nioh is drawing explicit influence from the Souls games, and it’s also from Team Ninja, the stewards of the Ninja Gaiden series — games which are legendarily difficult. But, in practice, Nioh feels several magnitudes more punishing. This is especially apparent in Nioh’s boss fights, which generally put William one-on-one against demonic opponents who are either massive in size, dizzying in speed or both. These battles are a test of pattern recognition. Sometimes there are other gimmicks as well, but the real way to win is always in figuring out how your opponent’s attacks play out and when it’s safe for you to rush in and do a couple of hits worth of damage.
The problem, then, is just how lengthy these encounters are. Nioh bosses have giant health pools, and each attack chips away only a small percentage of the whole. That aforementioned need to be at complete attention during a fight is a satisfying challenge when you’re up against a couple of weaker enemies that go down in a minute or less. Those same demands stretched across ten-plus minutes for a boss fight become a grueling struggle to stay sane as you cautiously repeat the same dance of dodging and attacking over and over without a momentary slip-up.
In our time with Nioh so far, it’s a constant push and pull between those moments of satisfying triumph and abject, frustrating failure. Challenge is good, but we’re not yet convinced that Nioh handles its devotion to difficulty well at all times. It remains to be seen where the overall balance of these choices will fall when credits roll — whether we’ll be overjoyed at our skills in finishing such a tough title, or just relieved that we can put down the controller and let our blood pressure drop.
We’ll keep working on cracking this nut, and will have a full review of Nioh to share next week, right around the game’s release date of Feb. 7. In the mean time, you can read our pre-review coverage for more details of Nioh’s mechanics, and watch the video below for a look at one particularly challenging level of the game.