Nioh is fast-paced and brutally punishing. Giving you a list of things to try to remember while you play would be like asking you to juggle chainsaws, except that chainsaws are predictable. This is more like juggling cats.
Below, we’re going to give you a list of things to remember eventually. You’re going to fail in Nioh a lot. You’re going to die a lot. You’re going to replay missions and fights over and over. And that’s OK. Just try to learn something from it. This list is some of the things we learned from failing a lot so you don’t have fail quite so much.
Use your items
There are so many items to pick up in Nioh that it’s easy to just let them wash over you and forget to actually use them. Don’t. Learn what they do and use them. Hoarding items is just going to get you killed (more).
- Antidotes are your friend when you inevitably get pinned down and poisoned by a low-level dweller (those creepy dudes with the pickaxes). Pop an antidote to get rid of that poison effect wearing away at your life.
- Paralysis in Nioh is deadly. If you find yourself facing an enemy that can paralyze you, equip some acupuncture needles in one of your shortcut slots. This instantly cures your paralysis (but doesn’t heal any damage), letting you get to safety.
- When all else fails, sacred ash will heal any condition — but it’s a very rare item.
- Moment talismans (talismen?) summon your guardian spirit for a short time to attack your enemies. Moment talismans are a stripped-down version of your living weapon. You can use these at any time — not just when your gauge is full — to deal some extra damage to that tough yokai or boss.
- Earth, fire, wind, water and heart, er, lightning amulets add elemental damage to your weapon. Sometimes, you just want to deal some extra damage to get through a fight quicker or you can tailor which elemental damage you add to the enemy you’re fighting to give yourself an edge.
- Horoku-dama and kayaku-dama are grenades. Use these. There’re going to be plenty to pick up, so you’ll replenish your cache of them quickly enough. And you can only carry a limited amount, so why not use them? These items are thrown, so you can keep some distance between you and your target. If you toss more than one, your target might catch on fire, which deals even more damage every second or so. (We’ve taken out some of the one-eyed yokai this way with fewer than 10 grenades.)
Use the items we talked about in our Nioh advanced guide — summoner’s candles, harakari swords, travel amulets, himorogi fragments and branches — to get yourself out of trouble. Sometimes you’re just in over your head, and rather than drive yourself insane losing the same fight over and over again, you have to learn when it’s time to cut and run.
There’s no shame in burning a summoner’s candle to reclaim all of that amrita you worked so hard for or using the harakari sword or travel amulet just to get back to that last shrine. And it’s surprisingly easy to overestimate your ability to take on that next mission or sub mission — use the himorogi items to undo your miscalculation.
Use the blacksmith
- Forging new armor and weapons isn’t just busy work. Turn all of those materials you pick up into gear. Tome the blacksmith can make surprisingly strong weapons and armor for you pretty early in the game.
- If you find yourself with a lot of common materials, forge them into rarer versions of themselves before you turn them into gear. Rarer gear is better gear.
- Soul matching matters. A lot. We were confused by it at first (and for a long while after that, to be honest). We used a feeding analogy in our Nioh advanced guide and that works well. It’s “you are what you eat” for swords. Soul matching turns weapons you’re already good at into more powerful versions of themselves.
- Use soul matching on your armor, too. Finding that perfect balance of defense versus equipment weight rate is hard. Feed that heavy, high-defense armor to your perfect-weight armor to increase its defense multiplier. You can make yourself some really great armor this way. However …
Don’t get attached to anything
Nothing. Not your favorite sword, not that awesome top hat, not even your guardian spirit. In a game with so much stuff, you’re going to find something better. That sword will become obsolete after a few missions. That armor is going to look downright primitive by the time you get to the next region. The bonuses granted by your guardian spirit are going to be all wrong for what you’re doing. Learn to let go.
If you get hung up on appearances — for example, that headband looks too cool to give up and really brings William’s entire ensemble together — Nioh has you covered. (And know that we completely understand because we poured a lot of time into that headband you see above).
Refashion your gear at Nioh’s blacksmith to make it look like something else. Appearance is a silly thing to worry about in a game where you’re constantly one slip-up from dying, but, like Sun Tzu said, “looking good is, like, 90 precent of a victory.” 
Play the sub missions
Sub missions give you items as rewards and earn you amrita, which you can use to level up. You’ll often get very powerful weapons or smithing texts — books that teach Tome the blacksmith how to make better gear — and they’re usually worth the effort. Just make sure your character level is several levels higher than the mission level, or you’ll find yourself needing those admitting defeat items we just talked about.
Replay the main missions
If you find yourself struggling to advance the main storyline, go back and replay previous missions. Even earliest ones will earn you amrita (so you can level up), and you’re already familiar with the level, so you’re not going to be as easily surprised. Get the amrita, grab the items, lather, rinse and repeat. Just …
Don’t expect it to be easy
Look: There’s no easy mode in Nioh, and you’re just not going to coast through any mission — even missions you’re way overpowered for. The best you can hope for is to get far enough ahead of the mission levels that you can make a few mistakes without the situation becoming catastrophic. And that’s enough most of the time.
Take on those revenants
Bloody graves aren’t just a fun distraction. Those revenants of other players’ Williams tend to have some good gear. Just choose your fights carefully. Check the revenant’s level before fighting, and don’t take on someone who is clearly way more powerful than you.
Stances are useful, not just for show
Nioh’s stances aren’t just an added layer of complexity on top of an already complex game. They’re there for a reason. Get comfortable changing your stance on the fly in the middle of fights to suit your needs and know the difference between them.
High stance isn’t going to do you a lot of good against an enemy that spends all of their time attacking — and low stance isn’t going to do you any good against an enemy that spends all of their time blocking. You’re going to have to learn to switch eventually, so get in the habit early.
Use the environment to your advantage
The level design in Nioh is complex and confusing, but you can turn that to your advantage.
- Get the drop on enemies. You deal huge damage with a dropping attack, so use it whenever it makes sense. Seek out things to drop off of and lure enemies to you if you can.
- Drive enemies off cliffs. Your attacks push enemies backward (and the samurai skill that adds a kick does so even more). If you’re near a cliff or a ledge or a roof’s edge, use that. Kicking someone off a cliff kills them just as well as driving your spear through their guts, so fight smarter, not harder.
Fighting is about ki management
Stances are useful, but nothing’s going to help you if you’re always doubled over and wheezing.
- Keep your equipment weight rate low — there’s a cutoff around 70 percent that you want to stay under.
- Don’t swing wildly. Look for openings and don’t waste your precious ki on pointless attacks.
- If you find yourself in a fight where you’re just always draining your ki, check your inventory for sacred water. This item allows you to recharge your ki faster.
Practice the ki pulse and use it
The last thing you need while playing Nioh is another button to press in the middle of a fight, but this one is indispensable. It’s not just for cleansing yokai realms. Ki pulses are the fastest way to refill your ki. And, with the right samurai skills, it’ll boost your next attack.
With enough practice (and near-inhuman timing), you’ll be able to press the attack long after your ki would’ve run out — while getting a boost to your attack damage.
Ask for help
William’s fight is a lonely one, taking on all of these bandits and demons by himself. But it doesn’t have to be. Offer up your ochoko cups at a shrine and get yourself some multiplayer backup.
Having someone there to help you will make getting through an overwhelming level easier or turn the tide in your favor in that brutal boss battle (we offer an ochoko cup before every boss battle now). Sure there’s pride in saying you did it on your own, but the game is already punishing enough.
You’re not going to get it right on the first try …
… or the third try. Or, sometimes, the eleventh try. We’re going to close out this guide with the same sentiment we started with : You’re going to fail and you’re going to die. A lot. That’s part of Nioh — and it’s not a commentary on your abilities. Learn from your mistakes. Think of your failures as practice and get back out there. Try something different next time until you find something that works.