Koei Tecmo came to E3 with a revamped demo of Nioh after its public alpha. RPGamer's Zack Webster gives his thoughts on this newest build.
There were few appointments I had that I was looking as forward to as I was for Nioh, the difficult but hard-to-put-down action RPG from Koei Tecmo. After spending hours earlier this year in the public alpha, I was interested in seeing what changes had taken hold as a result of the feedback. In short, this more recent build of Nioh is mostly improved though still has some frustrating elements present.
For the demo I was given thirty minutes of hands-on time and about half of that was once again getting acclimated to the game's controls. This is one I will fully admit I didn't see a large chunk of due entirely to player error, as I repeatedly struggled to get past the groups of enemies. From what I could play of the demo, it seemed to cover several field maps that served as little more than combat arenas for differing waves of enemies, namely skeletons and ninjas.
Combat was the meat of the experience in the Nioh alpha and this demo was no exception. Protagonist William can be equipped with an assortment of weapons from samurai swords to hammers to spears and can also equip armors of various weights and functionalities. Each weapon has a high, medium, and low stance; high stances have incredible power but slower speeds, low has the opposite, and medium is definitely somewhere in the middle. These stances can be switched to on the fly, even mid-combo, by simply holding R1 and hitting the assigned face button for each stance. Combined with a second equipped weapon that can be switched in by a push of the D-pad, Nioh has a nuanced combat not often seen in action RPGs.
The key to combat is actually proper stamina control. As with many other games, every attack, dodge, and block comes with a stamina cost. Players used to wailing on the attack button will not find much success in Nioh and it won't take them long to figure that out. Enemies, even the most basic ones, hit with devastating force, turning health bars to mincemeat at a moments notice. Even after I equipped the heaviest and sturdiest armor I could find, I found myself being unable to be hit more than three times per life. Healing supplies mostly followed Dark Souls rules, so brute forcing my way through was quite difficult as well. To make matters worse, one of the more frustrating elements of the game is the stamina loss that comes with getting hit. Its possible more games than I recall do this as well, but I can't remember being unable to dodge away from an attack because I was out of stamina from getting hit by a previous attack. And running out of stamina is a surprisingly easy thing to do if you're not careful. Under my control, poor William stopped dead in his tracks, huffing and puffing, from a drained stamina bar more often than I'd like to admit. It's not an unfair mechanic, just one I had trouble adjusting to in the given time.
The saving grace for stamina comes from a recovery ability that's an integral part of the combat. When attacking, stamina is not drained as normal. Instead, a part of the bar decreases based on the attack used. After a moment without an attack, the bar will start to quickly fill to where it was when the attacking began. A properly timed press of R1 as the bar fills will activate a recovery animation that refills the stamina to that point. Utilizing this mechanic is key to extending combos, shifting attack styles, or even just having enough stamina to get out after an attack.
Some of the RPG elements were present during the demo, such as leveling up, but given the amount of time available I wasn't able to delve into them as much as I would have liked. Simply know they are very similar to Souls games. But even amidst bouts of frustration, I could see the great game hidden underneath, just asking for more time to make it all come together. Equipment durability has been dropped, a general positive as it dropped hilariously quickly in the alpha, though this does leave the problem of having an inventory cluttered with worthless weapons. However, this is a minor quibble of an otherwise intriguing game, with the only real complaint being it did not run as smooth as I would like. Still, this is one for action RPG fans to keep an eye on.