Preview

Nioh Alpha Demo Impressions

Last week, Koei Tecmo released a demo on the Playstation Network for their upcoming action game, Nioh. Production for the game is still in progress, and the demo offers players a rare chance to play part of the alpha build. The Nioh demo will be available through May 5th, after which time Koei Tecmo will offer a survey to those who experienced it.

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Nioh plays and feels a lot like Dark Souls, and has many of the same features. Enemies are fast and brutal, capable of bringing you down in just a few hits. Defeating them earns you Amrita, which is used as a currency to purchase new levels. Also like Dark Souls, a grave appears in the place that you die, giving you one chance to reach it again to recover your Amrita. Finally, most of your actions rely on a stamina bar, and you become incapable of movement should it deplete. The entire structure is virtually the same as Dark Souls, and as such, the two games must be compared.

For an alpha build, Nioh plays very well, and has the potential to be a great game. There are tons of items to collect and skills to learn, and the enemy variety is rich. Each adversary has unique behavior and attacks, providing an evolving challenge. It looks good, runs fast, and is presented well. The controls are close to where they need to be, but not yet perfect.

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The targeting camera is a little off. While you can lock onto enemies and keep them in view, you can’t really back away or circle strafe like you would expect. When you attempt to do so, your character turns their body around and free-runs, despite the camera remaining locked on. It still works pretty well for centering your attacks, but occasionally fails here as well, allowing you to flail stupidly at the blank space three feet from your intended target. At first, I hated the camera, but by the end I adjusted to it pretty well. I hope that Koei Tecmo tweaks it before release, but it’s more quirky than terrible, and I can live with it.

The system in place for managing equipment is far less tolerable. Weapon and equipment drops are extremely common, and they run a pretty wide gamut, even in the first level. It might seem cool to have so much to manage and choose from, but it gets messy fast. Worse, equipment degrades way too rapidly, and is in constant need for repair and replacement. The frequent drops make replacement feasible, but it’s a chore nonetheless, and the inventory becomes so cluttered that huge chunks of time are needed just to organize and sell the excess. I have no doubt that Koei Tecmo will fix this issue, and if I had to bet, I’d say it’s the next thing they look at.

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Nioh’s other issues are a bit more complicated, but will hopefully be addressed as well. I was surprised to notice that it’s actually more difficult than Dark Souls, but it’s not for the right reasons. The stamina bar (called Ki) is very unforgiving. It drains quickly, recharges slowly and forces the player to stop moving entirely when it depletes. Though this paralysis only lasts for a second, the downtime is often critical, and will lead to death more often than not.

Health balancing is also an issue. By the demo’s second level, the enemies take too many hits to defeat. This would be fine if it only applied to an occasional heavy enemy, but there are lots of heavy enemies. On the plus side, enemies have weak points and are hurt by back-attacks, so there is a fair bit of depth to the combat. Individual fights are usually a lot of fun, but they can stack up to an overwhelming and tedious degree. On the other side of the balancing spectrum, the sponge of a second boss can kill you in one hit via stun-lock.

Indeed, Nioh has its kinks to work out, but that’s to be expected from an alpha title. I applaud Koei Tecmo for throwing this game to wolves for the purpose of gauging the audience and making it better. There’s a lot of fun to be had, and the potential exists to make an impressive game.

I look forward to following the progress of Nioh, and I hope the alpha demo provides some insight into making the best game possible. In the meantime, the demo is available until May 5th, and provides a pretty big chunk of content to whoever checks it out. Cooler still, there’s a bonus download for players who beat it, redeemable when the game releases later this year.

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