There is no denying the fact that Ninja Gaiden developer Team Ninja made an exceptional entry into the action role-playing genre earlier this year with Nioh on the PlaySation 4. Thanks to its resounding success, Koei Tecmo has decided to open up this punishing journey during the Japanese Sengoku period to an entirely new audience on PC. Given the complete absence of Bloodborne and Demon’s Souls on the platform, this group of players has been fairly limited outside of the Dark Souls series when it comes to this style of game. Barring a handful of indie offerings, titles such as The Surge and Lords of the Fallen have attempted to bestow the PC community with demanding ARPGs to compete with From Software, but the reception has typically been mixed. That means the all-inclusive Nioh: Complete Edition is under increased pressure to replicate its PS4 achievement in the transition to PC. Let’s find out if this critically-acclaimed strenuous samurai adventure triumphs in this regard.
Nioh follows the story of William, a grizzled light-haired Irishman that could pass for Geralt of Rivia’s long-lost brother. Similar to the famed Witcher, William sets out on a journey to locate something dear to him and a whole slew of monsters are standing in his way. The narrative loosely molds itself around the story of William Adams, the first Englishman that traveled to Japan and subsequently the first “Western Samurai”. Despite the heavy emphasis on Japanese folklore, other real-life individuals find themselves twisted up in the the Yokai-filled lands. The names Edward Kelley, Oda Nobunaga, and Tokugawa Ieyasu may ring a bell for some. However, the story simply pads out this grim setting and it is far from the main reason you will be wanting to dive into Nioh.
Nioh draws players in with its design choices, both in terms of the environments and the enemies. The latter is arguably more enticing than the former, but each remains a visual treat in their own ways. Seeing the hulking Yoki make its appearance for the first time was definitely a sight to behold, with their horns sporting a heated look of molten metal. Even if I was too busy frantically avoiding the long reaches of its deadly strikes, I was still able to appreciate the detailed design of this opponent. And that is only the introduction to the mythological representations William will face off against.
The variety of foes you will be crossing swords (or an axe) with are even more fun to fight than they are to ogle. As is expected from this genre, enemy encounters require equal amounts of forethought and execution, but Nioh handles combat in a way that largely separates it from the standard Dark Souls fare. Combat is faster paced, although it still revolves around stamina management, and continues to expand over time with new abilities and combos. Parries and backstabs are not available options right out of the gate. The Irish samurai must train diligently in the use of his weapons, of which there are seven melee types: swords, dual swords, spears, axes, kusarigama, odachi, and tonfa.
Gaining proficiency with them or leveling up certain character attributes are the primary ways players will gain the Samurai Skill Points, which are used to unlock new moves for a given weapon type. Some upgrades provide entirely new combat options, such as the ability to grapple an enemy with depleted stamina, while others tack on extra strikes onto the combo of a given stance (low, medium, high). This doesn’t even touch upon the ranged selections that include choices like matchlock rifles and longbows. Managing upgrades, characters stats, and equipment is imperative to emerging victorious from increasingly difficult battles.
The general progression of the game ensures that comfort is rarely found. Confidence built can be quickly reset upon encountering a new enemy or jumping into one of the game’s thrilling boss battles, most of which throw aside the established expectations regarding the flow of fights. They will serve as tenacious trials that will test the player’s adaptability. Any failure will result in more than a quick respawn. All Amitra, the experience used to level up William’s attributes at Shrines, gained prior to death will be lost. If you are skilled enough to return to the site of your death, you can reclaim the experience along with your Guardian Spirit, a source of passive benefits and tied to the use of powerful Living Weapon attacks. I could go on and on about the various intricacies of combat, but it should be evident at this point that Nioh houses an ever-developing set of mechanics that only deepen as you progress.
Should the journey prove too difficult, there are a couple cooperative play options via Ochoko Cups and Torii Gates. The Torri Gates are utilized for teaming up to take on Yokai Realm missions, which range from small side quests to harder variants of completed story missions. Ochoko Cups can be used at Shrines to summon another player to help you through a main mission. However, only a player who has beaten that level can be summoned. It prevents players from running the entire game in co-op to avoid lessening the difficulty too much, but it is a bit of a disappointment. In order to make the most of these limited runs, my co-op partner and I found ourselves hunting down the Bloody Graves that mark the ground where other online-connected players had been slain. We took on these AI phantoms to farm their rewards because, like every other enemy in Nioh, they explode with loot upon defeat. This is one game that is definitely more generous with its loot drops than its targeted competition. Having two customized samurai run around is easily one of the game’s highlights, which only brings added attention to the modes’ restrictions.
Now, let’s focus on the performance side of things. Since Koei Tecmo doesn’t have an outstanding track record when transferring games into this market, this may be the most important piece of information for those reading. For the purpose of this review, Nioh was tested on two separate rigs. Running the game at 1440p, the first computer housed a Nvidia GTX 980 Ti, i7-4790K, and 16GB RAM. The second machine, a gaming laptop, output at 1080p and sported a Nvidia GTX 1060 6GB, i7-6700HQ, and 16GB of RAM. Upon starting the game, most of the options must be modified in the launcher prior to playing. There are a handful of options to be found here, but nothing terribly exciting. Resolutions up to 4K, Ambient Occlusion, Shadows, Dynamic Reflections, and Frame Rate (30FPS or 60FPS only) make their appearance. It’s odd that the PS4 Pro’s Action and Cinematic mode presets show up here when it seems better to customize the experience yourself rather than decide between higher FPS or resolution. Ignoring the limited graphics options for a moment, the real issue is the complete lack of mouse support. The keyboard alone can be used, but that’s a hellish way to try and experience Nioh. If you don’t have a controller, you should probably skip this.
For a majority of my playtime, both the PC and laptop maintained a near-consistent 60FPS at each of their set resolutions with all settings maxed and motion blur turned off. Oddly enough, the confined spaces of the introductory level are the worst offenders to the framerate. How your PC handles this opening moment will give you a fair idea of what to expect from subsequent levels. Similar to its console counterpart, frames take a small dip when loading into new areas. In these instances, 5-7 frames would quickly drop off before returning to a steady 60. It’s a working port, but given the dated visuals it’s hard not to expect better performance results. Still, this falls on Koei Tecmo’s better end of the spectrum. And that’s saying something since they completely left out compatibility for the computer’s standard input device.
Nioh: Complete Edition makes for an odd PC title. It is not the highest tier of PC ports, but it is near the best we have seen from Koei Tecmo. Then, in that same breath, its achievement is hindered by the inexcusable lack of mouse support. As for the game itself, Nioh is an excellent take on an existing formula that changes enough to stand on its own. This version comes packed with the base game and all three DLCs–Dragon of the North, Defiant Honor, and Bloodshed’s End–providing countless hours of challenging gameplay. If you can overlook the shortcomings (basically by owning a controller), there is a worthwhile experience here for anyone who enjoys tough action RPGs.
Nioh: Complete Edition houses some impressive gameplay designs and mechanics that are partially undermined by its development choices. Depending on your preferred control scheme for PC gaming, Nioh will either mark an addictive addition to your library or the very bane of your existence. Assuming you can forgo the use of a mouse, this comprehensive Nioh package has plenty to offer that manages to rise above its faults to deliver a memorable offshoot that is able to define itself in a world where the “Souls-like” label usually engulfs all identity.
8 Ochoko Cups Out Of 10
Release Date: November 7th, 2017
Available Platforms: PC (Reviewed), PS4
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Developer: Team Ninja
Disclosure: Nioh Complete Edition Was Provided By The Publisher For Coverage Purposes