But what about the endgame?
Koei Tecmo and Team Ninja get a lot of mileage out of these story levels, too. Just about every one of them can be retaken as a sub mission for different rewards, and are usually adjusted to be shorter and with altered enemy placements. They can get a little redundant, though, when playing them back to back in large chunks, even with slightly changed lighting schemes and completion objectives. Additional sub missions will pop up on the map after completing story missions, though, and these tend to offer a bit more variety like arena fights and extra boss encounters. The recycled levels never feel tedious, though. Nioh’s stages are so full of things to look for that I’m willing to give it a pass on this. In fact, I started to skip the secondary missions in favor of finishing the story for this review, and I’m wistfully dreaming of mopping them all up even as I write this.
Sadly, these partitioned levels lack a certain sense of atmosphere. In addition, the constant dialog and sound effects that alert you when you’re spotted by a foe removes a sense of tension that would have been more effective with a liberal use of silence. This gets more lopsided by the end when music is constantly blaring in the background and quiet monster ambushes give way to more open field combat. It’s a letdown compared to the first several missions, which feel more deliberately designed.
But this back end of the game warrants some additional attention. Many of the final stages trade exploration for a larger sense of scale, but wind up being oddly more straight lines toward the specific objective. Boss encounters by this point also lose their size and are far less intimidating as the game progresses (with one specific exception), which end up feeling lazily designed. My character build and gear loadout was strong enough at that point that I could survive long enough to learn boss behaviors on the fly and finish them without significant difficulty, and they mostly felt basic and almost redundant compared to what I suffered through to get there. Like the Souls games, you can bring in another player or use an item to call in an NPC to help, but after having my reflexes so locked in enough for the first half or so of the game, I never found that I really needed the extra aid and preferred to just go it alone.
Other online capabilities never felt essential, either, but tended to be fun distractions. As the levels are confined to single areas, the designers didn’t feel the need to let other players drop messages around to point you in a specific direction (or troll you to mosey off a cliff). In their place are the graves of fallen players called Revenants. These are optional fights that you can summon in at any time, and killing them means scoring whatever gear the player was wearing when they died themselves. There are some Koei Tecmo-specific NPC Revenants placed throughout the game, too, which offer high-level gear drops or items in some handy locations. Killing them, as well as going into a mission as a co-op player, will yield reputation rewards used to purchase items and character skins from a shopkeeper unlocked midway through the game.
Strangely, though, Nioh really opens up in the postgame. Further difficulty modes are unlocked for stronger rewards, which gives it a Diablo III-like after-game loot/reward vibe. I found myself using utilities like the Blacksmith far more often for the harder modes, which is something I never touched throughout the entire main campaign and initial thought to be overkill. Again, story missions, reshuffled sub missions, and hard mode missions (not to mention the sort of quasi-hard mode Twilight Missions) is a lot of redundancy, but if you’re the kind of person that likes to crush games over their knee with meticulously constructed character builds, this game is you. It feels like the postgame stuff was made for more of the multiplayer side of things, which is due to expand into PvP after release. As of now, though, it feels like an item grind, but a fun one.
When I first approached Nioh, even during the betas that ran periodically over the last year, I felt that the game was trying to solve a problem that didn’t exist. It just kept adding more and more content on top of the thoroughly battle-tested Soulsborne formula, and it all felt superfluous. But Nioh, weak latter half aside, ultimately works. You may never use half of what you’re given, but that’s fine. There’s enough incentive to go back to them eventually.
Generally unobtrusive with meters and item storage staying far away from direct field of view. Inventory management is a bit of a pain, but is small potatoes.
Though the back half is a little bland, there are enough things to discover and strong characters to build that players will be kept busy for quite a while.
As the game gets less about tense exploration and more about straight action, the audio follows suit with constant booming music and dialog that goes overboard. The earlier, quieter levels could have been more judicious about its sound design.
Gorgeous, especially in the optional Movie Mode that drops the frame rate in favor of a prettier game. Most players will stick to Action Mode for a smoother experience, though.
Nioh is Koei Tecmo and Team Ninja taking a more measured approach to what they do best, and is a surprisingly feature-heavy and battle-focused heir to the Soulsborne method. But it ultimately stands on its own, and is a worthy addition to any Action RPG library.