Nioh takes a number of cues from Dark Souls while also featuring some of the action trappings that developer Team Ninja are known for in their Ninja Gaiden series. It's good stuff (The reviews agree), but it's also tough as old boots, even for those who thrive on both of the franchises it nods at. With the release of Nioh: Complete Edition for PC more people have the chance to experience this challenging experience - even if the port is a little lacking.
Even putting aside the demanding action and unforgiving formula, elements of the game can sometimes be a little obtuse or frustrating. So if you're preparing to go in or already knee-deep in William's adventure but struggling, we've got some top tips to help you come to grips with this unique game.
From understanding the level up stats to fiddling with weapon stances, weapon familiarity and stamina management, we go over some of Nioh's systems, preparing you to make the most of them. You'll still die a lot, but at least you won't be confused about it.
Understand Stamina, because it's the key to your survival
While it's not actually called Stamina but Ki, Nioh's Souls-like influence is most heavily felt in movement priority, attack speed and so on, and that broad ebb-and-flow of combat is managed in a very similar way to Souls - with a Stamina meter that sits under your health, is depleted by attacks and other actions, and regenerates when you chill out for a few seconds.
Emptying your Ki bar is bad: if you zero out, William not only won't be able to attack, but will be extremely vulnerable to a devastating counter-attack. (This cuts both ways; enemies are vulnerable to Ki depletion, too.)
Learning to watch your Ki meter carefully and manage your assaults accordingly is absolutely key (pun unintentional, but let's roll with it) to your survival. Pretty much every action uses Stamina, so watch your Ki levels carefully. Once you master actually managing your Stamina levels, your next step is to learn how to properly wield the Ki Pulse move - a special technique that allows you to focus and use far more stamina than you naturally have. For big bosses that's vitally important - and we talk more about it on the next page.
Mastering use of the Ki Pulse
The Ki Pulse is a major mechanic that helps Nioh's stamina-governed antics to have a bit more speed to them than those of Souls, since it's basically a special move that allows you to keep your Ki gauge filled without having to back off and take a breather. Getting it right will allow you to attack more relentlessly and put together more devastating combos.
Your stamina bar depletes and then slowly refills with a white bar. This white bar isn't fully refilled stamina, but represents your potential for a ki restoration; hit the Stance button (R1) while this white bar is on-screen to replenish your stamina.
The longer you wait to hit the Stance button, the more Ki you can potentially restore - but if you let it, the white bar will disappear altogether and you'll lose your chance. It's possible to repeatedly restore almost the exact stamina you used in a combo with well-timed presses of R1.
A few things can interrupt this potential for stamina restoration including getting hit or acting out on your own. Forgetting yourself and doing a panicked dodge away from an enemy will cost you that potential restoration, for instance. The timing is a huge factor, so practice - perform a combo, wait a moment, hit R1 for the restoration. If you dodge, take a hit or perform another attack, the white bar instantly disappears. Ninja Gaiden fans will find this easier than RPG purists.
Use the enemy's meters to measure the situation
While it is absolutely an action game, Nioh is also still an RPG. One way it flaunts its RPG credentials is to surface some of the stats and numbers that are deciding how safe or endangered William is behind the scenes. Many of these can be turned on or off by the player, but they're actually enormously useful.
Enemy health bars are one thing, but equally impressive and important is the ability to see their Ki levels, thus judging how much stamina they have while you're approaching them. We've already told you to watch your own stamina bar like a hawk, but also watch theirs: if it looks like they're on the cusp of becoming exhausted, you should press the attack and make them fully vulnerable so you can lay down some serious hurt.
Even with the meters off, when stamina is depleted it'll be more obvious in enemy animation, but it's better still if you can watch those meters. There are even special moves you can unlock in the character progression that allow you to perform particularly devastating attacks on exhausted enemies, so if you find you're good at whittling enemies down they are a solid upgrade purchase for you to make.
Experiment with stances and learn what works where
One of the major differences between Nioh and its peers is the stance system. We covered this a little earlier on where we talked about using the stance button to restore your ki meter, but changing stance is also broadly important throughout the game, since every weapon acts very differently in each available stance.
There are general rules about stances, though your mileage will vary from weapon to weapon. The high stance tends to be high damage but is also a little on the slow side, for instance, while the middle stance tends to be a more balanced one. Each stance comes with its own animations and its own properties in terms of how hard it hits, and this goes for all types of melee weapons in the game, though it of course feels most natural with katana. Stance also determines hit height, so shorter enemies will be easier to hit with low stance and so on.
Most important of all is that ki usage is also determined by stance - the low stance uses little ki when attacking or being hit, for instance, and allows for a lot of dodging. High stance deals a lot of damage, but attacking or taking damage melts your ki meter like butter.
It's important not to get too comfortable in just once stance. While you may find your preference for dodging favours low stance, for example, there are enemies and bosses where dodging just isn't a viable solution, and you need the higher defence offered by mid-stance. Experiment with shifting your stance and your playstyle if you run up against a tricky challenges.
Learning to adjust your approach is just as important to Nioh as stamina management, and you want that sorted out well before you come across a boss. Don't be the guy who gets to the end of a level and doesn't know how to switch stances to match the situation.
Be aware of your equipment load, especially if you spec towards speed
This is a mechanic that'll be familiar to Souls players, but Nioh features a light-touch encumberment system that basically lowers William's speed based on your equipment load. Your equipment load is surfaced to you in the menus as a percentage, and it's very important to keep an eye on that percentage, especially when searching around for loot in long dungeon dives.
70% is the number you really want to avoid, as this is the threshold that passes into 'seriously' encumbered that in turn really takes a toll on your ability to dodge, run or generally move quickly. We'd advise everybody push to remain below 70%, but if you're comfortable with lighter armor and less weaponry the lower you can get the more manoeuvrable you'll find yourself as a result.
If you do decide to go for a heavier-armor spec keep in mind that much more is impacted by this weight besides. Not only will the length of your dodge be shortened but even running will be more costly in ki terms. A tanky, heavily armored build is absolutely viable, but do try to find a balance in your build.
Use guns and bows wisely - and shoot for the head
Some of the most satisfaction I found in Nioh was through making strong use of its ranged weapon options. Guns and bows and arrows are extremely satisfying to make use of in this game, though you do need to be aware of a few things before you use them.
First off: these guns are relatively accurate to the era in that they take an age to reload. Cannons take the longest, but rifles are also pretty slow. You're not likely to get off more than two shots before an enemy is on top of you, so be aware of that. Longbows can be fired more quickly, but are obviously quite a bit less devastating than gunpowder and giant hunks of metal being sent flying at your foes.
Here's the most important thing to note: headshots work. Enemies are anatomically accurate, so those that have visible heads will be hurt a lot more by shooting them there. Enemies with helmets will be protected from instant death by their headgear, but a well placed shot can first knock the helmet off and be followed up with a killshot right afterwards.
Watch your reticule, as it'll change from grey to red when you're within range of hitting an enemy and hovering over them correctly. There's nothing more satisfying than a one-hit headshot, and a gun is a great way to kick off an encounter with a group of enemies from a distance.
Don't neglect Ninjitsu - it's powerful
With Nioh's big focus on the life of a samurai, most people are likely to stick to the katana and get stuck into that life of dodging, blocking and slicing up demons. However, right there in the menus is another important skill: Ninjitsu.
Take it from me based on my first play through of Nioh: it can be easy to neglect Ninjitsu and focus yourself on other areas, especially since it's split out into a different skill tree away from some of the more immediately and obviously helpful sword stuff. It's really good stuff, though, and can seriously help you out in difficult battles.
There are even some ranged attacks in here such as Shiruken and Kunai, thrown ranged weapons that can in the right format be as powerful as an arrow or even a bullet but are obviously far faster to execute and use given their nature. Souls players will be familiar with how Ninjitsu works, as it's basically similar to magic in those games - when at a shrine once you've unlocked a skill there'll be an option to 'Ready Jitsu' - picking this option will allow you to set your ninja spells ready to be deployed in combat.
Give them a try - they won't disappoint, and we recommend the Fire Shuriken as a great powerful starting point.
Weapon loyalty matters thanks to weapon familiarity - but sometimes you'll have to let go
Nioh features a nice touch for those who tend to get attached to their favourite items in RPGs - the 'familiarity system', a mechanic that basically means that the longer you use a weapon the better it gets. You become more proficient with it and in turn have more opportunity to do serious damage with it. This can be seen in the menu when reviewing a weapon's stats in the form of a glowing blue bar. The higher it climbs, the better the weapon is.
This system encourages loyalty, and there are definite and noticeable advantages to picking some weapons you really adore and sticking with them. Your choice of weapon should be made based on how you spec your William, as some weapon types simply aren't suited to some types of character build.
Sometimes it might be necessary to make a sacrifice, however. Weapons can be handed over to a blacksmith or sold to free up your inventory, but you also have another important option: you can give weapons as an offering at a shrine in order to get Amrita, the vital currency you use to level up. In a cruel twist, weapons with higher familiarity are worth more Amrita, so you may want to part ways with a familiar friend in exchange for a hefty amrita boost.
Understand what each stat impacts when leveling up
When you level up at a shrine Nioh gives you the option of pumping your hard-earned progression into one of 8 different categories. What isn't exactly clear is what each category of stat does from its name alone. Each stat is also linked to a weapon type - boosting that stat in turn boosts your ability to use that kind of weapon.
This won't be so confusing for RPG stalwarts or Souls fans, but we think it smart to just cover what each stat does here all the same:
Body impacts health. It also offers bonuses to your resistances and rewards samurai skill points. Its linked weapon is spears.
Heart impacts Ki, but will also raise your HP stats. Its linked weapons are Swords and Bows.
Stamina raises how much equipment you can carry and also boosts your life. Its linked weapon is the Cannon.
Strength raises your overall, well, strength. But it also offers small boosts to your carry weight and gives up samurai skill points. Its linked weapon is the axe.
Skill will increase your ability to use more technically complex weapons. It also gives up samurai skill points and boosts the power of ninjitsu skills. Its weapons are guns and dual katana.
Dexterity significantly boosts the power of your ninjitsu skills and gives you ninja skill points. It can also add bonus power to some weapons. Its preferred weapon is, unsurprisingly, Ninitsu.
Magic impacts Onmyo skills and the associated skill points. Its linked weapon is onmyo magic.
Spirit increases your link with your spirit guide and also offers bonuses to onmyo magic, and its linked weapon is the Guardian Spirit itself.
Hone your skills with the rest of our guide pages
So those are our red hot tips to help you get started with Nioh's most immediate challenges and foibles. Once you have a handle on how these basics work, you'll be in a good position to go forth and conquer.
That said, a little extra help won't go astray. We've got a stack of guide pages on a range of topics to help you smash Nioh into the ground. Check it:
Once you've mastered the basics, it's time to drill down into some more advanced techniques and tricks.
The power of the likes of fire, water, lightning and earth in Nioh explained - and it's not always as obvious or as clear-cut as you might think.
Ochoko cups are the all-important item that allows you to summon other players into your Nioh world to help you out in co-op. The catch? They're pretty rare. We explain how to farm a bunch of them with ease.
If you make a mistake and take William down a path you come to regret, all isn't lost - you can fairly easily reset him for a relatively reasonable price - we explain how.
Nioh's yokai bosses are a heck of a stumbling block, but that's because they're there to teach you new tricks. We guide you through a good whack of them, setting you up for success.