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In 2024, will Nioh devs’ Rise of the Ronin finally have what it takes to challenge the FromSoft throne?

FromSoftware’s next big game may be a while away yet, but one of its toughest competitors is gearing up to launch what’s looking to be its most significant release ever.

Image credit: VG247

Team Ninja has come a long way. After stumbling its way into the modern era of action RPGs following years of success with Ninja Gaiden, the Japanese studio finally struck gold with Nioh, a game very much built on the same design ethos that drives FromSoftware’s work.

It was a Souls-like in so many ways, but it entered the ring with a bundle of bold mechanics, and unique design ideas. Nioh’s identity wouldn’t be solidified until its sequel, when its makers finally felt confident enough to discard elements that didn’t make sense, and build upon what set Nioh apart from other Souls-likes.

Say what you will about the lasting power of Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty, but it was a competent follow-up to Nioh that wasn’t afraid of experimenting with new ideas - which ended up making the sub-genre more accessible. It also found new ways to create a world worth exploring, despite it not being open-world.

This track record is enough for anyone who likes action games, or fresh takes on Souls-likes, to very much be looking forward to Team Ninja’s next project: Rise of the Ronin.

Rise of the Ronin comes from what you might call the ‘A team’ within the studio, the one responsible for the stellar Nioh/Nioh 2. That team has been quietly working on reinventing the formula the very first Nioh established, which gives Rise of the Ronin a particular allure; Souls-like fans and the Team Ninja faithful are excited about it in equal measure.

There’s surprisingly little information about Rise of the Ronin out there, however, which is especially strange considering it was recently confirmed for a March release. That news arrived over year after the initial reveal, too, following a period of complete radio silence.

Typically, by that point in a Team Ninja game’s pre-release cycle, we’d have gotten our hands on the game at least once. The developer is known for running several pre-release tests, in the form of alphas, betas and even demos leading all the way up to launch. It’s a little bizarre the studio doesn’t appear to be following the same strategy with Rise of the Ronin.

This might indicate that we shouldn’t expect Rise of the Ronin to be similar to Nioh. Rather, something entirely new that uses lessons learned from the action franchise; perhaps recontextualising existing mechanics/systems in interesting new ways.

It looks like we can expect duels, and boss fights. | Image credit: Team Ninja, Koei Tecmo

The most recent Game Awards trailer, and the accompanying PS Blog post revealed that there’s going to be greater emphasis on exploration. Rise of the Ronin has Team Ninja’s biggest playspace to date, so it makes sense for the game to offer new ways of traversal and discovery.

For instance, you’ll have a horse when travelling across the ground, and a glider to cover vast distances quickly in the air. While on-foot, you’ll also get access to a grappling rope, and the blog post specifically points out that it’s a stealth tool - perhaps taking cues from Sekiro?

This is one of the most exciting reveals about the new direction. Elden Ring’s open world played a key role in establishing discovery and exploration as two of its largest pillars. Team Ninja’s games have traditionally borrowed certain elements from Souls level design, but their limited scope (by comparison) meant that said elements would typically boil down to shortcuts and light verticality.

Rise of the Ronin looks to be expanding on both of those, and it’s going to be very interesting to see whether that sense of discovery will be fostered by its level design, too.

A Ronin on a horse! | Image credit: Team Ninja, Koei Tecmo

Not much about the game’s combat is discussed in the post. As we’ve seen in trailers so far, there’s a wide variety of melee weapons and throwables, as well as firearms and other primitive (but revolutionary for their time) tools.

While the Nioh games did feature firearms, their use was limited to ranged combat. The new Rise of the Ronin footage, however, makes it look like they might have a more active role to play in the moment-to-moment action this time around. There’s also another intriguing mechanic revealed in the post, and it appears to be reminiscent of Nioh’s combat stances.

Rise of the Ronin has different Combat Styles. In fact, pre-ordering the game unlocks four of them early, which suggests that we’ll be unlocking them as we progress through the game. Once again, it’s not clear what, exactly, defines a Combat Style, but the idea that multiples of them exist (more than Nioh stances) certainly hints that we’re looking at something entirely new here, and not just an off-shoot of Nioh’s excellent - but challenging - stances.

From everything we can glean from the footage/news, it’s clear Rise of the Ronin represents a major step for Team Ninja. My only worry is that combat difficulty will be diluted to appeal to a broader audience. Team Ninja describes Rise of the Ronin as a ”combat-focused open-world action RPG” - and crucially, says its combat will be “accessible” while offering “layers of complexity.” Whatever surprises that ends up entailing, I trust Team Ninja to make a compelling game. So, I can’t wait to learn more about Rise of the Ronin and get my hands on it once March next year rolls around.

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