Nioh is an upcoming Playstation 4 exclusive that blends aspects of Dark Souls, Onimusha, and even a little Genji: Days of the Blade to create a fast paced hack and slash game. The game is currently hosting an open beta. A perfect chance for some samurai action!

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Many games boast about their difficulty but Nioh is one of the few times I’ve felt truly fragile in an action game. Most enemies can be dealt with using some confident dodging and aggressive attacks but the slightest mistake is punished heavily. A light nick from a peasant’s sword can bring you to death’s door and woe be to any would be swordmaster who thinks they can take on more than a few enemies at once.

This sense of danger only makes the combat more exciting. It’s not breaking new ground but there’s something incredibly satisfying to be found in the various ways you can sneak around an opponent and behead them with a few quick slashes. The outer edges of Nioh feel rough. An unwieldy interface and somewhat stilted animations can make the game feel unrefined. Luckily, the combat itself is devilishly tactical and draws your attention. What stance do I use? When do I guard? How well can I time a button press and get some stamina back? There’s a lot of in the moment decisions that keep you focused on the play itself.

Nioh has a strange history to it that you might never notice from playing it. Early in development, it was going to be based on an unfinished script by legendary film director Akira Kurosawa titled Oni. In 2004, Koei collaborated with Kurosawa’s son Hisao to work on a film version as well as the game. At some point development faltered and was only continued when Team Ninja picked it up again in 2010. The end result is Nioh.

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It’s hard to say what connections Nioh might have to Oni anymore but it does have connection to history. The player character is an extremely fictitious take on William Adams. Adams was an English sailor who landed in Japan during the exciting Sengoku Period and went on to become a samurai. He’s an interesting fellow although there’s no record of him fighting zombies, demons, or giant enemy crabs.

Folks who grit their teeth and complete the beta will unlock some DLC content titled “Marks of the Strong”. I have no clue what that means because I keep getting beat up by angry dudes with naginata but I’m certain that plenty of brave readers will fight their way to the end.

Overall, I’m curious about Nioh and had a decent time learning the combat system. There’s definitely refinements to be made; the game feels a bit stiff and might even be a bit too cruel early on if this beta is any indication. Each time I made progress felt like a huge achievement and offered new challenges to be conquered. There’s no official release date but when the time comes, I’ll be very excited to pick up my katana and stare down the enemy.