The PS4 samurai action game Nioh is out today. It is really good. It’s also really difficult. If you want to play it but don’t want to spend hours figuring out how everything works, I’ve got you covered.

I’ve been playing Nioh obsessively for the last week. I’m more than 40 hours in and I don’t think I’ve seen a third of what there is to see—this game is very big. I want to gush more about how much I love it, but Heather’s going to be handling our review and you already know I like it, so instead I’m going to focus on helping y’all enjoy it.

There are a ton of things that I’ve had to figure out for myself, many of which I wish I’d known going in. I came up with a ton of tips to share, so this post will be broken into several parts.

  • First there’s some basic stuff you should know that the game doesn’t necessarily explain all that well.
  • Then some combat tips for how to stay alive in a fight.
  • After that, some general gameplay tips.
  • Then a section on which stats and skills you should focus on when leveling up, which I know I wish I’d read before I started. 
  • I’ll conclude with specific tips for the first couple of difficult bosses.

Final note: I’ve learned a lot about Nioh over the last week, but there are still plenty of things I don’t know. I’ll update this post as I make new discoveries. If you have additional tips to share in the comments, I hope you’ll do so. Let’s do this.


SOME BASIC STUFF TO KNOW


Nioh throws a lot of information at you very quickly. Let’s start with some vocabulary. Four things:

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Amrita = XP that you spend to level up.
Ki = Stamina, which lets you attack or dodge in combat.
Yokai = Monsterous enemies and demons.
Guardian spirit = A spirit animal that follows you around and, when charged up, can give you a brief but powerful spirit weapon.

Got it? Cool.

The game opens up after the first two missions.

The Tower of London and the Unsuki village are really just the prologue. Everything opens up after the Unsuki boss—you’ll get access to the mission select map, the blacksmith, the training dojo, and more.

Shrines = bonfires.

To borrow Souls nomenclature as shamelessly as Nioh borrows Souls mechanics, Kodama shrines in Nioh are bascally Dark Souls bonfires. If you haven’t played a Souls game, that means that praying at a shrine will give you a bit of Amrita, establish that shrine as your new respawn point if you die, and let you level up. It’ll also reset the level, meaning that every enemy you just killed (with some exceptions) will come back to life.

You can quit a mission midway through.

After the second mission you’ll get an item called a Himorogi Fragment that lets you quit any mission and go back to the map. (The game confusingly calls the map the “starting point.”) Using it will cost you all your Amrita, however, so best to level up before using it. The Himorogi Fragment doesn’t go away after you use it, so you’ll always have it with you. You’ll also start occasionally pick up Himorogi Branches, which let you leave the level without losing any Amrita. Both are good to keep around for if you decide you’re in over your head or you want to go do something else.

Be at peace with the fact that there is too much loot.

One of Nioh’s biggest problems is that there’s just way, way too much loot. There’s no really good way to deal with it all, and you’re going to be drowning in gear in no time. I wish I could give you an easy tip for how to keep it all organized, or how to compare one piece of gear with another, but we’d be here all day.

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You’ll get a general sense of what’s good and what’s bad as you play, and that should serve you well enough. But don’t expect to actually get to know every piece of gear you have. Otherwise you’d spend hours paralyzed by inventory management instead of stabbing demons.

If you die, you lose your XP and your guardian spirit.

I didn’t get this at first, but when you die, you leave your spirit animal and all your collected Amrita at the spot where you died. That means you have to get to it without dying to get back all that precious XP, but also that you won’t have access to your guardian spirit until you find it again. The circle in the upper-left of the screen will be empty, and you won’t be able to summon your living weapon. You can recall your spirit at a shrine, but you’ll lose all the Amrita it was holding.

Last thing…

It’s okay to just call them “souls.”

Look, we called them souls in Bloodborne even though they were technically called “blood echoes.” Nioh’s preferred term is Amrita, but it’s okay to call those souls, too. Everyone will know what you mean.


COMBAT TIPS


Nioh is a demanding, precise action game. It’s not dissimilar from Bloodborne in some respects, though it is more complex, faster, and in some ways more demanding even than that game. Here are some basic combat tips.

Play the game in Action Mode.

You can play Nioh in one of a few performance modes. Movie Mode locks the frame rate at 30fps but enhances the visuals, while Action Mode bumps things up to 60 and lowers fidelity. I chose Action Mode and never looked back, and so should you. A game this fast and precise should be played at the highest frame rate possible.

Make your health and Ki status bars always visible.

In the game menus, you can set it so that your health and Ki bars always show. I’m not sure why this isn’t the default, but it should be. You always want to know how you’re doing.

Play defensively and wait for your opponent to attack.

Especially at first, you’re going to generally want to wait for your enemy to attack before you do anything. You don’t have to keep your guard up, but keep your distance and be ready to dodge.

Your dodge is good for both offense and defense.

This is another game where the dodge move is as useful offensively as it is defensively. It gives you a burst of speed that lets you quickly close with an enemy and get in a quick hit or two before they’re ready to counter-attack. Use it to get in and to get out.

Fight enemies one at a time.

Like in a Souls game, you’re going to stand a better chance if you fight enemies one at a time. That can mean luring enemies out by throwing a stone at them, or sniping one of a pair of guards with a bow and arrow before fighting the second one up close. There are times when the game will force you to fight multiple enemies at once, but in general, try to keep it to 1v1.

Get in and get out.

Another good rule of thumb is not to linger too long up close with any enemy. If they commit to an attack, close quickly and get in some hits, then pull back. Pulling back is also good because it lets you replenish your Ki, and you really, really do not want to run out of Ki in the middle of a fight.

ABKP: Always Be Ki Pulsing.

One of Nioh’s central combat ideas is the Ki Pulse, which triggers a blast of energy and starts your Ki (basically, your stamina) replenishing at a much faster rate. It’s also useful for clearing out Yokai Realm spots, which are basically large wards that demons drop that buff their abilities and slow your Ki regeneration when you’re standing on them. You’ll unlock a skill earl on that lets you trigger a Ki Pulse by dodging (more on that when we talk about stats and skills), but get your head around the concept early. Effective use of the Ki Pulse is often the difference between victory and defeat.

Sometimes it pays to trigger a Ki pulse even when the enemy isn’t near, just to clear out a patch of Yokai Realm.

Learn enemy attack patterns.

Most enemies have just a few attack chains that they perform depending on where you’re standing. Basic enemies just do one attack, but most do two or three. If a large enemy swings an axe, don’t assume they’re done with their attack—you could close with them and wind up getting hit with a backswing, then crushed by a final downward thrust. Pay attention and count attacks. Be patient. There aren’t that many enemies in Nioh, so if you pay attention it shouldn’t be too hard to learn all their moves.

Take it slow when learning stances. Start with low stance.

Your character William has three stances for each weapon: low, mid, and high. I recommend sticking with low stance at first, since it’ll let you dodge more easily and size up your opponent. Now that I’ve played a lot of the game I quickly switch between stances, and generally prefer low as a default and mid for bosses and other large enemies. For big, slow enemies I go with high stance, but I use it the least. The more you play, the more comfortable you’ll get quickly switching stances in the middle of a fight.

Pick one melee weapon to focus on at first.

There are several types of weapons in Nioh—spears, axes, swords, and so on. Each one will take time to master. I recommend sticking with a single weapon type for your first few hours. I went with a regular sword, which is a solid choice, but you can experiment and go with whatever you like. Eventually you can respec and switch things up, but it’s helpful to have a solid foundation using at least one weapon.

Don’t forget your living weapon.

As you land hits, you’ll charge up your “living weapon” ability. When that’s charged, you can summon a super powerful version of your current weapon and your health and Ki will be unified into a new bar. Your living weapon is useful on bosses, but can also be good if you find yourself accidentally outnumbered and a long way from the last shrine. When in doubt, use it. Remember, though, that if you’ve died and lost your guardian spirit, you can’t use your living weapon until you find it again.

You can always run away.

Enemies in Nioh will chase you pretty aggressively—much more aggressively than in a Souls game. However, you can usually outrun them, and eventually they’ll hit some sort of wall and stop following you. If you get in over your head, you really can run away and get back to safe ground, provided you’ve been making sure the path behind you is clear. Some sub-bosses will spawn in with a couple of annoying smaller enemies beside them. That can make fighting them much more difficult, and there’s no shame in running away, then sniping the smaller enemies from afar before engaging the big ‘un.


GENERAL GAMEPLAY TIPS


That’s combat sorted, now let’s talk about some more general things you’ll want to know. What to look for as you explore, how to upgrade and manage your gear, that sort of thing.

Move slowly and carefully.

You may want to fly through levels like a character from your favorite samurai movie, but in Nioh it pays to proceed very slowly. Use the third-person camera to peer around corners. Brace for ambush every time you see a glowing item on the ground.

The music and other audio cues will warn you of danger.

You’ll always hear an audio cue when an enemy spots you, which should be your cue to back up, take in your surroundings, and make sure you have room to backpedal. Sometimes it’ll mean an archer has spotted you from a few rooftops away. Other times a guy will be running around a building to try to stab you. Listen carefully and use that aural information, and you’ll almost never be taken by surprise.

Use your ranged weapons.

Your various ranged weapons are very useful in Nioh, both while exploring and while in close combat. When you’re sneaking around, take out unaware enemies from range by hitting them with a headshot. It’s very easy to line up—just make sure the dot in the center of the reticle is red—and you’ll hit every time. (If an enemy has a helmet on, consider using a rifle instead.) You can also pull out a ranged weapon in the middle of a fight, though it requires quicker reflexes.

Believe it or not, this is going to turn out totally fine.

The large red Yoki in particular have big stupid heads that are easy to hit with an arrow, and if you can hit them, they’ll collapse and leave themselves open to a devastating ground finisher.

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Speaking of ranged weapons...

Play stealthy.

You can creep and sneak even without special Ninja power-ups, and you should definitely do so. Pick off enemy patrols one by one with your bow. Creep up behind dudes and mess them up. (Get the Ninja skill that lets you do that. More on that in a sec.) Snipe enemies from across the room before they see you.

Do side missions.

Each time you finish a main story mission, you’ll unlock a side mission or two. At first you can blow past these and focus on the main story, but in general it’s worth taking the time to do the side missions. You’ll unlock some good gear, and you’ll level up. As the game progresses, it starts to throw up some real difficulty spikes, and doing sidequests can make things go more smoothly. Also—and this is perhaps the most important thing—the side missions are generally interesting and fun.

Practice fighting revenants.

Any time you see a red sword sticking out of the ground, it means another player died there. Obviously, that can be a helpful warning of danger. If you see a chest with a ton of red swords around it, keep your eyes open for danger!

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If you want, you can summon the dead players’ revenant to engage you in battle. A revenant is a vicious, undead snapshot of the dead player’s character build and loadout when they died. Revenant fights are hard, but it’s a good idea to do them, especially early on. You’ll get some decent gear, sure, but it’ll also get you used to fighting against fast-moving, aggressive human enemies. Also, there are at least a few points in the game where you’ll have to fight revenants, so you should get a sense of what you’ll be going up against.

Remember to buy ammo in between missions.

I always forget to do this, so I’m going to remind you not to forget. The blacksmith sells basic arrows, bullets, and cannon rounds. Don’t forget to restock in between missions.

Who wouldn’t want to collect these cute little guys?

Collect as many Kodama as you can find.

There are eight or so little green Kodama tucked away in each main story mission, and a few in each side mission. Each five you collect will give you one more elixir every time you respawn. Needless to say, this can be very helpful when you’re working on a difficult boss. Bear in mind, however, that your Kodama counter resets every time you head to a new region of the map.

Keep one piece of gear with the Kodama Sense perk.

Some amulets and pieces of armor come with a perk called Kodama Sense, which makes Kodama turn up on your radar as a little green blip. This perk is invaluable, and you should keep at least one Kodama Sense piece of gear around even if it isn’t your primary piece of armor.

Note the gold highlights.

Pay attention for when you can go level up.

In a nice little user-friendly touch, the Nioh HUD tells you when you’re able to level up. Your Amrita counter in the bottom-right will go from white to gold, which means you can upgrade at the next shrine.

Change up your Kodoma Blessing depending on your needs.

You can have one Kodama Blessing active at any given time. I usually have the Amrita bonus blessing, but the one that increases elixir drop-rate is pretty useful in the early goings. If you’re replaying levels or grinding somewhere where you’ve already collected a lot of Kodama, you can use the elixir blessing to stock your storehouse with elixirs, which will make you load out with a full stock of them every time you die, even in new locations.

Use your items.

In games like this, I always forget to use things that aren’t either a primary weapon or a healing item. Nioh generally has too much loot, and that’s also true of how many usable items you get. You can assign up to eight to your D-pad, but there are far too many even then. Read through your items and use them liberally, because you’ll eventually wind up topping off your inventory. The two types of bombs you get can be particularly useful against some enemies, and you’ll always find more.

Don’t forget to cash in prestige points.

As you achieve feats with various weapons and techniques, you’ll unlock prestige points that you can spend on small, permanent perks. Don’t forget about these! When you go into the game’s menu by tapping the touchpad, you’ll see an exclamation mark on the “Titles” icon anytime you have new points you can spend. From there, enter the “Prestige Summary” menu and spend your points. Those perks add up.

Get a friend to help you.

Nioh co-op works a lot like Dark Souls co-op, though in my pre-release experience it’s a lot more consistent and stable. You can summon another player into your game to help you out at any time, or set a password in the online settings so that a specific friend can join you. As long as the person you’re summoning has beaten the level you’re currently playing, they can join you.

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One of my friends is also reviewing the game and was way farther than I was, so he joined me at one point to help me out. It was particularly fun to summon high-level revenants and absolutely go to town on them, and it got me some great gear. It was also nice to have a good soak in the hot springs together.

Just two bros hanging out, enjoying one another’s company.

With that said, my favorite way to play Nioh is by carefully fighting through each level on my own, so I wouldn’t recommend playing the whole game in co-op or anything. But it can be very fun to play with a friend, or with a friendly stranger, and it can sure help you with any troublesome bosses.

Go be a friend to others.

It’s also very enjoyable to go and join random strangers. Just like in Dark Souls, you join them in-game and help them until they beat the mission or one of you dies. You can randomly matchmake by going to the Torii Gate in the mission select screen. It’s fun to roll into a low-level player’s game with some sick gear and magic, but even then the game never really manages to be a cakewalk. It’s also gratifying to help other players find Kodama by standing by them and whistling.

Get your head around weapon familiarity. 

As you use a weapon you’ll become more familiar with it, which will increase that weapon’s familiarity rating. Each tier of familiarity will raise the attack and increase the perks. For some weapons, maxing out your familiarity will unlock a special, final perk. Familiarity is not very clearly explained, but it’s helpful to understand when you’re looking at the numbers on various weapons and trying to make sense of them.

Improve your gear at the blacksmith.

The blacksmith can perform a lot of different functions, and she doesn’t always explain them very well. One of the most useful things she does is called Soul Matching. It works a bit like infusing in Destiny, or probably like a lot of similar things in other games, but I’m going with the Destiny comparison.

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If you have a great sword with cool perks but it’s getting a bit long in the tooth level-wise, you can melt down a higher level weapon to raise your good sword’s level up. You’ll reset that weapon’s familiarity, which can make it look like you’re lowering its overall damage. Don’t worry, you’re not. Once you raise the familiarity back up, it’ll be way better than it was. Soul Matching is a great way to keep your weapons (and armor!) up to snuff, though it can get ridiculously expensive as you get higher level.

I hate these guys so much.

Customize your look.

The blacksmith also lets you customize how your gear looks, meaning that you can make any weapon or armor look like any other weapon or armor. Want to wear a ninja outfit that has the same stats as heavy samurai armor? Go for it. I ignored this feature for far too long, and have recently gotten into making my character look cool (or weird) without sacrificing my build quality. It’s pretty inexpensive, too.

You can sell stuff off pretty easily, and you should.

Unlike in a Souls game, it is actually possible to run out of inventory space in Nioh. It takes a very long time, but you definitely don’t want to wind up with no space left while out on a mission. Take the time every now and again to sell off all your cruddy low-level gear. You can batch-sell items by selecting them with the triangle button, which lets you sell a ton of things at once.

Making an offering can get you elixirs in the early goings.

You can also “sell” extra gear at shrines in exchange for a bit of Amrita by making an offering. You’ll also occasionally get elixirs in exchange, which can be helpful in the early goings if you want to stock up before a boss. However, if you find a lot of Kodama and equip the elixir blessing for a bit, your storehouse should eventually have a big enough elixir reserve that you don’t need to get them through offerings. In my experience, money has been harder to come by than Amrita, so I tend to sell items to the blacksmith.

Check out the Amrita Memories.

As you play, you’re constantly unlocking Amrita Memories. You can read these in the Amrita Memories menu, and they tell you more about the world, the characters, the story, and the history William is watching unfold. It’s easy to ignore them but they’re actually pretty cool, in particular the Yokai Illustrations, which will tell you more about the various demons you’ve been fighting. Nioh has a fantastic bestiary, and each creature is straight out of Japanese folklore.


LEVELING UP AND CHOOSING SKILLS


It’s always stressful leveling up in games like Nioh, since each level is hard-won and only gives you a single point to upgrade your stats. Fortunately Nioh makes it easy to respec your character, and gives you a lot of XP and skill points to work with if you keep at it. Here are some tips for building your character.

When leveling up, focus on just a few stats.

In my experience it helps to pick a fairly specialized build, since you can always respec later. I mainly use a sword, so I mainly focused on leveling up my Heart stat. Body is helpful because it raises your HP. Magic is good for reasons I’ll explain in a little bit, and you should get your Spirit to at least 10 to unlock all your guardian spirit’s perks.

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Stamina and Strength are both a bit important for armor, so I’ve got mine at 8 or 9. I’ve left Dexterity and Skill pretty low, since I decided I didn’t want to focus on Ninja skills or use Skill-based weapons.

My build as of this morning. Might have gone a little heavy on the Heart, but I can always change that.

You can easily respec.

The blacksmith sells an item called the Book of Reincarnation that will let you completely respec. It’s described confusingly, but I’ve done it and it works just fine. Basically, your stats will reset to zero and you’ll be given all your Amrita back. Your skills will also reset, so you’ll have to re-allocate your skill points based on the stats you pick.

You can respec multiple times, though each time you buy the Book of Reincarnation it costs more. I recommend saving your first respec for at least 20 levels if not more. Spend a while living with the choices you make and learning what kind of character you want.

Read each full skill page; they’re bigger than they look.

This is a bit of a “no duh” tip but it’s not something I realized at first. Each skill tree goes far beyond the bottom of the screen, and you can scroll waaaay down to find a bunch more things to unlock. It takes an age and a half to figure out what’s even possible, so take the time to read all the skills before you start unlocking things.

Get all three “Living Water” skills as soon as you can. 

Ki Pulse is one of the most fundamental aspects of combat in Nioh, so you’ll want to get the Living Water perk as soon as possible. Rather than having to stand still and trigger Ki Pulse with the right shoulder button, you can trigger it by dodging at the right time. This is a huge upgrade, and should be the first thing you buy when you get some samurai skill points. Fortunately the low- and mid-stance versions are relatively cheap. You can find them near the bottom of any of the weapon skill trees, and when you buy one, it carries across to every melee weapon.

Grab “Sneak Attack” from the Ninja skill tree.

I don’t really truck with any of that Ninja stuff, but I’m glad to have the Sneak Attack skill, which is located near the bottom of the Ninja skill tree. It lets you sneak up behind unaware enemies (just move slowly and they won’t hear you coming), lock on, and deliver a devastating heavy strike. It’s satisfying to pull off and you’ll get a lot of opportunities to do it.

Customize your combos.

In the Skill Customization menu, you can fine-tune your combos for each stance. I didn’t realize this was possible at first, and it’s nice to be able to have counters and combo finishers work differently depending on your stance.

Don’t neglect Onmyo Magic. 

While Nioh is generally best thought of as a melee combat game, don’t discount the potency of Onmyo Magic. A few spells in particular are extremely useful, and you’ll need to progress far enough in the story with a magic score of 10 to unlock them.

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Sloth talismans are extremely helpful because they slow enemies way down, which can be the difference between whupping a boss and being stuck for hours. Rejuvenation talismans are also great, because they trigger a long-lasting health regen that can save you precious elixirs. I haven’t messed with too many other magic skills—hat-tip to my buddy Mike for pointing me toward those two—but those skills alone have been worth the investment.


SPECIFIC BOSS TIPS


Onryoki

This dude is the second proper boss in the game, aboard the boat across the beach outside the burning village. He is a massive pain in the ass, but he’ll teach you some vital lessons about Nioh before you beat him. The first lesson is that Nioh is a very difficult game. The second, third and fourth lessons are that you have to pay careful attention to wind-up animations and plan your moves accordingly.

Here are a few things to keep in mind: Onryoki’s first phase is much more dangerous than his second phase, in my experience. If you can him to break loose of his wrecking balls and still have a few elixirs in case of emergency, you should be in good shape. He always opens with a double-armed attack, so immediately walk straight toward him in mid-stance, then dodge around him when he brings his hands down and score a couple quick hits.

After that, figure out your rhythm. Never attack him from behind for more than a single swipe, because when you’re behind him he’ll start his spin move, which is very difficult to dodge. If you do wind up behind him, get in a hit and then quickly dodge out of range. Wait until he turns to face you, then walk straight up to his face. He’ll ready one of his arms to attack you. Dodge away from that arm when he brings down his ball and hit him in the face. Stay in front of him and he’ll usually bring up the other arm. Do the same thing, in reverse, then get out. Stay close to him for too long and he’ll start spinning, and you don’t want that. He staggers at least once if you hit him in the head at the right angle, but don’t stay close to him too long even after that.

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In his second phase, provoke him into melee attacks by feinting close enough to make him take a swing. Hit him anytime he misses. Keep an eye out for his flurry of attacks, because that leads to a belly-flop move that can really mess you up. His thrown balls are pretty easy to dodge, just keep your eyes open and watch his windup. Last but not least, remember that you have Living Weapon, and save that for when you really want to do a bunch of damage.

I lost my video capture of my fight with her, so this will have to do.

Hino-enma

This lovely lady is the third boss you’ll face. She’s at the end of the story mission in the caves. She’s tough until you figure out how to counter her most dangerous tricks, then she’s not too bad. For starters, you’ll want to put on a Paralysis Omamori Charm—you should’ve found one on your way to the boss room. With it equipped, it should take her two paralyzing hits to stun you instead of one.

To beat her, first you have to get good at dodging her paralysis blast. It’s a projectile that she fires at you, though it moves so quickly it almost seems like a 360-degree blast. You’ll get a sense of her timing whenever she gets ready to shoot one at you. This is crucial: you can double-tap the dodge button so that William rolls out of the way. The roll is generally useful in this fight, since you’ll want to quickly get the hell out of her way before she opens up a powerful combo. Her umbrella-swinging combo is pretty easy to dodge, but her spinning attack is much faster. If she launches into that, press the block button as quickly as you can to absorb it.

Once you get her health to a certain point, she begins flying into the air an while shooting blades and paralysis blasts at you. They’re all pretty easy to dodge. Wait for her to charge, then roll out of the way, quickly close with her, and get in a few hits. Keep your distance in general and you should be able to whittle her down.


Phew. That is a lot of tips. I hope those help as you venture into Nioh for the first time. I’m sure I’ll update this post once or twice as I keep playing, and I hope you’ll share some tips of your own below. Good luck, and when in doubt, make like the cat: