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Nioh 2 Treads on Familiar Territory

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Back when Nioh first released for the PlayStation 4, I initially wrote it off as just another Souls-like experience. I predicted the game would be indifferent from other titles that sought fame via cloning the popular Dark Souls experience, but after I playing it, I was happy to be proven wrong. From the start, Nioh anticipated the reception waiting for it, and changed the narrative instead. Rather than be compared to Dark Souls for its similarities, Nioh chose to have those similarities be an example of how the game is different. Much like the first title, Nioh 2 seeks to accomplish the same goal.

Like many others, I was fortunate enough to be accepted into the closed alpha for Nioh 2, where I could accumulate a first-hand understanding of the direction Koei Tecmo took for the sequel. My first impressions for the game started off with genuine excitement for what was to come but tapered off quicker than anticipated. The content present in the alpha is by no means bad—rather, just adequate.

Nioh 2 introduces a few new features that are sure to make many fans happy. For starters, Nioh’s main character, William, is gone in favor of a character creator that allows players to personalize their avatar for the adventure ahead. Upon diving further into the menu and player skills, the developer has evidently restructured the character skill tree in a favorable way. The list structure of the first game’s skill tree is abandoned in favor of a sphere-like grid for better visual representation. The improved skill tree highlights active and passive skills, as well as showing a clear path toward desired upgrades.

Perhaps one of Nioh 2’s greatest addition is the Yokai Shift—a new demonic form that is the embodiment of the player’s Living Weapon. The Living Weapon feature returns in Nioh 2 with the additive bonus of transforming into said weapon and unleashing its key bonuses. By activating the Yokai Shift, players will gain a temporary advantage in battle as their selected Living Weapon provides enhancements to their style of play. For myself, however, the addition of the Yokai Shift made the game easier, as I would reserve this ability until I needed to panic my way out of a situation or boss fight.

Additionally, Nioh 2 introduces augmentations that can be applied to the player’s Living Weapon via Yokai skills that are dropped from defeating random Yokai. These Yokai skills can be applied up to two at a time and can allow the player to execute an attack in the form of the inspired Yokai. On top of an additive attack, these Yokai skills can provide stat bonuses for both the player and the Living Weapon of choice.

While maintaining parity with the previous entry, Nioh 2 contains an abundance of loot. I have a feeling that the loot generosity was cranked up for the purpose of this demo and will certainly be dialed down for release. On average, opening a chest would grant me four or more items, which feels plentiful for a game designed around difficulty. During my time with the demo, I was constantly picking up new weapons and armor to enhance my avatar. Whether they were all useful, however, is a different story as the majority of loot gathered was substantially lower in quality to what I was already wearing.

Cooperative gameplay is back in Nioh 2, with a twist similar to that of a Dark Souls NPC summon. Along with the usual summoning of player combatants or allies, Nioh 2 will allow players to summon offline versions of other player’s characters in the form of Revenants. These Revenants will have a currency attached to them for a summoning requirement but will allow those who do not have an online subscription to gather support for the trials ahead.

When considering the enemy variety Nioh had offered, Nioh 2 brings back some familiar Yokai while justifiably introducing new types as well. The developer has also added a new mechanic to areas known as the Dark Realm, where certain Yokai will create a dark mist-like energy that reduces the player’s Ki recovery in an entire area. The only way to remove the Dark Realm is to find that enemy and kill him. The bosses featured in the alpha also have some version of this mechanic, adding an extra layer of difficulty onto the already daunting challenge.

The final changes that were noticed in the alpha are minor ones, but nevertheless effect certain playstyles from the first game. In Nioh 2, the developer excluded weapons such as the Kusarigama and Duel Swords from the game in favor of a Duel Axe. Although this change will only affect users who favored those weapons (me), the Dual Axe is a great addition to the game as it brings a newer fighting style and mechanic where the weapon can be thrown to close the distance in encounters.

Overall, Nioh 2’s closed alpha contains great gameplay that provides enough challenge vs. skill ratio. My only concern is that my time with this demo was not as challenging as the first Nioh. Back when the first Nioh released, players were not used to its style of combat, so it was naturally more difficulty than players had expected. With Nioh 2, though, not much has changed with the combat, allowing for some familiarity to be drawn and thus creating a sense of ease this time around.

Ultimately, the closed alpha established that the final product will likely be more of the same game. One could make the assumption that Nioh 2 is in fact Nioh 1.5, and they would not be wrong in doing so. Despite the excellent alpha demo, everything seen from Nioh 2 so far can be broken down as just added features to an already great game. Sadly, much of the footage shown and played so far is similar to its predecessor, feeling more like a giant expansion rather than a new game. As a fan of the first Nioh, I hope I am proved wrong before the game is finally released, but in the end, if you liked Nioh, you will naturally like Nioh 2.

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Shattered: Tale of the Forgotten King is a Baffling Combination of Journey and Dark Souls

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Mixing genres is a fairly common practice in video games. For some titles, the combination works well, such as Crypt of the Necrodancer‘s rhythmic dungeon crawling or Double Cross‘s use of light detective work between 2D platforming sections. Others do not fare so well, such as the out-of-place stealth sections in the Zelda-like Beyond Good and Evil, or the infamous jack-of-all-trades, master of none that Spore turned out to be. Shattered: Tale of the Forgotten King, unfortunately, falls into the latter category. Trying to combine the floaty exploration of Journey with the brutal combat of Dark Souls, the resulting mixture is a frustrating mess that will not please fans of either game. The first title by French independent developer Redlock Studio, this Early Access game requires a lot of work before it reaches the compelling gameplay experience it is aiming for.

The game begins with the protagonist waking up in Limbo, with no memory of who they are or how they got there. A tiny creature named Yaak takes pity on the player, suggesting that maybe the king Hypnos can help. The problem, however, is that Hypnos is the titular Forgotten King—a godlike figure, who mysteriously disappeared after creating the world. In his absence, demons have taken over the realms. On a journey to reclaim their identity, the protagonist just might be able to save the world along the way to finding the forgotten king.

The frustration begins as soon as the player gains control of the protagonist. Movement in  Shattered: Tale of the Forgotten King is floaty and imprecise. This annoyance might be minor in a platformer, but the inclusion of the punishing combat of a Souls-like makes it beyond frustrating. Enemy encounters are dangerous in this style of game, with the need to dodge, parry, and circle around combatants to avoid death. However, the controls simply do not have the precision needed for the task. When the game requires frame-perfect timing to parry an enemy’s attack but features a character that moves like molasses, more often than not the player will take a hit. Apart from the initial listless humanoids of Limbo, enemies are much faster and stronger than the protagonist, quickly taking down an unprepared player. The balance is so uneven that the first boss, a hulking creature with an enormous greatsword, feels like a fairer fight than the rooms full of small enemies since his attacks are slower and more clearly telegraphed. Often, the better choice is just to run past the enemies all together.

Should the player manage to defeat some enemies, they will gain essence, which is used in levelling up. Levelling up can only be done in Limbo, often requiring a fair bit of backtracking. Players can improve their vitality, stamina, strength, or mystic, but no explanation is given on what those statistics actually do. Putting one point into strength will result in the character doing one point of extra damage, but since even the smallest enemies have hundreds of health points, a lot of level ups would be required before the player would see any real benefit. 

The platforming aspect of the game fares little better. The player is given no indication of where they have to go or what they have to do, just the general imperative of finding the king. The Frontier D’Imbolt, the first real level in the game, has plains spread out in all directions, encouraging exploration. However, the map is also full of instant death; lava, spiky plants, ledges to be avoided, and, of course, aggressive enemies, making exploration much less inviting. The floaty controls cause problems here, too, with over-shooting a target platform a constant issue. This annoyance could be resolved somewhat with giving the character a shadow to see where they will land. The viewpoint will also randomly change from 3D to 2D, with no real change in gameplay. The change seems to be purely for aesthetics, which does not seem reason enough for including annoying running-towards-the-camera gameplay.

Aesthetics, in general, is a strong point for Shattered: Tale of the Forgotten King, with interesting character design and a muted colour palette. The enemies have a cool ghostly appearance, all transparent with hard planes. The blockiness of the world has an appealing look but sometimes presents gameplay issues, with a lack of clarity on which blocks can be stood upon and which cannot. Music is a highlight throughout the experience, soft and atmospheric throughout the levels but clashing into something harsh and unfamiliar for the boss fights.

As an Early Access title, bugs are to be expected at this stage of development, and Shattered: Tale of the Forgotten King has plenty to offer. Despite being set to English, Yaak would occasionally slip into French, along with tooltips and the occasional item description. The English translation in general needs some more work, with quite a few typos and some weird wording, like ‘Strenght’ in the character status screen and ‘Slained’ when defeating the boss Hob. Enemies have buggy AI, sometimes freezing in place if the player wanders slightly too far away. Some instant death obstacles seem misplaced, with death spikes jutting out of a random wall. Most devastating was the game failing to acknowledge that the boss was defeated, with the gate he was guarding refusing to open. Perhaps defeating him again would make the gate work, but few players would be inclined to do so after a tough battle. 

Shattered: Tale of the Forgotten King has the potential to become an interesting game but is simply not fun to play in its current state. The incompatibility of Journey and Dark Souls is the core of the game’s problem: it needs to lean more heavily on one concept or the other—make the levels more peaceful playgrounds for exploration, or tighten up the combat experience to reach that satisfying balance of hard but fair. Trying to have both leaves the game in this strange middle ground where no one is satisfied.

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