Nioh: Alpha Technical Preview Hands On

Publisher Koei Tecmo
Developer Team Ninja
Platforms tested PS4
Do you prefer Frame-rate over resolution/effects?
Koei Tecmo and team ninja have finally gotten around to releasing its latest new title in Nioh, a game set in feudal Japan that will teach you what it was to be a samurai, the fucking hard way. I know the comparisons to this have all,been bandai related with its dark souls title but after my time with the alpha that I absolutely love and hate it is not the Bandai soul it aims for.

Live by the sword

No Nioh is clearly the illegitamate child of Onimusha & Tenchu that had a ménage a trios with Bloodborne to deliver this sharp, twitchy and frustratingly addictive RPG for the PS4.

Starring a tracing papered bewitching hero from the west, trained in the arts of ancient samurai warriors, not a stand out character but this is by the by as the first thing you will learn in Nioh aside your fighting skills is your dying ones. This is a trial and error game again in the classic old Skool genre that laughs in the face of guides, tips or tutorials instead it drops you into battle with more choices than we are accustomed to on console.

Yes this is movie mode but the unarmed skill is all my own, from no tips p or guide just simple risk and reward. It captures the feeling that each battle you emerge victorious from, each encounter you win, each head you remove is well earned. Becoming a true warrior from the lumbering blonde pirate you entered is equal servings of pain and pleasure that few games achieve, much faster paced that dark souls and more in line with Bloodborne it truly kindles your need to beat the next area, learn the skills and balance your weapons. I will not spoil the alpha but it ends come May 5th and if you have an interest, download it and die...I mean try it, quickly.

Die by the sword

After such a long time in development you would think the game would be much further on than an alpha. And even though it is, as its contents could change, I feel the core engine, asset and game play is very close to final. As it lacks any PBR within its core asset construction it is anything but drab. The rugged Japanese landscape is more towards the Dark Souls 2 variety in textures, polygon count and density than Bloodborne, not a shock from its century in development. But it is not ugly by any means, well not by mistake anyway no far from it. Aside the 2D hero your eclectic mix of enemies are far better realised and imposing. Crowned soldiers, 7ft Samurai, gangly demons and hulking beasts are all vividly realised here. Animation is solid from even paced movements on both sides allowing you to learn the timings of each enemy and yourself. Nice touches from swaying when pushed near edges, ki depleted take downs, step backs and fainting from archers and my favourite so far the sheathing of your sword, never gets old and just screams bad ass Samurai. Alpha effects are used well from low hanging mist, particles of ki, Fire, poisonous clouds and much more add to its mystical charm. It has the occasional error from culled shadows on the main characters at points, shadow draw in and my main grip the camera blocking views but these are all fixable and not undue of its current development state.

Texture quality is not so complementary with it highlighting the games troubled development, generation leaping and budget restraints. Rocks, floors, wooden shacks all sport a very moderate level of resolution and details, normal maps are heavily used to add detail within much lower polygons than we are now accustomed to. Foliage is well placed and in some areas very dense with hypnotic swaying from the wind. Later sections see thunder storms, rain and lighting attacks that all ramp up the visual quality. It looks anything but an alpha at times and I again feel this is very close to final target on that front. Having some really nice specular touches on swords, axes and clubs as the moonlight glances over them with a soft bloom or when blood is left on your weapons or spatters on enemies, yourself and nearby scenery from your decapitated or dismembered foes is a horrifically brutal but fitting touch, the entire thing bleeds atmosphere like the Inhabitants well bleed full stop. Aside the lack of any anti aliasing of course as the engine runs both movie mode and action mode with no hint of foundation to remove the blemishes.

Choose wisely

Most likely a post process solution along the FXAA category will be added come launch to help soften the sharp edges and shimmering from both modes. Right now this helps sharpen the action modes 1280x720 resolution that can like the 1920x1080 movie mode, vary up and respectively down from that target, looking to meet in the 900p middle ground. But this is not only a rare scenario for console gamers to chose frame rate or resolution.( GT5 and GT6 both had the choice to run at lower resolution with faster frame rates albeit from the OS menu) but a welcome and as I have said before most likely to become slightly more common. With movie mode designed to improve the display and it hits its intended target of 1080 throughout most of the play, early sections of the game never dip below it from tests, but later section can dip to the approximate 1600x900 level that the action mode seems to top out at. The big split of the sacrifice of up to 2.5 times the pixel count can result in a near double frame rate...but not that often.

In the scheme of things this is an early taste so right now with the game I think not far from complete in terms of assets, engine and content this can and will improve. And from these targets I think a dynamic resolution will stay and hover more towards the 900/60 as it achieves the 1080/30 target very well indeed at this point, with the 720/60 being slightly wide of the mark. As it stands the demo allows both versions to run unrestricted but even though the engine is very tight and never really exceeds longer times of 50ms in both settings aside some rare instances it will most likely receive a cap to 30 when released but this may result in a Bloodborne style pacing issue. As it stands the movie mode hits an average of 35 over my equal tests here and this is largely due to its ability to flip between 16 and 33 ms times and helps make the 2 modes feel further part than the metrics state. Capping simply at 30 frames over a second rather than managing the frame times within your game loop to always come in under the 33 budget will still leave this as a possible issue.

So long as the action mode improves to hit its 16ms target more often as right now the GPU seems to be the area to work on this will not be a problem for me and many others I feel. As even though the initial switch can look horribly jagged and soft compared to the other, very quickly this is forgotten allowing you to respond quicker in action. As I would love to know what you all think please vote with the onscreen cards if you would choose frame rate over resolution and if you have played it which did you select/stick with?

I did not get much time to enjoy this or learns its deep combat system after only a day to play from scratch, record and upload this I am already convinced of my day 1 purchase so you can check back nearer launch to learn more. But as it stands the game is a rough and ready action RPG in more ways than one. But after some Tecmo TLC polish on its AA, frame rate issues and general code Improvement this could become a true challenger for Dark Souls and Bloodborne crown. Far from a perfect demo on the technical front, but in spite of its imperfections it still manages to deliver a lasting impression on art, atmosphere and gameplay.

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