Coming up on the end of the year here, and I’m ending 2018 in the exact way I ended 2017 – playing Koei Tecmo’s Nioh. I bought the expansions in, oh, March or so and I had been putting off playing them because they have a reputation for being rather brutal even in the context of Nioh, which is itself a pretty difficult game.
Still, Nioh 2 was announced just a few months ago and that made me want to get over my trepidation and give them a shot.
For the record, their reputation is 100% deserved. I booted Nioh, re-ran a couple of early missions to remind myself of how the controls worked and then dove into the very first expansion mission, which didn’t go well. It took me ages just to get to the last checkpoint shrine before the boss and then he absolutely ruined me on every attempt. He was taking me out in two hits and I was not scratching him. I wound up having to summon a visitor to help me kill him, which was a first.
Obviously I was not ready.
So I ground levels for a bit in co-op, which was fun and all but didn’t really seem to be making that much of a difference in my ability to survive the DLC missions, and then I decided to buckle down and push through the “Way of the Strong” mode which is Nioh’s NG+ difficulty. It doesn’t work quite like the NG+ mode in Dark Souls, though – in those games, when you start NG+ you are probably overpowered for at least the first half of the game and only start feeling the difficulty ramp up at the midpoint. Nioh’s NG+ starts with levels designed to challenge players from the word Go, and it’s made more difficult because the gear really doesn’t scale all that well over the course of NG+. Gear for the first play through stops at gear level 150, and “Way of the Strong” introduces the notion of plus-levels, where you get gear that drops as 150 (+1) or 150 (+2) and so on, up to the last levels where I actually saw some 150 (+5) drops.
On the other hand, you can kind of blow through Way of the Strong fairly quickly just because you don’t need to do the optional sub-missions and because it turns out that if you know the way through the levels you can absolutely skip 90% of the fights in some of them and rush to the boss fights. Not all… but enough to make it pretty quick.
It’s when you finish Way of the Strong that things change. Drastically. It unlocks a mode called “Way of the Demon” which is an even harder mode, but has a serious carrot.
Yeah. Running missions on “Way of the Demon” makes all of the enemies harder, as you’d expect, but also adds random versions of NPCs that are bright red and load themselves up with all kinds of buffs while also debuffing the player. They are very, very good at killing you… but they also explode into a beautiful shower of loot when you turn that around on them.
One of the drops I got from the introductory Way of the Demon was a level 180 (+11) piece of armor. By the time I was done with all of my farming, I was decked out in some very shiny gear indeed, and I’d gotten much better at not dying. Souls and Souls-like games all reward aggressiveness but will kill you if you go a hair over the line that separates “aggressive play” from “greedy play”, and fighting stuff on the harder difficulty level taught me exactly where that line was and how to push right up to it.
With THAT done, I went back to the DLC, which was pretty brilliant stuff. It introduces two new weapon types and has some pretty kick-ass missions if you’re ready for them. I almost felt bad for some of the bosses, because they just melted. (And, yes, I went back to say hello to the one that had made me summon a helper the first time around. I didn’t need help on the rematch.)
The very last boss in the third and final DLC did manage to kill me once, because I stood still just as the fight started while casting a buff on myself and she rewarded my immobility with a one-shot-one-kill attack.
So, there’s the extent of my strategy guide for the Nioh DLC:
First, don’t play it until you have played through the base game at least twice.
Second, when you get to the last boss… dodge.