Nioh: Dragon of the North, Defiant Honor & Bloodshed’s End DLC (PS4, 2017) REVIEW

Nioh isn’t my favorite game of 2017 because of it’s lengthy main story or incredibly nuanced and fluid third person combat, what has kept me going back and playing this game the entire year is the amazing support that Team Ninja has offered for it. The quality of the game has increased steadily since release and they’d honed the systems and improved quality of life for players well before integrating PvP, three DLC releases, and several new modes. You could easily complete Nioh in 30-40 hours and still get a lot out of the game, but if you dig into everything the game has to offer you might be closer to 200 hours once you’ve seen and done everything.

It is a game of systems that has the complexity of a CRPG and the visceral combat of Dark Souls but with much more speed, finesse, and variety. With careful reading and some thoughtful equipment choices you can become invincible in just a short period of time. So, if you get lost in menus and just can’t do complex RPG tasks such as character class builds and gear upgrading, it might seem like a very hard game. I suggest giving Nioh time to soak in and take your time learning the combat and systems, I always felt like the game rewarded me for the time I put into it. And lets get real here even if the game is too damn hard, summon some visitors into your game! You’re not supposed to try and solo the whole thing. After completing the final DLC I am still just level 199 (30 levels under the suggested range for the final areas) all because I wasn’t afraid to summon visitors for an easier co-op experience.

Dragon of the North

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One of several new Yokai enemy types introduced across the three DLC packs. These appear as normal human enemies, but grow a long serpent neck that can strangle you, and spit fire/poison.

The Dragon of the North DLC added quite a bit of extras to the game as a whole as it ushered in refined PvP matches and proper matchmaking along with a new set of campaign missions. My experience with PvP in this game was always great but I stopped experimenting with it after the second DLC came out. From what I’ve heard there are minimal lag issues compared to say Dark Souls III on the PS4. The biggest addition is actually one of my favorite weapon types: The Odachi, a style of long sword that is about the length of a spear (and about as slow) but with a moveset somewhere in between an axe and short sword. While I still prefer the spear type weapons in the game for their range and moveset, the odachi style swords were a very worthy addition to the game.

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‘Dragon of the North’ the first DLC actually offers more snow levels than the Winter setting of the second DLC.

While every DLC added new Yokai (monsters) to the game the best and most often used contributions came from Dragon in the North where snake-necked previously-human fireball spitters and giant dual-cleaver wielding fire-horned freaks who can kill you in three hits made the game that much scarier. So, in terms of what Dragon of the North had to offer to the game, it wasn’t necessarily the amount of real estate that it added to the game. Sure you got to work through a snow village and a couple of medium sized castles, the scope of it wasn’t all that amazing compared to the larger areas of the second and third DLC chapters. Most of the boss fights were low on spectacle, but the combat in this game isn’t always so much about spectacle rather than pattern recognition and dodge skill. Also included: New Guardian Spirits received, as per usual, after boss fights which I didn’t find incredible useful. A new difficulty level (Way of the Demon) that is essentially New Game++, and new rarity/quality of gear.

Defiant Honor

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One of the more memorable main missions in the Defiant Honor DLC, where you dodge timed flaming arrow barrages. Trench warfare!

The second DLC for Nioh is probably the best complete package in terms of well designed levels and set-pieces along with the addition of the Tonfa weapon. While I prefer the Odachi for my play style and it’s range these dual-tonfas were fun to experiment with. I haven’t yet fully maxed out my training missions with the tonfa, so I can’t really comment on them. I will say the close-quarters, resistance draining move set didn’t work great for the leathery, hard to kill enemies of the higher level DLC levels despite by build being aimed at getting in and out of range quickly.  The new guardian spirits in this expansion are largely useless because I can’t see myself building a character around them. With so many to choose from it either comes down to useful abilities or damage types and I chose to go with wind damage and disables for human opponents. I didnt’ find experimentation with guardian spirits very useful once I found the ones that either do the most damage, or disable the most enemies at once. You really live or die, literally, by how often you can get ‘killing blows’ or knockdowns against the harder encounters in the game.

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While the addition of these fox-spirit style Yokai were startling at first, they really perform just like other dog type enemies with the addition of a fireball attack.

Defiant Honor features a good variety of locations from battlefields and large keeps to yokai (demon) infested temples set within mountains. It is, again, my favorite of the three DLC even though it features some shared real estate with the third DLC. As they both take place during two sieges of Osaka, one in Winter the other Summer, I found that the ‘winter’ aspect of the battle a bit silly because Defiant Honor features very little snow at all. Nioh’s corny drama isn’t such a focus in the last two DLC and the conclusions the story reaches are entirely unsatisfying if you followed the story beyond the ending credits of the main game. It seems Team Ninja has left an Amrita hungry Scottish woman on the loose and I suppose that gives way for a sequel. The reason to get this DLC is absolutely the story missions, they were a blast to play. The DLC also ushered in big tweaks to things like living weapon duration/durability, the cost of soul forging, and other small things that made a positive impact on difficulty.

Bloodshed’s End

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The difficult really ramps up in the final DLC, I found I needed an online companion for a lot of it. This is taken from the final mission in Bloodshed’s End DLC.

The third and final DLC for Nioh is the largest content update alongside an incredible amount of balance changes (for PvP, clans, and PvE as well). It ties up the narrative they’d left us hanging with on the second DLC, brings back old friends for fun little shout-outs and co-op missions, and improves upon some of the co-op aspects in the game. I cannot emphasize enough how much fun Nioh is as a co-op experience and that joining others for missions and the new The Abyss mission/mode is often more fun than the main campaign and PvP. The story that we’re wrapping up here isn’t that good! Yes, it gets a little Dynasty Warriors-otaku at the end and feels like some kind of Yokai-meets-historical fiction as it concludes. The Scottish female ninja that used magic energy stones to embroil war across Japan cannot defeat a nation led by such dignified people, thankfully.

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The Abyss is poorly explained, but if you’ve played Bloodborne it is like chalice dungeons + infinite boss rush.

Without any new weapon types and just a few somewhat useful Guardian Spirits this DLC is all about finishing Nioh into a complete experience worthy of a ‘complete edition’ and the content really revolves around the story missions, which are large buy extremely linear. So why keep going with all three DLC packs? The post-game stuff just keeps increasing in creative ways, in fact there are perhaps too many options for what to do once you complete the story. I found myself so invested in the gameplay that I kept going through missions for trophies and challenges, and I hope to Platinum the game someday (it will take at least 300+ hours) though it will take considerable farming and beating the game two more times at exponentially harder difficulties. One diversion that I found ingenious is The Abyss, a sort of infinite dungeon not unlike the Chalice Dungeons in Bloodborne. Like any part of Nioh, it will take a few pages to explain what The Abyss is and why it could be entertaining. It is a dense game with so much unexplained nuance.

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The four icons next to my lifebar indicate four status effects. To remove these you must beat four randomly generated mini-dungeons. These effects come back as you progress.

Before you enter The Abyss you need to go to the Hidden Teahouse and buy White Ochoko cups with Glory points (gotten from fighting enemies in PvP or fallen players in missions). These only work in the Abyss and you’ll need a bunch of them to summon folks for co-op. The mode is incredibly challenging and almost every ‘floor’ (boss fight) puts you up against two very aggressive bosses at once, I always summoned two at once but I found folks would often only stick around for 1-2 floors before leaving so you’ll need a lot of cups as you work through the boss fights. Before you start fighting bosses the game will make it very clear you have four status effects when you enter the Abyss. To get rid of these you need to hop on four ships and a skeleton warrior will take you to four different levels (different ship, different randomly generated level) where  you’ll need to find the Kodama that will teleport you back to the Abyss. This will remove one of your status effects, and make boss fights easier. You have to start by doing all four levels, they’re pretty easy to solo if you’re at least level 160+ but the bosses might require you to be level 200+.

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In the Abyss. Once you drop down here, you’ll face off against a boss, usually quite difficult, that reward more as you progress. There are over 999 ‘floors’ of bosses.

While I had fun playing with other folks on the first 10 levels of The Abyss, it is absolutely too hard to solo through and I believe it is meant for players who have reached max level and beaten New Game++ and beyond. I still have a few solo-only boss missions to complete before I wrap up all of the DLC missions and attempt to finish the Way of the Strong/Way of the Demon difficulty settings. I could be sitting here cursing Nioh for taking up time I might have spent finishing Persona 5, Wolfenstein II and countless other games that will likely have to wait until 2018 to see an endgame screen for me… but I’ll be damned if I regret playing so much Nioh this year. Its been a blast and I’d still highly recommend getting the complete edition for anyone who missed out on it, the online scene for it is still active and the offline stuff is incredibly fun third person action RPG fun tailor made for folks who enjoy feudal Japan history, Dark Souls style gameplay and RNG-fueled loot mechanics and deep RPG systems.

Title: Dragon of the North, Defiant Honor, Bloodshed’s End
Genre Third Person Action RPG [DLC]
Released May 2nd, July 25th, & September 26th (2017)
Platform(s) Playstation 4
Score 4.25/5.0

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