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Pop CultureMay 9, 2017

Nioh’s new DLC is good, not great. So should you buy it?

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The first of three planned DLC expansions for the critically-acclaimed Nioh has been released, but does it address the game’s noticeable faults? Don Rowe reviews Dragon of the North

In the immediate aftermath of the Nioh – aka Japanese Dark Souls – release in February, it was already being acclaimed as the game of the year, praised for taking the best of what made FromSoftware the masochists’ choice of developer and combining it with the visceral gore and ball-and-sickle kusarigama action of Ninja Gaiden. Those reviews might have been somewhat hasty, however. The game is undeniably great, a polished and brutally difficult ‘soulsborne’-inspired grind with all of the usual trappings, only Samurai-themed. But as the hysteria surrounding Nioh died down post-release, it became obvious the game was as lacking in some areas as it was overflowing in others.

In the base game there are six different classes of melee weapon, many with unique traits and characteristics and all of which can be used in three different stances with both fast and slow attacks. Cannons, guns, bows and ninja bombs make up your ranged capabilities. And that’s not to mention the game’s magic system of talismans and spells.

But the problem is, there’s only so many enemy types on which to unleash your arsenal. Without the enemy diversity of a Dark Souls, the grind can come to feel particularly repetitive, and rather than enemies changing substantively near the end game, it’s more often the case that you’re cutting down the same fiends you saw in Act I, only reworked a little. Dragon of the North goes some way towards redeeming this, in particular with the creepy half-human, half-demon soldiers, but fails to go far enough.

Sexy, new and giant.

On the bright side, there are new armour sets, new skills, new guardian spirits and even a sexy new giant sword, but the yokai remain frustratingly limited. The number of re-skins, re-specs and palette swaps is somewhat disappointing in a $15 DLC, and the two new maps feel only marginally different as a result, despite being a new take on Nioh‘s level design. Shrine (waypoint) placement is also occasionally curious, and seemingly incongruous with the more logical progression-centric layout in the base game. This is less of a criticism than a general comment, however.

The boss fights are, of course, simultaneously amazing spectacles and hellaciously difficult, although it’s also possible I’m just not that good at Nioh.  I’ve really had to reassess my commitment to dabbling with this kind of entertainment material in light of the ass-whipping I received in both the base game and DLC. I mean, have you read much about climate change lately? You know we’re all doomed to die and there’s nothing that can save us? I don’t know if I need to be further crushed emotionally when life itself is a brutal slog where your best efforts and beaten down, time after time, as you drink and scream and…then you see these bloody guys doing steering wheel runs on Dark Souls and shit.

A $15 price-point may be a little high for the amount of content included in Dragon of the North, but considering we here in the antipodes get reamed over the cost of games regardless, you might be somewhat desensitised and that’s just fine. Dragon of the North is an enjoyable continuation of what made Nioh so fun, but a ground-breaking explosion of new content it is not. Certainly one for the hardcores, but a possible miss for the casual yokai slayer.

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