Face-Off: Nioh on PS4 and PS4 Pro

The last two months have been remarkable for fans of Japanese games and with the release of Nioh for PlayStation 4, the trinity of highly anticipated, long in-development games is now complete. We’re, of course, talking about Final Fantasy 15 and The Last Guardian – two games that, along with Nioh, were first announced more than a decade ago. All three games have undergone a significant transformation since then but perhaps none more than Nioh. What we have in the end is a dark, brutally difficult action game that combines the best elements of Ninja Gaiden and Dark Souls into one remarkable package. This is, simply put, Team Ninja’s return to form.

At first glance, Nioh is a visually conservative game – one that pushes modern post-processing effects and cutting-edge rendering techniques off to the side in favour of a more reserved presentation. It won’t leave your jaw on the floor by any means, but over time, it leaves a strong impression. In many ways, it feels like an evolution of what Team Ninja started with the 2004 iteration of Ninja Gaiden – sharp, clean lines and detailed texture work combine with fast, fluid animation to great effect. Rather than relying on features such as parallax occlusion mapping, for instance, Nioh instead adds surface detail through sheer geometric density taking a page from Dark Souls 3 and Bloodborne, in a sense. Large, rocky surfaces undulate convincingly while fully modeled tiles make up the ground on which you walk.

Nioh simply oozes with atmosphere thanks to stylised lighting and weather effects. The rain-swept village encountered early on fills the screen with droplets which, using a screen-space technique, take on light from surrounding torches and attacks. Texture work is solid with plenty of detail slathered across each scene while specular highlights allow for dynamic lighting to play nicely off the detailed terrain. Character models feel like an evolution of what we’ve come to know from Team Ninja with rounded edges and clean lines. You’ll run across a handful of low resolution assets here and there but the overall appearance is solid.

Nioh review

Team Ninja’s new demon-slaying samurai epic has one hell of an elevator pitch: this is Ninja Gaiden meets Dark Souls. Nioh takes the silky smooth colourful Japanese texture of Team Ninja’s storied hack-and-slash affair and merges it with the light RPG structure and methodical combat of From’s dark fantasy series. Yet mixing these two diametrically opposed takes on the third-person action game isn’t easy and Team Ninja has done a commendable if occasionally unflattering job of cribbing From Software’s most influential design tropes, all while retaining the distinctly ludicrous comic book flavour that’s always been central to the Ninja Gaiden dev’s DNA.

Nioh tells a highly embellished tale of western samurai William Adams, a real-life historical figure who arrived on Japanese shores in 1600. This folklore-heavy fable isn’t particularly well told with an abundance of convoluted exposition and cackling tattooed villains taking centre stage, but storytelling has never really been Team Ninja’s strong suit – something made especially clear when William spends hours cutting his way through demonic hordes only to arrive at a boss’ introductory cutscene where he’s inexplicably joined by a party of allies. It’s best not to think about this one too hard.

Your grey matter will instead be focusing on Nioh’s extravagant combat systems where Team Ninja’s work really shines. On the surface, the Dark Souls influence is obvious with its slowly recharging stamina meter determining your actions and a respawn mechanic offering one chance to reclaim your lost XP where you last fell. Yet Team Ninja handles the fisticuffs differently than From. Your moveset in Nioh is drastically more complicated than anything seen in Dark Souls, a complex skill tree offering throngs of unlockable manoeuvres that give each weapon type an incredible depth and flexibility. Your move list may not be quite as expansive as something like Ninja Gaiden, but it’s definitely closer to the hack-and-slash upgrade trees of yore, before stamina meters prioritised timing and energy consumption over complicated combo inputs.

Dark Souls 3’s final DLC, The Ringed City, is coming in March

Dark Souls 3’s second and final DLC expansion is called The Ringed City and it’s due 28th March on all platforms.

This add-on tasks players with following Slave Knight Gael to the edge of the world, searching for the Soul of Humanity. Players may remember Slave Knight Gael from Dark Souls 3’s first DLC, Ashes of Ariandel, where he offered players entry into the Painted World of Ariandel then showed up again outside of the add-on’s final boss.

You can catch a glimpse at The Ringed City in the trailer below. Spoiler alert: there be bosses!

Best-selling Steam games of 2016 revealed

Happy New Year! . And given the size and dominance of Steam in the desktop gaming marketplace, the results are worth noting.

The games are sorted into four tiers: platinum, gold, silver and bronze.

The best sellers, the platinum games, include Valve’s multiplayer colossi Dota 2 and CS:GO as well as big, desktop-exclusive 2016 games XCOM 2, Total War: Warhammer and Civilization 6. Multiplatform blockbusters The Division and Dark Souls 3 made the grade too.

VR may not have made much money, but it’s already revitalising games

2016 has been the kind of year that’s probably best spent with your head in a bucket. Luckily for me, that bucket had two little screens wired into it and all sorts of motion-sensing gadgetry stuck on top. I have no idea how VR works – and from a business sense, I gather that it doesn’t really work all that well at the moment. Yet, despite the fact that I couldn’t afford the hardware myself, and despite the fact that VR games aren’t going to be troubling the charts any time soon, VR’s provided me with my favourite gaming moments of this year – and probably my favourite gaming moments of the last few years.

Novelty? Sure. But novelty is actually a bit of a novelty by itself these days. People are pretty good at making games in 2016. I would argue, if I had a better grip on art history, that we’re into the classical stage. Everything’s anatomically correct and very beautifully rendered. Even the duds are generally pretty capable. But what I’ve longed for is a bit of baroque – the madness of grappling with new forms, new ideas. In games that often means new tech. (I feel like I have probably made this point before, so apologies.)

Take Chronos, the first VR game I properly played this year. Chronos is terribly straightforward if you get down to it. Video game maths suggests it’s a bit of Dark Souls added to a bit of, um, Darksiders? Nice enough puzzling and combat in a fantasy setting, with some elegant moments of spectacle that often hinge on drastic changes in perspective. With VR, though, this all felt wonderfully new. The third-person camera that gave me a view of this world was actually me. I was unarguably part of the game, framing the action as I moved my little sword-and-shield guy from one moment to the next and tracked his progress with a tilt of the head. Levels, which would have been artfully handled even if the game was a traditional affair, suddenly became proper dioramas, grottoes and caves I was sat inside. I have never looked at the rumpled edges of a rug so intently in a game as I did here. I had forgotten that feeling – I first got it when I had eye tests at primary school and would look into a little viewer to see an out-of-focus hot air balloon – of being firmly drawn into a private cinema, a world of expectant darkness in which the game itself was suddenly thrillingly bright and up-close.

Investigating the origins of The Last Guardian’s architecture

A wind-scoured castle, crumbling into a sun-bleached sea. A towering shrine, rising above a landscape of decaying ruins and moss-skinned rocks. An isolated tower surrounded by vast chasms, speckled with high-arched walkways and overgrown ledges. Though the games of Fumito Ueda may depict delicate relationships, vast beasts and impregnable mysteries, it has always been their distinctive architectural spaces that gave them a concrete form. Ever since Ico’s castle hazily emerged from the bloom and mist on the games title screen in 2001, these monolithic structures have become symbols for the sense of scale, mysticism and artistry that have made Ueda’s games instantly recognisable and widely loved.

With The Last Guardian, Ueda and his team at Gen Design and Sony’s Japan Studios have once more returned to the ageing stones and high arches of their singular world. Like Ico, the game isolates the player in a vast empty megastructure, tasking them with finding their way through its labyrinthine halls. It’s a structure than many games have shared, from the original Metroid through Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time all the way up to this year’s Dark Souls 3. However, despite this familiar rhythm of puzzles and vistas, there is something distinct about The Last Guardian’s architecture.

It’s not something that’s easy to put your finger on: there’s a strangeness to the heavy blocks, angular buttresses and gridded stonework that isn’t instantly recognisable from real life. There’s an Aztec feel to the geometric patterning that surrounds The Last Guardian’s gates and archways, but it lacks the animal imagery and the stepped forms that make images of ancient cities like Teotihuacan so memorable. There’s also something of the ancient architecture of Rajasthan too – in the balconies enclosed by ornate arches and the pillars overflowing with ornamentation – but again, The Last Guardian builds these structures out of simple, ambiguous forms not the strong religious and pictorial details of, say, the Dilwara temples. There are hints of each of these styles, and many more, in Ueda’s world, but none seems to fit, each one remaining distantly related. The Last Guardian’s real world references remain a mystery then, but there are clues in the Ueda’s previous games that begin to explain why that is.

Video games remade in cardboard

In the 80s, popular video games such as Asteroids, Pac-Man and Centipede all found themselves recreated in cardboard at a time when board games still ruled the roost back at home. But then their popularity began to fade. What kid in their right mind would ask for Monopoly for Christmas when they could be wishing for a Nintendo 64 and four-player GoldenEye instead?

Board games have recently undergone a renaissance. Blockbuster German titles such as The Settlers of Catan (1995) and Carcassone (2000) began to inspire American game designers, who began to incorporate clever mechanics in their own games. Some credit these games with sparking . Since then, board games have been getting better and better at the same time as rapidly shooting up in popularity (and sales).

And so we find ourselves back where we started in the early 1980s, as more and more video games are being recreated in cardboard. Earlier this year, the proposed Dark Souls board game smashed its Kickstarter goal of $70,000 to smithereens by raising an astonishing $5 million, and in July a fantastic-looking board game version of the new Doom game was announced. Over the past few years, we’ve seen board game versions of Gears of War, Bioshock Infinite, Assassin’s Creed, Resident Evil and Portal, to name a few.

Dark Souls 3: Ashes of Ariandel review

One of the new enemies From Software introduces in its new Ashes of Ariendel expansion for Dark Souls 3 could best be described as a ninja version of Freddy Kruger. A leaping horror of spindly limbs and metal claws, the resemblance could be coincidence, but I reckon it’s not entirely accidental. Freddy invaded dreams, while From’s Corvian Knights invade a painted world you’re sucked into. These fake Freddys are no less fearsome than Wes Craven’s creation. With their berserk souls madly scrambling towards you in a mad flurry of flips and razor-pronged pirouettes, they elicit a lot of character. From Software already built a breathtaking menagerie of monsters across its last few Souls titles (along with spiritual successor Bloodborne), but these ravenous rangers exemplify the developer’s penchant for frightening foes.

That’s one of the keys to From Software’s Souls series: the enemies have personalities, evoking emotions stronger and more sophisticated than mere malice. Rather than the one-dimensional cannon fodder of countless other games, Dark Souls’ creatures elicit feelings ranging from despair, pity, admiration, terror and even ethereal wonder. Indeed, Ashes of Ariendel’s final boss, in both its introduction cinematic and movement, stands out as one of the most tragic figures in the Souls series. There’s a real sense of suffering at the heart of From’s perpetually damned ecosystem that offers a delicate blend of fantasy escapism with solemn tones that resonates far greater than any other magical fantasy realm in gaming.

From’s art direction is so evocative that it doesn’t have to make any sort of literal sense. Supposedly it does, as the likes of are making a living as virtual archeologists of this series’ lore, but concrete comprehension isn’t a pre-requisite to getting lost in these melancholy worlds. Admittedly, I’m not sure what exactly Ashes of Ariandel’s plot is (nor can I grasp the story of its parent game, for that matter), but the emphasis is on how it makes you feel rather than how much you can comprehend its oblique lore.

Watch as we carve a path through Dark Souls 3 DLC Ashes of Ariandel

Dark Souls 3’s first DLC expansion Ashes of Ariandel launches today, and I can’t wait to get stuck into it. Ashes of Ariandel transports players to a snowy landscape hidden behind a cursed painting – a set-up which will no doubt sound familiar to players who journeyed through the original Dark Souls’ optional area, the Painted World of Ariamis. It’s unlikely the connection is purely coincidental; there’ll be plenty more lore to try and decipher (or completely ignore) by the time this DLC has done the rounds, I’d wager.

The Ariandel DLC promises new enemies, new bosses, new weapons and new PvP modes, so I thought I’d play through my first attempts live, today from 3pm. And I’ve roped Johnny in to spectate because, well, misery loves company.

I reserve the right to curse freely, just so we’re all clear. And in case you were wondering, the DLC requires you to have access to the Cleansing Chapel located by the Cathedral of the Deep, so you will need a prior Dark Souls 3 save file to access the new content. In fact, if you want an in-depth look at what to do and what to expect from Ashes of Ariandel, . Word on the street is it’s best suited to players Level 80-100, so my Level 91 knight should be just fine. Should being the operative word here. Wish us luck.

Dark Souls 3’s Ashes of Ariandel DLC is out early on Xbox One

Dark Souls 3’s Ashes of Ariandel DLC isn’t supposed to launch until 25th October, but Season Pass owners on Xbox One have been able to download it early.

As widely reported on and the , the early download seems to work for everyone with an Xbox One, no weird trick required.

Some early sources said they needed to boot the DLC up in offline mode, but now word is it works just fine online.