Nioh borrows heavily from other games that have inspired it, such as Dark Souls and Diablo, as it tracks the story of William, a Westerner whom fate brings to feudal Japan. Demons and corruption run rampant in this twisted historical interpretation. It mixes characters from antiquity and murderous mythological monsters, and the combination works well as an outrageous backdrop.

Make no mistake, however — the core of Nioh is unflinching, merciless action that’s fast, fluid, responsive and precise. Attempting to button-mash your way to a win inevitably sends you packing to the checkpoint. You must learn at least one of many other mechanics at your disposal like swapping stances, blocking, parrying and dodging. Many of these can be chained together to make battle a highly choreographed dance of death that’s breathtaking to behold. Nioh’s combat is rich and rewarding, featuring on-the-fly flexibility and adaptation to dazzle your opponents (and yourself) with complex strings of abilities, dodges, and parries.

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Just about every opponent you face can be deadly, but the stronger-than-normal Yokai command fear. You learn respect the first time a one-eyed giant lifts you up and pounds you into the earth, or when a Tengu appears from the sky to lift you away. The pacing of these terrifying creatures and their appearances is amazingly well done — just when you think you’ve finally figured out how to tackle a certain type of monster, a new, more difficult one is introduced to the family.

Nioh is a difficult, challenging, intense game. It will break you down (and note this clearly, this is an uncompromising game that does not mind crushing your dreams) before it lifts you up, but you soon crave the thrill of mastering a new weapon or toppling a titanic boss.