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Nioh dev isn't compromising on game's 'Dark Souls difficulty'

Team Ninja's Nioh already has a reputation for brutal difficulty before it's even released, and the studio isn't planning on changing that.

When developer Team Ninja released a demo for Nioh in May, it also promised a future DLC pack to anyone who could beat that small chunk of the final game. This sent a message: Nioh may be difficult--but it's rewarding.

And now, following ample user feedback from that demo, which Team Ninja titled the "alpha demo," the developer is adamant about one thing: it's not going to make Nioh easier.

"It wouldn't add anything to the gameplay to make enemies weaker or the player stronger," creative director Tom Lee told GameSpot during a recent demo at E3 2016. "Any changes would be to enhance the difficulty. Some people said the difficulty was too high, but the vast majority had positive feedback. We are introducing abilities that will give the player more options, though. We want learning them to feel rewarding."

Among these new abilities and items are firearms (early incarnations of muskets that fit the game's feudal Japanese setting) as well as the Ox, a new Guardian Spirit you can summon. Nioh's structure and combat are clearly inspired by Dark Souls, and as is the case in that franchise, Nioh will often only be difficult if you aren't patient and calculated. The new weapons and supernatural beasts are in place to create various avenues to tailor your playstyle.

Team Ninja is also taking pains to improve Nioh's camera, which is a crucial factor in a game that relies on well-timed combat. Even Dark Souls III, a great game in its own right, couldn't avoid camera issues 100 percent of the time.

"A bad camera actually makes the game unfair," Lee said. "And that's not what we're going for. So we made sure, took extra time, to get rid of camera issues. You won't be losing track of more mobile enemies anymore. The game's systems won't add to the difficulty in unnecessary ways."

The demo Lee showed took place immediately following the chapter shown in the alpha demo. Art director Fumihiko Yasuda descended into ancient catacombs in the Nakatsu region of Japan, fighting through numerous enemies before reaching the area's boss. Hino-enma, an airborne vampire with a variety of abilities, highlighted the need for patience in Nioh's punishing world: by depleting her ki, Yasuda dropped her to the ground in a stunned fetal position. But while she may have been vulnerable, doing too much damage triggered a vicious counterattack that drained a large portion of Yasuda's health.

"It doesn't specify how much damage will trigger that," Yasuda said. "It's something you'll learn as you go, and that's a huge part of Nioh."

The studio is adamant that it doesn't want to "hold players' hands," Lee said. However, the team did decide to add an optional tutorial mission to the game's final release. This sets it apart from the aforementioned Dark Souls, which notoriously obfuscates most of its systems.

"Some of our mechanics felt like they needed to be explained," Lee said. "We want you to be aware of what's at your disposal. We want you to know there are options to help you when things might seem too difficult."

As Lee told it, the popularity of Dark Souls in recent years created a community Team Ninja wanted to cater to. But while Nioh may have clear inspirations from the structure of that series, it's still attempting to tap into a community of its own. It has a new demo planned for August, and if all goes according to plan, players will find the same brutal, layered difficulty they encountered during the last demo.