Nioh is an action role-playing game set in Japan during the year 1600, with players taking the role of an Irish samurai named William. The player guides William on missions through enclosed environments fighting both human enemies and supernatural beings called yokai: missions are self-contained, hold alternate routes William can navigate, and selected from a menu rather than reached by navigating an open world. While navigating environments, William can find various collectables both in crates scattered through the environment and in other places within the environments such as fallen soldiers. These collectables include Amrita, the game’s experience points (EXP); gold, the in-game currency; new weapons and armor, and consumable items such as bombs. Weapons and armor found in the environment can be taken to a blacksmith, who are able to buy it from William or can break it down into base material. Shrines scattered through levels act as checkpoints, allowing players to save progress, replenish health and raise William’s experience level through accrued EXP: doing this respawns all normal enemies within an area. Skill points acquired in combat are assigned at shrines.
Fighting is based around hack and slash combat, with William being able to attack enemies and block their attacks in turn. William can run, dodge, and sprint with these and combat actions draining his Ki stamina bar. When his Ki has been depleted, William is left vulnerable to attack. If timed right, William is able to replenish lost Ki with an action called “Ki pulse”. The Ki pulse also grants status buffs onto William, and dispels patches of miasma generated by yokai and other supernatural enemies which rapidly saps Ki. Defeated enemies drop loot, which includes money and weapons. The speed at which William can move through levels depends on the weight of his equipped armor; the heavier it is, the faster his Ki will drain. If William dies, all the EXP acquired up to that point is left where he fell, and he must travel back to retrieve it, but if he dies again and therefore failing to reach it, the amount of EXP dropped is lost and the spirit animal is automatically recovered.
William has access to multiple types of melee weapons: these include single and dual swords, axes, polearms and kusarigama. In addition to melee weapons, William has access to ranged weapons such as a bow, a rifle, and a hand cannon. The more each weapon is used, the stronger and more effective it becomes. In combat, William can change between three Stances with melee weapons, with each stance having different effects; High Stance causes higher damage while lowering defense, Low Stance allows for quick attacks and better defense, while Middle Stance balances elements of the other two Stances. These Stances also consume different amounts of Ki depending on their attack strength. William can also summon Guardian Spirits, animals which combine his health and Ki into a single meter with added stat boosts such as increasing attack power or defense. Each Guardian Spirit boosts different stats, and can only be switched out at shrines. Guardian Spirits are also lost when William dies, but they can be summoned to him at a shrine at the cost of his lost EXP. In addition to normal enemies, William can summon Revenants, hostile ghosts based on other fallen players, to battle and gain experience, money and items. A cooperative multiplayer allows for other players to be summoned to help in battles.
William’s character growth is governed by EXP. Some statistical points can be assigned to William’s character following the game’s opening mission, and during the main game stat points can be assigned to William’s attributes, which range from increased physical strength to heightened speed. Stat points are split between three skill trees: “Samurai” for weapon skill trees for standard melee combat, “Ninja” for distance weapons such as shurikens and poisons, and “Onmyo” which link to the creation of talismans, consumable items which grant temporary stat boosts. If William finds and guides Kodama to the Shrines within each mission, he can purchase otherwise inaccessible bonus material such as items and weapons. Offerings of items can be made at the shrine in exchange for EXP. Additional buffs can be granted using Prestige Points, which are acquired by fulfilling certain tasks within levels such as dealing a certain amount of damage or killing a number of enemies with one weapon type.