Rise of the Ronin Hands-on Preview

With Rise of the Ronin arriving in just a few weeks, we took our tentative first steps into Koei Tecmo and Team Ninja’s latest.

At the dawn of every new era, there is always an opportunity for those smart or ruthless enough to take advantage. That is the backdrop to the Bakumatsu period in ancient Japan, the end of the Shogunate, and the meeting of the East and the West, where Team Ninja and Koei Tecmo’s Rise of the Ronin unfold.

Having tasted the early hours of the action-role-playing title, the signs are pointing towards another excellent offering by the team, continuing in the vein of the recent Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty and the Nioh games. With a bloody start to the proceedings leading up to the robust character creation, Rise of the Ronin sets the tone for what players can expect next. Swift and decisive combat, a wide variety of enemies, and a level design that rewards exploration and smart thinking.

The combat in Rise of the Ronin is undoubtedly the star, a deeply engaging system that offers plenty of flexibility as well. There are various weapons to choose from, each bringing pros and cons to the table. Within that, there are different combat styles as well, allowing players to switch from one to another to be more effective against the enemy.

rise of the ronin preview screenshot 4

Of course, it takes more than just a sharp blade to win a fight, as the game also features Ki and morale as part of the fun. The former is similar to stamina that applies to both you and the enemy, and reducing it to zero means the possibility of critical hits and huge damage. Learning how to balance being aggressive and conserving energy means combat is always an engaging affair, and it is enhanced further with the parrying mechanic as well.

Called Counterspark, successfully pulling off the parry negates damage, drops the Ki of the opponent, and can potentially send them into a panic. That is, if you manage to time your parries well throughout the entirety of an enemy’s combo or powerful Martial Arts attack. As a Team Ninja game, expect stiff resistance from the enemy forces that come in all shapes and sizes, wielding different weapons capable of making death a constant companion.

It is this balance of aggression and defensive measures that continues to make combat in Rise of the Ronin so enjoyable, and with smart management of Ki being essential to survival, veterans of Nioh and Wo Long will find themselves in familiar territory.

Morale, on the other hand, goes hand in hand with the game’s stealth elements. Depending on how players approach an area with enemies, picking off the stronger leaders through assassination or straightforward combat can adversely affect the rest of the opponents, permanently reducing their Ki and making it easy to land that killing blow.

All of it comes together quite nicely, especially when there are opportunities to navigate enemy territory using different approaches. Finding crevices and ledges to climb is one way, and so is using the Glider or Grappling Hook to get some elevation, making it possible to scout an area properly and either go in swinging your weapon or use stealth to get the job done.

Exploring the open world is also one of the key features of Rise of the Ronin, with major missions thrown in every once in a while that take place in a more confined manner. And this is a sprawling world rife with possibilities. Some resources can be gathered from the world, side quests, random encounters to experience, key choices to be made that will shape the course of history, and yes, cats to collect. As players progress further, they will see more of an impact on the world, and while it may not be abundantly clear how certain choices may pan out, that sense of possibility keeps the thrill going.

Even at this early stage, it is not hard to see how Rise of the Ronin will capture the imaginations of those seeking a robust combat system that is complemented by other meaningful gameplay elements surrounding it. Team Ninja and Koei Tecmo have continually refined their craft over the last few games, and that progress is clearly demonstrated in the quality of this new adventure.

Rise of the Ronin is scheduled to release on March 22, 2024, for the PS5.

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