Nioh 2 is the follow up to Team Ninja’s souls-like action RPG Nioh. Throughout the 60ish hours that I have spent with this game, I found myself overjoyed with every victory, frustrated with every defeat but most importantly on a journey of self-improvement as I turned myself from a helpless mewling half breed to a ruthless demon of war.
AT A GLANCE
Release Date: March 13, 2020
Developer: Team Ninja
Platform: PlayStation 4
Publishers: Sony Interactive Entertainment, Koei Tecmo
Genres: Action role-playing game, Action-adventure game
Final Score: 9/10
Nioh 2 is a prequel to Nioh and is set in an alternate timeline of Sengoku Japan. You play as a mute character, a half-yokai half-human named Hideyoshi or Hide for short. The shift to a mute character from Nioh’s voiced Irish samurai doesn’t affect the story in a big way.
Even though the story does feature quite a bit of celebrity characters like Nobunaga and a cliched anime-like story, it only serves as a means to propel you through the levels.
The English voice acting is serviceable, but I highly suggest playing with Japanese voices, unless you really hate subs.
The story lasts around 40-50 hours depending on how many side missions you decide to tackle and your own skills while clearing the levels.
Nioh 2 allows you to create your own character and features a really exhaustive character customization screen. You can pretty much change every aspect of your character to create the Yokai slaying warrior of your dreams. After a brief cutscene, you are dropped into a dreamlike world where you choose your starting weapons and guardian spirit.
Nioh 2 takes all the good parts of its predecessor and improves it in every way. The combat feels familiar yet fresh, and the challenge never dies down. None of Nioh 2’s mechanics feel radically different from other souls-like games, but Team Ninja has refined them and added little augmentations to almost every portion of the game to make it feel the superior game of the genre.
There are a couple of new tricks up Nioh 2’s sleeves that add an extra layer of depth and strategy to the combat. By building up anima you can unleash your Yokai form that allows you to dish out devastating combos and powerful attacks using your guardian spirit.
There’s also the burst counter that allows you to punish enemies and turn the tides of battle. Some powerful enemies can deal massive damage using burst moves, that can pretty much end you. These attacks can seem intimidating and it took me a couple of deaths to get used to the concept of counters, but once I did, oh boy was that a game-changer. While it used to be that I avoided these attacks, now I waited for my enemies to come lunging at me before countering them and destroying their health bar.
Needless to say, stamina or ki management is very important if you don’t want to end up out of breath while fighting a 10 feet bull wielding a stone club. But a returning mechanic from the original Nioh, ki-pulsing makes managing ki a breeze, granted that you manage to master it. After executing combos, you are surrounded by a blue aura, hit the RB button in time and you can recover all of the ki you spent and some more. This meant that unlike some other games in the genre that force you to back out of combat to manage stamina, you can constantly execute combos while periodically recovering your ki with a well-timed pulse. And like most of Nioh 2’s small enhancement, this drastically changes your combat experience by allowing you to chain together moves in a more aggressive and almost intoxicating rhythm.
Of course, you can still play this game like any other souls-like, and excluding a few bosses, I would say it is possible to play a bit more cautiously. And therein lies the beauty of Nioh 2, the sheer variety of approaches that can fit into almost every type of playstyle. The huge variety of gear, weapons, skill and Yokai cores make this game a theorycrafters wet dream.
But none of the combat would be this exciting without proper mechanics and fair enemy design. Bosses in Nioh 2 are hideously well done, and every battle feels rewarding and constantly challenging. I often found myself getting greedy and going for the kill, only for the boss to surprise me with the last moment burst that sends me back to the shrine. All enemies have telegraphed attacks and once you manage to memorize patterns, battles that once seemed unfair suddenly become a satisfying skirmish.
Make no mistake, despite all the variety and fair mechanics, Nioh 2 is hard. You will die, a lot, and you will lose a lot. Once you die, your accumulated amrita will drop in the world, guarded by your guardian spirit. You can summon benevolent spirits of fallen players to aid you in battles by using Ochoko cups. You can get Ochoko cups by defeating Revenants, which are also fallen players, marked by red swords that dot the map. As of this moment, even though the game allows you to summon other players using co-op, PvP is not available, so Revenants is the closest you are gonna get to fight other players.
Amrita is one of the currencies in the game, used to level up by putting points into your core attributes. These attributes directly influence your stats and your weapons also scale based on these attributes so it’s vital that you save every bit of amrita that you get. You can also get coins, which can be used to buy items and get blessings. There’s also divine rice, which you can trade at the Kodama bazaar to get valuable items. Divine rice can be dropped from enemies and you can offer up your useless gear to the Kodamas at a shrine to get them too.
The interconnected pathways of Nioh 2’s feudal Japan are well designed and never feel empty or too crowded. The level design sees an improvement from the previous game but some of the maps can overstay their welcome. In fact, this is my chief gripe with the game, it tries to do too much and too much of something good can turn unpleasant. The game suffers from an issue of being too bloated. The huge amount of useless gear, padded mechanics and some overly long missions take away from what is otherwise a really great game.
Nioh 2 is gorgeous, and a masterpiece in terms of atmosphere and world design. From the haunting villages to the murky rivers, Nioh 2 does an excellent job of bringing to life the war-torn era of Sengoku Japan.
The lighting and level design made me genuinely dread the darkly lit corners of the map, afraid of being ambushed by some lurking Yokai.
The action mode returns from the previous game and is a welcome addition to the game. The fact that you can opt for higher framerates even on a base PlayStation really makes me wonder why other developers opt to avoid giving us this option.
The variety of scenery when it comes to level design does suffer a bit, but the levels that Nioh 2 does have are memorable and truly impressive at times.
Nioh 2 is a beast that demands your attention. You are overwhelmed with insanely deep mechanics and layers of strategies that even souls veterans might find daunting at first. But if you manage to adapt to the unique gameplay that Nioh 2 offers, you are up for some of the most rewarding experiences in the genre.