I enjoyed the original Nioh immensely as it was not only a return to form for Team Ninja, but a brutal, exhilarating story set in Feudal Japan. I reviewed the first Nioh in 2017 and I’d be lying if I breezed through the game. My time with this series involves a lot of dying, restarting sections and learning the hard way that my cockiness would get me killed. I hate Team Ninja for crafting a series that has bested my patience, but I respect them for giving me the tools to get better and overcome my shortcomings.
Nioh is one of the few new franchises that proved From Software isn’t the one who can marry difficulty with deep and rewarding combat. Many developers have tried but the only one to succeed and even surpass From Software had to be Team Ninja. Even more so, the nascent Nioh series blew up in such an exciting way that it was hard to stay mad at the game that caused me minor bouts of anger and massive bouts of cussing.
Over the last several months, Team Ninja hosted a series of beta to help fine-tune the final retail game. I only really had the chance to spend one weekend with the beta but those few days effectively traumatized me all over.
Taking place before the first game, Nioh 2 tells the tale of your own custom character. Shifting from protagonist William Adam to a character of your own creation is a nice touch and the character creator offers a ton of options. However, while all of this is a neat divergence from William, the issue that comes with having a custom protagonist is the narrative takes a hit. Thankfully, it isn’t necessarily a massive hit against the sequel, but the lack of a named protagonist is a gripe worth mentioning.
Nioh 2 is much improved in many ways but combat takes the centre-stage, and it is so good. While it took some getting used to, the new addition of Burst Counters is a thing of beauty. These moves defer any incoming blasts by activating your character’s yokai power to counter incoming attacks, effectively devastating your opponent. Getting the timing right is crucial and enemies flash red when the need to counter strikes but once you nail it, enemies are suddenly not so daunting.
The on-screen purple bar is the Anima Gauge, which is what fuels yokai abilities and burst counters. In many games, you would normally save this for boss encounters but my recommendation is using it as soon as it’s filled.
Ki Pulse is also a critical system here, as Nioh 2 wants you to be aggressive towards enemies. Hacking and slashing at enemies require stamina (or Ki) and each swing requires it to be successful. The secret to Ki Pulse is initiating a combo and timing when to press R1 to regain the stamina you’ve used, and you do that when your character glows blue. The best way to compare the technique is to how the Gear of War series prompts you to perfect Active Reload by pressing the RB button.
Team Ninja also improved the skill trees, which resemble the familiar Sphere Grid from Final Fantasy X. Expanding on that, each of the weapon-types available which include swords, hatchets, dual swords, spears, axes, kusarigama, odachi’s, tonfas, switch glaives, bows, rifles all have their own grid. All in all, there are 13 skill trees for each weapon, magic and samurai and ninjutsu abilities.
Being a half-human and half-yokai Shiftling allows your character to tap into the power of the demons. You use Yokai Skills which are obtained after purifying various Soul Cores. Each Core offers a specific set of skills readily available in battle and can be obtained from almost every enemy in the game. There are many Soul Cores available to unlock and the addition adds a multitude of combat options, and there’s still more available. However, be vigilante, any Cores lost in battle can be returned to you, but if you die on the way to recover them, they are lost forever unless purified.
Loot is also a huge part of the experience and you’ll constantly find various pieces of it dropping from enemies. However, this time there is so much loot and a focus on it that I found myself overwhelmed at the options available. Nioh 2 is a menu heavy game and there’s a lot of work to be done there, however, after discovering dozens of pieces of loot, then deciding whether to keep or dismantle it is a job in itself. You’ll never worry about loot because the game throws so much of it as you at a consistent pace and while commendable, is distracting from playing the game.
Multiplayer is an excellent reprieve from facing the dangers in front of you. Too many times I’d attempt a particular boss before caving and calling in support. Originally, Nioh supported summoning but in Nioh 2, Team Ninja has expanded their offerings. There’s this new 3-player co-op mode that enhances the difficulty by adding more enemies and allowing each player to earn their own loot. In Expedition mode, players share a health pool and can even revive without a game over, but this drains the health pool for everyone, but the risk is worth the reward.
Nioh 2 is a stunning game, offering stellar art direction and exciting level design. Exploration offers hidden secrets worth going off the beaten path. Similar to Nioh, there are a few ways to play the game with Action Mode focusing on performance at 60 frames per second while Movie mode aims for resolution and a more stable 30 frames per second. Spending time moving between the two modes, I found myself drifting to resolution at first before understanding the need to nail counters – Action Mode helped immensely.
Nioh 2 sets out with a purpose and delivers on it. Upping the ante, improving the core gameplay, and adding new systems that make this a worthy follow-up to Nioh. Yes, this is a difficult and frustrating game but that’s okay because once you adapt and overcome the obstacles in front of you, you come out the other end with a sense of accomplishment. New weapons, new powers, and the freedom to build your own character – all of this makes for an excellent game. If you like a challenge, then Nioh 2 is everything you’re looking for and more.
[A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.]