When Nioh came out in 2017, it took many of us by surprise. Seen at the time as just another Souls clone, it turned out to be a lot more than that. The game had a deep narrative, compelling characters and a complex and very satisfying combat system. The follow-up to that game, Noih 2, takes everything about that and simply improves on that, except for maybe the story, although that can be subjective.
Heading back to Feudal Japan
Nioh 2 actually takes place before the events of Nioh when William Adams, the first Western Samurai showed up. It is set in the same universe of war, magic and Yokai. You play as the Protagonist, a nameless warrior referred to as Hiddy by other characters. Hiddy is half human, half yokai, which gives you incredible power and strength, and plays a major part in the combat and mechanics of the game.
I’m not going to delve too much into the story, but I will say that it’s not quite a strong as the first one, even though it is still rather good. The story begins off as a bit more lighthearted, but things get serious and ramp up very quickly. The protagonist is completely silent, which I’ve mentioned before I do have an issue with, but it somehow works in this game, as you are a person of actions rather than words. Some form of dialogue, even very little of it, would have been great though.
Your character is completely customisable, and the options are incredibly robust. You can start off as a base preset and take it from there, and looking at all the different options and sliders, the possibilities are endless. Everything is interchangeable, and you can do so any time you like, meaning you are never locked into your initial choice. You can even share your creations with character codes, so all the creations we are bound to see will be amazing.
Once you have your character sorted after a couple of hours, you are off on your adventure, which is essentially more Nioh, just with a few gameplay changes and quality of life improvements.
More Nioh, with improvements
As I said, Nioh 2 is at its core, more Nioh. And that is not a bad thing at all. Those who loved the first game will love being able to keep doing it all over again, just in a different setting, and also a different, completely customisable character.
While there’s probably better-looking games out there, the art style and vibrant colours still look amazing, and playing in action mode, the game runs incredibly smoothly. I still didn’t notice any real graphical difference in ramping up the resolution, so sacrificing the smoother frame rates for that really didn’t seem worth it. Characters are still incredibly well-drawn, giving Nioh 2 that polished JRPG feel.
Gameplay is still pretty much the same, with everything still working the same as the first game, bar a few combat and quality of life changes. Weapons still have the same weight, speed and feel to them, and you learn different skills with them, making you more deadly with a weapon type as you use them. You earn amrita as you go along, which is the main currency with which you level up and become stronger. The game is still loot-based, so don’t get too attached to that Switchblade, since it will become useless and better things will come your way. You can upgrade items and gear, but at the cost expected to keep something current, it is just not worth it unless you get a really special roll.
The biggest difference is the Yokai abilities you now have, which gives the game a different feel both in terms of tactics, pace and the flow of combat. There are several of these abilities that you use in combat and can make a difference between victory and defeat when using them correctly. First off, the living weapon is now replaced with your Yokai Shift, which sees you turn into a powerful Yokai, with your health bar being replaced by your Yokai shift bar. You can pack a serious punch using this, but your shift bar does deplete very quickly when taking hits, so you can’t use it to go ham on a boss, even though it does work from time to time.
Another addition to the game is Yokai cores, which you collect from slain yokai, which allows you to use special strong attacks. You use anima, the purple bar under the Ki bar in order to use these powerful attacks. You can also use anima to do a burst counter, which will stop and reflect damage back certain powerful attacks. The burst counter is your friend and mastering it will become an essential part of your arsenal.
You still have bloody graves, which are the spots where other players died, and you can fight them for ochoco cups, which you can use to summon an acolyte from a benevolent grave to help you. A benevolent grave is a sort of summon another player could have placed there, which is then an NPC character that can come and assist. This is an incredibly clever system and can help you through a rather tough boss encounter or tough area. The acolytes can take a punch, but they are a bit stupid, meaning they quickly gets destroyed by a boss, but it can help you in the beginning phase, giving you some time to get hits in while a boss is distracted. You, in turn, get some rewards for placing benevolent graves and helping others, so there always a give and take happening.
Not all is great in the land of the rising sun
One of the best parts of the game is the music, and I cannot state enough just how amazing the soundtrack for Nioh 2 is. Japanese flutes and strings that convey such a range of emotions and stay with you for some time afterwards. The music is especially great during the boss fights, which on its own remains a highlight of the game. Mostly.
The bosses of games like these are the ultimate stars, and there is no exception with Nioh 2. All of them look interesting and have unique and challenging learning curves, but after a while, it started to feel a bit off. You see Nioh 2, as is the case with the first game, is very long with many levels. And while this is very seldom a bad thing, it does mean the creativity of the bosses goes out the window somewhat. The same can be said with the level design, which gets a bit repetitive after running through what feels like the same place, even if it’s different for the 10th time.
The process goes like this: Run through castle/battlefield/underground cave/forest, kill everything in sight. Get to the boss room, fight yokai based enemy, dropping its Ki to initiate a yokai realm phase that’s more aggressive until that’s over, rinse and repeat until boss is dead. You then move on to the next level. The later levels do get very interesting and throw this formula out the window, but by that time fatigue from the repetition has set in. It seems like a strange criticism, but because the campaign is rather long, with so many missions, it does feel a bit repetitive. Sure, there are those who won’t mind, and the loot-based nature of Nioh 2 encourages multiple replays of missions, but doing the same things over and over can get a little bit dull.
Overall solid experience
With the length and slight repetitiveness of Nioh 2 aside, it’s still a remarkable game. There’s a lot of content here, and a lot of potential for more to be added through DLC and expansions. It’s clearly made with the end game in mind. Combat is still a lot of fun and a massive challenge, though the game feels a bit more balanced than the first, even if some might argue the addition of acolytes and the yokai abilities could make it too easy.
Nioh 2 is an overall blast to play, and if you enjoyed the first game, you certainly will like this one as well. It also has the cutest little ball of a cat yokai called a Scampuss that can follow you around, and if that doesn’t make it an automatic game of the year contender, then I don’t know what is wrong with the world.