You’d be forgiven for thinking that the original Nioh would’ve been a disaster. Despite being in development for thirteen years, the final product was a uniquely satisfying action role-playing game with a Japanese setting. Now, similarly, you’d be forgiven for questioning whether developer Team Ninja could capture the same magic in just three years with Nioh 2. Thankfully, while it’s not a revolutionary sequel, Nioh 2 is still a great success and a stellar action game.
A prequel this time around, Nioh 2 follows an unnamed protagonist as they seek to unite the different regions of Japan. Of course, it’s a little bit more supernatural than that, and to make things a little bit more interesting you are half yokai, half-human. While I missed following a speaking protagonist in the original game with William, Nioh 2 still bolsters its story with a kooky supporting cast that does just as well. Since you’ll be able to create your character, Nioh 2’s character creator is one of the best too.
While it’s easy to compare Nioh to Dark Souls, it’s clear that it’s doing its own thing, and with Nioh 2, that distinction becomes even more apparent. For one, Nioh 2 sorts itself into self-enclosed chapters that are open enough not to feel linear. Each level has secrets – some can even be finished without visiting every room; most loop in on themselves cleverly, and they’re all filled with supernatural beings to banish.
It’s clear from the get-go that Nioh 2 is a worthy successor to the original game. While combat has been refined, there are also new features to help newer players too. Those with a keen eye will notice there are some carry-overs from the original game – like enemy types and weapon types – but the brunt of Nioh 2 feels brand new.
Combat still flows the same as the original game. Your character can wield up to nine different types of weapons, each of which has three different stances. The stance for each weapon alters the way you behave in battle, hitting harder and slower in high stance or weaker but quicker in low stance, as an example. There’s definitely “better” ways to approach each enemy based on your weapon and stance, but Nioh and Nioh 2’s approach gives players more options in battle.
What has changed rather dramatically in Nioh 2 is tied to your character’s half-yokai roots. Depending on which spirit you have equipped, your character can transform into one of three forms to dole out extra damage or even absorb it. You can also channel your yokai form into a parry against powerful unblockable attacks from enemies, an essential skill. At first, I was a bit sceptical that the yokai form was an “easy mode,” a lazy and straightforward way to cheese a difficult boss. Instead, it’s clear that the game is balanced with the yokai form in mind and doesn’t feel any easier because of it, adding another dimension to the combat.
Taking a note out of Castlevania’s book, Nioh 2 also lets you absorb enemy abilities in the form of spirit cores. These can be enemy abilities like a pound or shockwave but also defensive buffs like a shield. Similar to the yokai form, I felt like these abilities would help to lower the difficulty of the game to the point that they break the game, but instead, they feel well balanced and add a bit of a more exciting flair to the combat. Your cores can even be merged with others to enhance their power, too, adding a bit more depth to the customisation of your character.
Bosses were the highlight of the original Nioh and Nioh 2 continues with a similar focus. Much like the first game, they almost always appear intimidating and unsurpassable upon your first encounter. With careful studying and precise strikes, it’s still incredibly rewarding to bring them down. The bosses emphasise the core tenet of what Nioh’s combat is all about. You’re more likely to be successful playing calmly, rather than erratic with your approach despite the overwhelming nature of what’s thrown at you. Thankfully, much like the original game, there’s a nice mix of small and large bosses to do battle with, too, so the variety keeps the game interesting.
It’s worth noting, however, that there were one or two bosses that I was able to conquer on my first try. Keen preparation, perhaps? Or tangible proof that Nioh 2 is easier than its predecessor? Despite my successes, I’m more inclined to believe it’s the former rather than the latter, though this never happened with me in the original Nioh.
When you’re not in the main missions, Nioh 2 offers a range of other missions to carry out. While they do tend to reuse levels that you’ve already visited, they often have a fun twist on them that makes them worth running through again – remixing enemies and/or your path to feel unique enough. Twilight missions return too; these time-sensitive missions pit you against enemies far above your level but offer you gear that makes it well worth it. With some of the primary levels taking a few hours to finish, the side missions offer a great way to get a quick fix without embarking on a longer primary mission.
Besides your equipment and weapons, Nioh 2 also offers several large skill trees that allow you to expand your combos with each of your weapons as well as unlock new magic spells and ninja skills. Encouraging experimentation, these abilities aren’t unlocked by standard experience – and instead are tied to your use of whatever you’re trying to level up. Keen to learn more magic? Start using it and you’ll earn points to spend in that skill tree. Want to try out dual katanas rather than a single sword? Start using one, and you’ll earn skill points for that tree. It’s a great system that gives you the flexibility to change up your build as you see fit without you levelling up and leaving other styles behind.
As an optional way to alleviate some of the pain that Nioh 2’s difficulty may bring, you can summon help to varying effects. Other players can place a benevolent grave in the game world for you to summon to yours as an AI-controlled companion. It’s helpful, especially when exploring more casually, but doesn’t help all that much against most major boss battles. You can also call for help from a human player at any shrine or even tackle a full mission together in expedition mode, though the latter will instantly fail the team if a single team member dies too often. Still, three-player co-op in a game like this means that Nioh 2 remains peerless thus far.
Nioh 2 is visually quite like Nioh, which is perhaps where all the debate comes from as to whether this is a fully-fledged sequel or not. From the get-go, it’s obvious the game should be played in Action Mode, prioritising a silky smooth sixty frames per second rather than a choppy 4K image. While Nioh 2 does look like Nioh, it’s clear the artistic direction has been changed up to be a bit more colourful and vibrant. It’s not the best-looking game, by any means, but it manages to hit that sweet spot between rock-solid performance while still having some great looking visuals.
What took me most by surprise with Nioh 2, however, was the score. An epic and sweeping orchestral set, each track provides an intense and cinematic backdrop to each major battle. Such a score quickly elevates the general feel of the game from something that’s already admittedly quite epic into something big budget.
At the end of this all, though, one must ask just how much of Nioh 2 is a new experience. The game boasts two new weapon types, the addition of the dark realm, and a character creator that’s simply shocking in how detailed it is. Add to this the fact that the game still manages to refine Nioh’s already strong combat mechanics with the yokai shift and offer all of this across a new breadth of missions, it’s hard to deny that Nioh 2 is a worthy successor.
THE PLAYSTATION VERSION OF THIS GAME WAS PLAYED ON A PLAYSTATION 4 PRO FOR THE PURPOSE OF THIS REVIEW. DIGITAL REVIEW CODE WAS PROVIDED BY THE PUBLISHER.
Nioh 2 brings together everything that was great about the original Nioh and builds upon it. The yokai form, while flashy, does little to diminish the challenge and instead adds a fun new dynamic to an already engrossing flow of combat. While it might not look as such, Nioh 2 is a fantastic sequel and one that action fans shouldn’t miss.