Review – Nioh 2
It’s only been a little over three years since the launch of the original Nioh and I remember it well not only because it was fantastic, but because it was only the sixth review Way Too Many Games wrote. Leo Faria (creator of this site) was the author of that review and it’s interesting going back and reading it now because it has a lot of the same sentiments I also felt while playing it back then. I remember commenting on his review, before I was even a writer here, saying Nioh felt a bit easy overall. Well, now the sequel is out and it excels in a lot of areas the first stumbled and falls short of the original as well in some parts. I will say, however, I won’t be commenting that Nioh 2 feels “too easy” again.
Where Nioh 2 mainly falls short is with the story itself. Not that the story is bad, but Team Ninja went with a different approach that I felt didn’t pull me in as much. In Nioh you played as William, who was English and given a task from Queen Elizabeth I to gather Amrita from Japan. Imprisoned to keep the secret of Amrita safe, he is then broken out by a Water Guardian Spirit from his youth, but is confronted by Edward Kelley who seeks the power from the Amrita for evil.
Edward steals Williams Guardian Spirit and runs off to Japan with William in pursuit. The story of this Westerner getting thrust into fuedel Japan was more engaging for me personally. You also had a clear protagonist and antagonist you can root and boo at through the story. Nioh 2 gets rid of this structure and lets you customize a character and you play as a silent protagonist with no voice over or thoughts of his own. Especially in the beginning, the story was really letting me down because you’re essentially just a demon killer for hire.
Of course the story develops to be more interesting as it goes and it still follows some real life characters from that era. However, my character was not what I was most interested in. It’s all of the other characters around you that have personality and story, while you’re just observing and helping. That being said, your character’s story does develop more as the game progresses, thankfully. You play as a half human, half Yokai who are also called “Shiftlings”, and this also plays an important role in the new combat mechanics.
When it comes to the general gameplay of Nioh 2, it is very reminiscent of the first game in many ways. This could lead to some feelings of it becoming stale, or if you didn’t like the combat, you won’t like it here. Luckily, the additions and tweaks were enough to add plenty to the combat systems, but remain familiar to those returning. The largest addition is the fact you’re a Shiftling and can turn into a Yokai as well as harness the power of other Yokai. The original Nioh allowed you to harness various Guardian Spirits that granted you a special attack, but Nioh 2 brings it to a new level.
Enemies now have a chance to drop a Soul Core which contains a part of that Yokai’s abilities and attacks. Not only can you equip a Guardian Spirit, but you can also imbue your Spirit with additional Soul Cores to enhance it and broaden your special attacks. This was a bit of a double edged sword for me since I really enjoy this added gameplay mechanic, but it also means you’ll be killing a lot of the same larger enemies. Not to say there isn’t a large variety of enemies, but when it introduces a new bigger enemy, you’ll likely be fighting multiple of them per mission from there on out.
This is done so you can collect enough of the Soul Cores to enhance them by fusing the same monsters Cores together. As well as continuously swapping them out for higher level versions with better stats. You will be swapping these Cores out for better versions as much as your weapons and armor. It can feel like an added bloated mechanic to the already extremely intricate systems at play.
Another major feature is that you will also be able to turn into a Yokai for a short period of time. There are now three types of Guardian Spirits: Feral, Brute, and Phantom. Each class has their own type of perks to your stats, and each Spirit within these classes all provide additional perks. The reason these have classes now is for the skill set given to you when you shift to a Yokai. Each class has their own moves and perks and it really depends on your play style as to which one you may like.
Regardless of what class or Spirit or Soul Cores you equip, all of them share the new move called a Burst Counter. Enemies in Nioh 2 all have an extremely brutal charge attack that are pretty much one hit kills. When they’re about to launch this attack they will shine brightly a red color as they charge up and if you time your Burst Counter properly you can do major physical and Ki damage. If you miss time your Burst Counter and only block these attacks you will automatically be stunned, and if you don’t do either, you’ll probably die.
As I said in the first paragraph, Nioh 2 is harder than its predecessor, but not in a cheap way. Sure you can argue having a one hit kill type move is unfair, but it gives you the abilities to counter it. Perhaps it’s not the game, but your build, or you may just need to get use to the timing of each enemies attacks. Every new enemy has a high chance of killing you, but after the tenth time fighting them you can easily judge their attacks and patterns. There are plenty of ways to make your fights fair, but you may need to find the combination that fits you.
Much like the first game, there are a lot of combinations and I don’t blame anyone who may need to reset their stats to try something else. This is also why I love these games though. Team Ninja gives you a hundred options and lets the player figure out what best fits them. Do you want to play defensively with Ninjutsu tecnhiques, using caltrops and shurikens to keep enemies at bay? Or perhaps you rather use magic to stun enemies with lighting bolts and slow them down with a sloth talisman?
These are just a small handful of options that have nothing to even do with your normal combat either. There are a wealth of weapons and armor types that you can choose from, and all of them have their own upgrade paths, perks, and unlockable combos. It would be impossible to master all of them, but you are able to reset skills if you decide that Dexterity build with the Kusarigamas isn’t what you want. Instead you’d like to go full heavy armor, with a giant axe. It would take additional articles to go into the full depth of the options avaliable here, but Team Ninja has done a fantastic job adapting their combat styles into Soulslike gameplay.
Outside of these major changes there has been a few tweaks here and there, but for the most part it is similar. The overworld structure remains the same with having side missions, main missions, Twilight Missions, Dojo, blacksmith, and of course the Kodama Shrines and perks. The Teahouse clan battles also make a return here where you can pick a clan to join and earn points in battles to hopefully win items. Summoning real players, as well as AI helpers, or AI enemies function the same as well. However, It did feel like summoning an actual co-op partner took a long time or more often than not it would fail and I would settle for an AI.
One aspect of the gameplay that I wish could have been improved on was the stealth. This may be because Sekiro did it so well, but as a stealth and dexterity type player, there were so many times I wanted to crouch and back stab enemies. Or hug a wall and do a corner strike, or whistle to get an enemies attention, or be able to use grappling hooks to move around a bit more. I understand that the level of movement a grappling hook requires could drastically alter the foundation of the game, but I felt it was missing. You do unlock some stealth Ninjutsu, Magic, and back stab moves like invisibility and quieter footsteps, but being decked out in full Ninja gear I didn’t feel enough like a Ninja.
The structure of the missions carry on the high quality from the first title, but some can feel a bit “been there, done that”. Going through a Yokai ravaged burning fuedal Japanese town gave a bit of daija vu. However, there is an addition to the levels that does change up your strategy throughout. There will be a section of the maps that are submerged in the Dark Realm, this is essentially full sections of the map that give the same debuff to you and buff to Yokai, as the Yokai realm pools from the first one. Enemies will be much stronger in these sections and you can’t clear it until you kill the main Yokai of that section. Typically these are buffed up versions of the larger Yokai you have already been fighting.
Like the first Nioh the boss fights range from massive impressive looking beasts, to normal Generals of a rival clan or army. There is a good variety of bosses and all of them have their own unique challenges and attacks to overcome. With the addition to Burst Counter, Yokai Shifts, and bosses being able to turn the arena into the Dark Realm; Nioh 2 adds an extra layer of obstacles and strategy to its boss fights.
Playing on the PS4 Pro I had the option to decide on performance or resolution, and with a game like this, a high and steady framerate is a must. I’m happy to say that on performance mode I didn’t notice any frame drops that hampered the gameplay or ruined any clutch moments. It may not be the best looking game out there up close, but with its sharp art style and bursts of colors, it looks great with HDR as well. The wonderfully detailed mix of feudal japan and Yokai realm lore makes for some really great levels and the various enemy models are well done. There are adorable little Scampusses and Kodama to nasty looking looking Yokai straight from nightmares. The various items, weapons, and armor types all have a very sharp look and have a ton of design variety as well.
Sound design is also well done through and through. There are some audio issues with enemies sounding close to you even though they are in another room or around a corner. However, the various sound effects from combat, different types of weapons, growls and moans from enemies, are all fantastic and absorb you in. The soundtrack also appropriately rises to the occasion when there is a boss fight or you get low on life and things get intense. But it also knows when to scale back and allow for more standard adventure tunes. I did play with subtitles so I can only say that the tone and feel of the Japanese voice over always matched what was on screen and didn’t feel out of place.
Nioh 2 is an extremely well done sequel that adds enough to an already complex combat system, but not too much to make systems redundant or cumbersome. The changes aren’t drastic, and this may lead to some feeling like it feels too similar, but the first game already had fantastic gameplay variety. Nioh was one of my favorite Soulslike in 2017, and Nioh 2 continues that success and makes me wish other Soulslike’s would take note. There are still room for improvements in the gameplay, maybe fleshing out more of its systems rather than adding in additional bulk, but Nioh 2 is peak Soulslike.
The overall visuals aren’t impressive, but the fantastic designs and style of the levels and enemies are fantastic.
Nioh 2 is about as close to perfect as these kind of action RPG’s have gotten. The sheer amount of variety of styles and combo’s puts Souls games to shame, but there is still room to improve.
The soundtrack is well done with a variety of songs that rise when things get intense and settle during calm times. The voice acting is well done as well as the various sound effects.
There is a lot of content in this package and the story picks up nicely even if it didn’t intrigue me as much as the first. The gameplay is great, but the recycling of larger enemies can feel a bit repetitive.
Final Verdict: 9.0
Nioh 2 is available now on PlayStation 4.
Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro.