First of all, I have to admit that this is my first experience with the Nioh franchise. Furthermore, at most, I have played the first Dark Souls game for about 20 hours, so I’m far from being an expert in this type of game. With that being said, I honestly couldn’t have been more thrilled as I played through Nioh 2 and experienced the brilliance of such a hardcore genre for the first time.
Despite being a sequel, Nioh 2 is actually a prequel to the first game, at least for the most part. From what I can tell, only the very last couple of missions from Nioh 2 actually take place after the first game, and they might potentially spoil one thing or another. Nevertheless, I didn’t feel lost or anything like that when I got to that point. I’m glad I did the research beforehand and went into this sequel blind. If you’re reading this and you’re on the same boat, then I honestly think you have nothing to worry about.
Nioh 2 is an ARPG set in Japan during the Sengoku Period, where players fight off against relentless hosts of yokai and humans. It’s a game with a tremendous focus on individual skill, and it’s also a game that offers players a vast array of possibilities in terms of coming up with different character builds. Whether you want to develop your character towards a slow but hard-hitting playstyle with something like an odachi or a battle axe, or whether you prefer something more akin to dual-wielding swords or tonfa that allows for a more fast-paced combat style, Nioh 2 certainly has you covered.
The customization aspect of Nioh 2 doesn’t end with the type of weapons that you choose to focus on though. There are also different types of armour that either favour you in terms of speed or defence, as well as yokai abilities that provide you with unique powers that can change the tide of a battle and save you in crucial moments. Not to mention, there’re also plenty of consumables ranging from damage resistance boosters to elemental damage imbuing scrolls, to even bombs, shurikens, and kunai. The best thing though, is the fact that you can even turn yourself into three different yokai forms temporarily, which grant you otherworldy abilities. Then there’re also ranged weapons, which are rather limited, with there only being bows, rifles, and hand cannons, but they still have their rightful place in everyone’s arsenal.
The coolest thing that made me really appreciate the depth of Nioh 2’s combat was not only the number of ways in which you can approach it but how flexible it is. Even late in the game, you can choose to switch your weapons of choice if you feel like it. The gear stats are more important than your individual stats, so you can totally make numerous viable builds even if you spent most of the game building your character towards a specific path. The game really rewards that kind of experimentation, and I found myself being able to get specific bosses where I was stuck, by simply changing my main weapon and learning how to move around and fight with it.
While most games might just give players a wide range of equipment and abilities to use, Nioh 2 goes even further with its combat complexity thanks to the use of stances. There are three of them, high, mid, and low, and they vastly change how fast you can move around and they fundamentally change how each weapon type behaves. In a lot of cases, being able to instantly switch between them in the middle of a tough fight can save your life. While the high stance allows you to unleash devastating attacks, they’re really slow and consume tons of stamina. On the other hand, the low stance favours speed but doesn’t really give allow you to deal much damage, but it does excel in triggered status effects on enemies. Meanwhile, the mid stance strikes a balance between the two, strengthening your ability to block attacks while also allowing you to execute more wide attack moves. The most optimal stance will always depend on what kind of enemy you’re facing, so while you can just play the game always using the same stance, if you master this system, you’re pretty much unstoppable.
If you’ve played the first game, then you probably already know this, but I was extremely surprised to see how much Nioh rewards aggressive playstyles rather than a patient approach. Don’t get me wrong though, being overconfident and relentlessly striking your opponents without backing away can prove fatal, but it all boils down to stamina management. It’s vital that you first learn your opponents’ movesets, and then you use that knowledge to exploit openings in their attack patterns so that you can get the better of them. If you manage to continuously hit your adversary, you will eventually deplete their stamina and you’ll be able to deal a lot more damage to them. Likewise, if you keep blocking enemy attacks or you’re repeatedly attacking, you can also run out of stamina and leave yourself exposed to your enemies.
Nioh 2’s combat is all about keeping a healthy balance between knowing when to run and when to dodge, and knowing when you should hit hard and when to pull back. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t die countless times to bosses and even some regular enemies, but it’s all part of the learning process. The game can be extremely frustrating, but once you finally pull through and manage to overcome a roadblock, the satisfaction is immeasurable. To master the stamina system, you must learn the ways of pulsing, which is essentially timing a button press shortly after you execute any series of attacks. If you’re successful, you can regain a good chunk of stamina back while the enemy is still recovering.
Now, truth be told, while the game keeps getting progressively harder and harder, especially in the DLCs that are included in the Complete Edition, once I got the hang of the game, I breeze through most of the game’s bosses. I’m not sure if I just picked the right weapons for me, a combo of an odachi and an axe, but even the colossal yokai bosses, which are masterfully done and came into play in battles of epic proportions, still felt relatively easy. Nevertheless, some bosses did feel like they represented massive spikes in difficulty for me, and after beating them the game went back to being perfectly manageable.
Still, although the smooth and continuous execution of attack combos by enemies can look stunning, there are plenty of human enemies that just seem to stand still while getting repeatedly attacked. I found this to be particularly common with revenants – the AI-controlled player avatars that you can summon to your world and fight. However, some human bosses also seemed to exhibit this kind of behaviour. I’m not sure how accurate it is, but it always felt like some sort of a bug, where the AI would simply stop responding accordingly to my attacks. Regardless, it’s a really minor thing and it isn’t prevalent throughout most of the game.
In contrast to other games like, let’s say, Dark Souls, Nioh is a much more linear game. All the action starts from the world map of Japan, where you get to pick your next mission, whether that be to advance through the main story questline, or to delve deeper into the game’s world through its numerous side missions. In the map, you can also visit your safehouse to craft new equipment or improve the one that you already have, as well as manage your massive collection of gear that you’ll surely accrue throughout your journey. The map pretty much serves as a hub for all things character-related and anything that you’d expect from a typical RPG.
Now, Nioh’s mission structure is definitely pretty linear, but it works beautifully. The levels are carefully designed and there’s a tremendous attention to detail. Most levels don’t feel like a corridor like most linear games, they feel more like semi-open areas where you slowly unlock shortcuts and explore small branching paths that hide some kind of rewards. With that being said, main missions can be pretty long, going up to 2 hours if you don’t die too much, with side missions usually taking about 40 minutes or so to go through. In any case, the pacing of the game is kept together thanks to the various shrines spread throughout the levels where you can replenish your consumables, level up your character, and even sacrifice items in exchange for loot. This is obviously fairly important to keep in mind, because if you die and fail to make it back to where you perished, you’ll lose all your experience and you’ll have to start grinding it back again to level up once more.
It’s worth noting that you’ll be revisiting some areas, at least that’s assuming that you’ll play through the side missions as well, which I honestly found to be worth diving into. However, when you revisit previous areas, they’ve usually changed in one way or another, like by blocking certain paths or by adding new enemies. It honestly didn’t feel like recycled content. Although main missions tend to present the best moments in the game, partially due to having a major unique boss at the end, the optional content still provides plenty of value. The side missions do help in deepening your understanding of the world and its characters, but they’re really there to help you acquire more gear and to level up your character faster.
In terms of the story, I’m afraid I didn’t find it to be that engaging, and I had trouble keeping track of all the characters’ names, but perhaps that’s just because I’m not really knowledgeable in Japanese history and culture. Furthermore, the story felt a bit rushed towards the end of the main campaign. Nonetheless, although it is enjoyable, the story isn’t really why you should be playing the game. That would be the gameplay.
As a whole, the game just plays so smoothly and everything is so wonderful to look at in motion that I honestly struggle to let its few issues get in the way of a strong recommendation for fans of the genre. The boss designs are absolutely superb, but overall, every single yokai in the game is terrifying in its own way. The game always managed to surprise me whenever it introduced me to a new boss, which is usually done through a cutscene once you enter their arena. It always makes you fear for your life and wonder how long it will take you before you finally manage to beat the bloody thing.
Nioh 2 The Complete Edition includes the 3 DLCs that were released for the main game, The Tengu’s Desciple, Darkness in the Capital, and The First Samurai, and I’m honestly glad that they’re not an optional purchase. Although they’re all their own self-contained adventures in new regions and introduce new enemies, they all continue the player’s story that ended with the last main mission of the main game. That isn’t to say that the base game ends abruptly or leaves loose ends, quite on the contrary, but having played the DLCs, I’m thankful that I did as it provided a much more satisfying conclusion to the overarching story.
It took me roughly 100 hours to complete the main game and its three DLCs, and despite a few moments of frustration, I’m really happy that I got to the end of it. It was such a hectic and satisfying experience, and I’m really glad that I gave the game a chance. With this being my first adventure into this beloved and polarizing genre, I honestly think that Nioh 2 was the right call to get started. It’s not perfect, but it’s definitely pretty good.
Whether you just want to play through the story once or beat the game multiple times by increasing the difficulty, or if you just want to play through the game with the help of another player’s spirit, then Nioh has definitely got you covered. If you were ever intimidated by this kind of game, I think that Nioh 2 provides the right tools for players to slowly get the hang of it and achieve a great sense of fulfilment when the game finally clicks for them. I highly recommend it.