The original Nioh did something that a lot of developers have tried and failed to do: offer a Souls-like experience that replicates the quality of FROM Software’s many masterpieces whilst also managing to offer unique and deep mechanics of its own. It was equally as tough too, though some might say it was even MORE challenging in places (I still haven’t forgotten the many frustrations that came with battling Hino-Enma). With an already strong foundation set in place, I’d been eagerly anticipating the release of Nioh 2 and seeing what Team Ninja would do to improve upon the already excellent original.
I’m happy to report that not only does Nioh 2 offer more of what made the first game so good to begin with, but it also manages to bring improvements to the table thanks to its ultra-satisfying combat mechanics, its epic showdowns with the hordes of menacing and deadly foes, and the addition of a fleshed out online co-op mechanic.
Nioh 2 acts as a prequel to the original game, with the action now taking place in 1555 but remaining in the same Feudal Japan setting. Whilst the time may be different, a lot remains the same as far as the story is concerned – it offers a tale that’s based on real historical events, but jazzes it up by bringing demonic yokai into the fold. However, you don’t start out in a prison cell in London nor do you have a pre-set character this time around, but you can actually customise your own unique mercenary as you head on a deadly journey across Japan.
In most ways, a lot of the basic combat mechanics in Nioh 2 feel the same way that they did in its predecessor. You’ll still utilise different stances in combat to focus on high, middle, and low attacks, whilst switching between the three is also imperative when playing defensively and avoiding incoming attacks. There are also a wide variety of weapons to use in the game that each bring with them pros and cons, with standard swords, bows, axes and spears joined by new additions such as the hatchets, tonfa, and the impressive switchglaive. That switchglaive is actually one of my favourite weapons in the game, with its scythe-like appearance making it feel like something that that has come straight out of Bloodborne – the fact that it’s fun to use and can switch forms mid-combat makes it feel particularly special.
You’re able to switch your weapon load-outs on the fly a la Dark Souls, with certain weapons better suited for different situations or specific enemies. It adds a tactical edge to the game that doesn’t just limit you to one weapon type but instead gives you the fluidity to flip styles mid-battle, which won’t only help you get out of tricky situations but feels super slick in combat too. Ultimately, your weapon selection will come down to your own playstyle, with no right or wrong choice to be made as far as your equipment is concerned. With the rich selection of weaponry at your disposal though, Nioh 2 offers plenty of room for flexibility and it’s certainly worth tinkering around with them all to decide what works best for you, especially since you’re able to invest your earned skill points into specific weapon types.
The standard combat formula will certainly feel familiar to returning Nioh players, but the sequel does make one big change. This time around, your character is part-yokai, which brings with it some all-new abilities that redefine how combat plays in the game.
The most significant of those abilities is the Burst Counter, which allows you to counter an incoming enemy attack and dish out some heavy damage of your own. The Burst Counter is used against special unblockable attacks that enemies perform against you, each of which is marked with a red flash – if you get caught by it, you can expect to take a horrendous amount of damage. However, if you hit R2 and circle at the right moment, you’ll counter it and set yourself up to unleash some hurt of your own. It’s a simple mechanic in theory, but you’ll need perfect timing and a bit of practice to absolutely nail the process. The Burst Counter is simply a game-changer in Nioh 2 and not only does it change up the flow of combat by offering an extra boost for those who manage to utilise an effective defence, but it also just so happens to feel incredibly satisfying to pull off. Pro tip: make sure you master the Burst Counter early…
You’re also able to absorb the abilities of certain yokai, which doesn’t only grant you a stat boost when equipped but also gives you access to powerful attacks. These attacks are some of Nioh 2’s most spectacular, both visually and as far as dishing out the hurt is concerned, so their use can be vital to your progress. However, they can’t be used freely and will take some recharging, so you have to be efficient with their use and save them for those life-or-death situations where having an extra trick up your sleeve will let you live on another day. There are plenty of different options as far as these abilities are concerned though, so don’t be surprised if you find yourself toying around with them for some time with each that you unlock.
Last but not least is the Yokai Shift, a special ability which allows you to transform into a unique yokai form, giving you a cool demon-like appearance and granting you all-new attacks to unleash upon your enemies. The form you take varies based upon the Spirit Guardian that you have equipped, which allows you to cater your transformation to your playstyle – I liked to focus on attack power so the ‘Brute’ form worked for me, but those who focus on combos may prefer the ‘Feral’ form or alternatively the ‘Phantom’ form if they like to battle from range.
No matter what yokai ability you use, there’s no doubt that they add a unique and satisfying twist to Nioh 2’s combat that helps set it apart from other titles in the genre. So many titles try to replicate the tried-and-tested Souls-like formula, but there’s a real distinction that comes with Nioh 2’s combat mechanics that ensure it not only remains satisfying throughout but continually offers fresh additions for players to utilise. It’s brilliant stuff and undoubtedly offers some of the best combat mechanics I’ve seen in a video game for some time.
This is especially apparent in the game’s boss encounters, which act as a brilliant way to cap off each mission as you face off against vicious foes in what are typically epic showdowns. Not only do they encourage you to adapt new tactics that help you exploit the weaknesses of said boss, but they also force you to learn each boss’ move patterns and understand the exact moment where you can exploit them to inflict damage. It’s the tried-and-tested formula that we’ve seen so many times in the genre, but it never stops feeling rewarding to see that nasty boss’ health bar dwindle down as you carefully strike them with attacks.
They also provide quite a spectacle, with the boss encounters both large in scale and featuring some truly monstrous designs that are based on Japanese folklore. They just feel epic to take on, and whilst some bosses do feel a little inconsistent in difficulty (you’ll hit some nasty progress blockers as well as those that go down without a fuss throughout the game), each victory feels incredibly rewarding and will keep you motivated to carry on battling through Nioh 2’s story.
So we’ve established that a lot of Nioh 2’s boss encounters are tricky, but I actually found that the standard enemies were more threatening than in the game’s predecessor. Sure, Souls-like titles are known for bringing enemies and traps into the fray that can cause many, MANY deaths, but there was an extra element of danger this time around that forced absolute concentration when battling even the most goon-like of enemies. It’s as if the set-pieces in the game are more formulated to catch you off guard, with enemies rarely patrolling alone and a real sense of observation required by the player to scour their environment and make sure that they’re aware of all potential threats. It might sound intimidating, but it actually makes for a more intense experience where you’re constantly kept on your toes.
It’s something that can become easier the more you play the game though, especially when you fully understand the fundamentals behind your yokai abilities and can dish out Burst Counters with minimal fuss. This is a very tough game and you’ll need a whole lot of grit to get through it, but you will never feel ill-equipped for the challenges ahead, even if you do feel like giving up after suffering your twentieth death in a row at the hand of some vicious enemy that’s hiding around the corner…
Whilst Nioh 2 is tough as nails, it can be made easier thanks to the addition of a more fleshed out online co-op mode that allows you to tackle any mission in the game with up to two additional players. Now this does technically increase the difficulty of each mission so it never becomes a cake walk, but having extra players to help you out doesn’t only make some bosses a bit easier to take down but it also makes the whole experience a lot more fun. Nioh 2’s gameplay lends itself to co-op play surprisingly well thanks to the fairly large environments that offer multiple routes, so playing together tactically and planning out every player’s role carefully makes for an amazing time – I’d even go as far as saying it’s even better than playing solo. It’s something that will certainly keep me playing Nioh 2 for some time and I can’t wait to see what extra content Team Ninja will bring to the game in the future that I’ll get to enjoy with my yokai-powered buddies.
I already knew I was going to enjoy Nioh 2 after loving the original, but even I didn’t expect to be so blown away by all of the improvements that have been brought to the experience this time around. Between the super satisfying combat, the brilliantly implemented yokai abilities, the stand out battles with the deadly enemies, and the fun online co-op, Nioh 2 seems to have everything. Simply put, it’s the best game I’ve played so far this year.
Nioh 2 offers an outstanding action-experience that improves upon the original game in almost every way – the PlayStation 4 has yet another amazing console-exclusive to welcome into gamer’s lives.
Developer: Team Ninja
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Platform(s): PlayStation 4