Nioh took me by surprise back when it released in 2017. Due to it being stuck in development hell for several years, my expectations for it at the time were low. Seeing as it also took clear influences from Dark Souls, I expected it to be just another clone, but even just mentioning its Soulslike flavour now feels wrong as it did so much to differentiate itself that it managed to stand firmly on its own two feet.
It easily became one of my favourite games of the year and even this generation. So I naturally had high expectations for the sequel and while it may not be as magical as when I played the first game, it’s still a pretty damn good time.
Nioh 2’s story takes place sometime before the events of the original game. You no longer play as William Adams, instead you take on the role of a player-created half-human and half-demon, being known as a Shiftling. You spend your days hunting demons or as they’re known here; Yokai. That is until you meet a man by the name of Tokichiro who convinces you to join him on a journey as he tries to find more to life than being a simple peddler of wares.
The story in Nioh 2 is based on the exploits of Hideyoshi Toyotomi who was known as the “Great Unifier” of Japan. What’s interesting is that he’s portrayed as two people here, namely you as the protagonist and your partner Tokichiro. The narrative is presented in much of the same way as the first game, leaving a lot of the finer details to be pieced together by the player but I found it to be easier to follow, mostly due to the fact that Tokichiro is a really lovable character and because you’re not directly playing as him, you get to experience his story and those around you with an outsider’s perspective.
There is some intrigue surrounding your backstory, but I found it more fascinating to see Tokichiro gain favour with figures such as a young Oda Nobunaga. You don’t really see many portrayals of Nobunaga in his early days, so I really enjoyed the way they set up the story. The Japanese voice acting is also incredible.
Nioh 2, for the most part, is structured in pretty much the same way as the original. You choose from a variety of missions on an overworld map and once started you’re transported to largely self-contained levels. There’s no real objective other than to make it to the end while cutting down hordes of Yokai.
Being structurally identical to the original game isn’t a problem in and of itself as honestly, the gameplay is the main hook, but unfortunately, the levels themselves feel way too much like the first game. There are the usual rural villages, underground mines and caves, and I couldn’t shake this feeling that I had seen it all before which led to a certain degree of fatigue during long play sessions.
It does get a bit better later, but this was a problem I had felt when I first played the original’s DLC as environments started melding together in my mind. Thankfully the levels themselves are much better designed this time around with a much bigger emphasis on verticality and interconnectedness leading to some satisfying moments of exploration.
The best part of Nioh has always been its deep combat system and that has remained largely the same as well, though it’s not without a bunch of cool and interesting new mechanics. Stances make a return with you being able to switch between a fast and quick attacking low stance, a slow but powerful high stance and balanced mid stance. You can switch between these stances on the fly and it is as fun as I remember it to be.
While it may seem overwhelming to a new player, once you get used to the management of your stances it becomes a blast making snappy decisions that could either result in your victory or death. Much the like the first game, Nioh 2 makes smart decisions in how it ties its customisation into the core mechanics.
For instance, Ki pulses, which is a move that restores an amount of Ki (or stamina) with a timed button press of the block button, can be incorporated into dodging and even switching stances. This allows you to maintain a fast but graceful flow of combat where you can manage your Ki by not just blocking but by staying nimble and experimenting with different styles of fighting. Nioh 2 goes even further by throwing in the new Yokai Skills and Yokai Shift mechanics into the mix.
Being a half-Yokai Shiftling, you can harness the power of these Japanese folklore creatures by not just transforming into one but by absorbing the powers of others. Yokai Shift is the new replacement of Nioh’s Living Weapon system, allowing your weapon to become imbued with the power of a guardian spirit. You can now transform into one of three different Yokai forms when a special gauge is filled up: Brute is focused on parrying and dealing heavy damage to enemies while Feral specializes in speed and Phantom is all about ranged attacks and teleportation.
Choosing which form to use ultimately depends on your playstyle as each one not only handles differently but has their own set of bonuses based around your build and stats. While Shifting is generally something you reserve for boss battles Yokai Skills are used more in moment to moment combat.
If I had to compare this system to something else I would say that it reminds me of the Tactical Soul System found in both Castlevania Aria of Sorrow and Dawn of Sorrow wherein you absorb the souls of fallen enemies and are able to use their special abilities. Here, the Soul Cores of defeated Yokai allows you to attune their abilities to your equipped guardian spirit which you can use in combat by expending your Anima.
While this came across as gimmicky at the start, I quickly became addicted to collecting Soul Cores as not only can the abilities shift the tide of battle but like Yokai Forms, each one has their own set of bonuses that affect your character build. It’s a great addition that adds a lot to how you approach combat and while it’s not a monumental change it does help to keep the overall combat in Nioh 2 exciting. I think the smartest thing they could’ve done was make this system part of the character-building process because if it’s one thing this game excels at, it’s character customisation and loot.
There is something inherently addictive about collecting loot in games and with Nioh 2 it’s no exception. What it does well is that it provides the player with a great level of flexibility when it comes to building your character. Each piece of gear has its own set of stats, bonuses and special effects and while generally in most games higher level gear with better stats always take preference, here, you have to have to a holistic approach in deciding on your loadout as gear bonuses are as, or even more important, than raw stats.
The great thing, however, is that you can recycle loot to raise the levels of underpowered gear and even mutate its pre-set list of bonuses. For someone like me who gets really engrossed in min-maxing this was an absolute dream and while this was all present in the original game, I’m glad they took the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix’ approach.
This isn’t to say that nothing new was added though as you now get two special types of weapons known as Yokai and Blessed weapons. Yokai weapons cause a human enemy to accumulate Corruption each time you attack them which results in them taking more Ki damage while Blessed does the same but for Yokai.
They also have what is known as a Sentience gauge, and once full it enters an Awakened state temporarily granting it more power. What I appreciate the most about these weapons is that they look really cool and getting one is always exciting as other weapons tend to look the same after a while. While I don’t really have any problems with the loot system, the skill tree is kind of disappointing.
Firstly, the presentation of the skill tree this time around is so much better than the first game. It looks like Final Fantasy X’s Sphere Grid making it easier to follow each node in an individual tree. The problem I have however is that much like the environments, the skills you can learn feels like a rehash of the first game. Actually, they are just reused from the original and yes, there are new ones present, but they don’t do enough to really stand out.
Take the new katana skill, Sword of Celerity for instance, which does a burst of Ki followed by a barrage of sword slashes in a forward momentum. While it’s a cool move, the returning Night Rain and Flowing Shadow also boils down to a bunch of sword slashes. For a game with so much freedom in its character building, I expected a bit more to play around with. Thankfully, the two new weapon types, Swicthglaive and Hatchets were a lot of fun and brought much needed variety to the experience.
That said, I decided to main the Switchglaive as it’s the first weapon to scale with your magic, but Omnyo Magic as it’s called here isn’t all that strong which is strange given that there’s a dedicated weapon for it now. It is nice however to have a weapon get stronger as I poured points into this stat as it allowed me to use more defensive spells and buffs which greatly aided me in some of the tougher battles in the game.
When it comes to sequels it’s sometimes hard to tell just how much needs to change for it to feel like a fresh experience. With Nioh 2, there are times where it feels like it’s taking a few steps forward but then suddenly it steps to the side as I get this familiar feeling that I’ve played it all before. But is it really that much of a bad thing when the fun you’re having now is just more of the same fun you had three years ago? It might not be as exciting and fresh as when the original came out and it’s not going to leave a lasting impression on me, but it’s still one hell of an addictive and enjoyable ride.
Last Updated: March 11, 2020