Climbing back up after a fall can be hard. Try doing that for hundreds of times and still feeling good about it, that is exactly how Team Ninja’s Nioh 2 feels like, even after dozens of hours of victories and deaths.
Every encounter is a test, every death is a moment of reflection, and every victory tastes as sweet as the first, Nioh 2 takes everything from the first game and ups the ante for an action role-playing joint. The result is a magnificent game of nuance, precise combat, and a true challenge of one’s perseverance and willingness to learn.
Whereas the first game was the tale of Western samurai William, Nioh 2 places the power in the hands of the nameless player. Creating your own supernaturally-charged hero/heroine gives you even more reason to care right off the bat, and with the silent protagonist still a thing, you are not losing much from the change. That, and the degree at which you can mould and shape the character of your dreams with the powerful character creator will already have reeled the hardcore in.
Serving as a prequel, Nioh 2 is not exactly a tour de force in the storytelling department. Granted, it elicits more of an investment than Nioh and William’s story, but the characters involved often pales in comparison to the bigger story at play.
Expect plenty of exposition that can fly over your head if you are not into reading up about the lore. There is plenty to love about the work that went into creating this universe, you just have to purposely jump into it. The many stories of the Yokai, or supernatural monsters, that inhabit Nioh 2 are actually quite interesting, and not just useful for your next combat encounter.
Of course, Nioh 2 is nothing if not an impressive showing of combat. Take away all the bells and whistles of a story and the combat still stands tall on its own. In addition to the already stellar weapon-based combat, the new entry mixes things up with the new equippable Yokai skills.
Like the recent Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night or even Castlevania games, enemies have the chance of dropping a Soul Core upon death. Get these purified at a shrine, and you now have the very same move to use against these monsters. Not only does this add an increasingly alluring loot type to collect, but the added layer of strategy makes combat even more nuanced.
Rather than waste arrows or bullets, you can channel your inner Enki and unleash a powerful spear throw from afar. When you are up close, the sword-swinging Yoki’s grapple can deal a ton of damage and give you an advantage straight away. Even the many daunting bosses of Nioh 2 will drop these Soul Cores, granting increasingly powerful abilities that come in handy for every situation.
You most certainly cannot be spamming these attacks, and they are restricted by a cooldown and the use of the new Anima meter. However, a constant mixture of physical combat and smart defence will help build up that meter quickly, allowing you to utilise your Yokai skills once more.
This is extremely important, as Nioh 2’s new Burst Counters require Anima as well, and are key to your survival. Each enemy in the game can now perform extremely dangerous and damaging attacks bathed in a red aura. See those coming and you should be preparing a Burst Counter. Time it right before an enemy hits you and you can stun them for a moment while dealing a considerable amount of Ki damage. Whittle down their Ki even more, and you are on the cusp of sustained damage without fear of reprisal.
The fact that each foe can be one red-aura attack away from ending you ratchets up the tension in Nioh 2 even more. The sooner you master the ways of the Burst Counters, the faster you will learn that an enemy who overreaches is a prey waiting to be devoured by you. This cycle of suffering, learning, and mastery is but one way Nioh 2 truly surpasses its predecessor and rewards the player.
Burst Counters also come in different forms, depending on your chosen Guardian Spirit. Be it a Brute, Feral, or Phantom form, it changes up how your counters will function and look like. The damage, timing, and recovery for each form is different, and should you be looking at changing up your Guardian Spirits, it would be wise to test out the Burst Counters first.
These special spirits also allow the player to utilise Yokai Shift. Tapping into your innate Yokai powers, you become a terrible, monstrous Yokai yourself. A force to be reckoned with, dealing more damage, enduring even more punishment, and you can unleash special moves that not only look fancy, but extremely destructive as well.
Yokai Shift can be a lifesaver, as you will not be taking damage to your health when hit, affecting only your Yokai Shift Gauge, and can be a difference-maker in all of your fights with the power it brings.
The return of the different stances, the Ki Pulse system that allows you to recover a portion of your Ki after attacking, and the ever satisfying clink of the variety of weapons in Nioh 2 already make for a spectacular foundation of combat. Revenants are also back if you are looking for a fight with perished characters of other players, while Benelovent Graves can be a big help in tough encounters by allowing players to summon help. With the new additions, it is now on a whole other realm.
New Yokai Realms also changes up how you approach certain situations. These new, demonic areas are chocked full of dangerous foes, but the scariest part is that your Ki recovery is hampered in the nefarious fog. Losing your Ki will only spell certain doom, and players will have to adjust how they fight accordingly.
Like most things in Nioh 2, however, there is always give and take. Yokai Realms also reward you with more Anima, so you are free to use your Yokai Skills more liberally, and even Yokai Shift to get things over quicker. The challenge and enjoyment of clearing a Yokai Realm never fail to excite the senses, and enhances Nioh 2’s already impressive showing.
The freedom in Nioh 2 is also an integral part of the experience. With nine different weapon types, Ninjutsu and Onmyo magic, the expertise of your samurai and Yokai skills, and eight different stats to consider, customisation is at the core of Team Ninja’s latest. The sprawling skill trees for each of the weapons, ninja skills, magic, and more will keep even the most ardent of minmaxers engaged.
Plus, the amount of gear you can equip, with their own modifiers and bonuses, will help create a playstyle that is uniquely yours. The systems at play are simply staggering, and even if you do not want to get in too deep, there is plenty to enjoy when it comes to freedom of play in Nioh 2.
That said, the gear management system in Nioh 2 still suffers from the ailments of the first game. It can be exhausting and overly complicated to scroll through the plethora of gear you will accumulate through the game.
Sure, there are filters to help you sort things out, but the sheer amount of gear that drops in the game can still be overwhelming. It would not be an issue if Team Ninja wanted to adjust loot in favour of more rewarding and powerful gear that are rare drops, such is the current situation of the constant explosion of items.
The many different areas and missions you will undertake in Nioh 2 often spice things up. Gigantic castles can give way to claustrophobic forests, open fields will lead to swampy wastelands, each story mission, and even the sub-missions, present different challenges and opportunities for players to experience different facets of the game.
Tough battles, intricate secrets, the adorable spirits known as the Kodama, relaxing hot springs, and even more rewards await those who want the full Nioh 2 experience. Grinding can make your life easier, but it is by no means required, as even the most powerful of heroes can fall prey to a mistimed dodge into a pit. After you finish the game, the New Game+ mode continues the awesomeness with the Dream of the Strong difficulty.
Increasing both the danger and the rewards, fighting on Dream of the Strong will be your best chance at obtaining Divine Items, and truly establish yourself as the best warrior the Yokai has ever seen.
For those looking to help others or require help, expeditions are standalone missions where you and a friend can fight side-by-side. It is akin to reviving a Benevolent spirit to help you when playing solo, but with a thinking companion instead. There is always more Nioh 2 to be had. A sequel may not always do right by the first entry, but in Nioh 2, Team Ninja has created a game that has mastered the past and dominates the future. Everything good about Nioh has been enhanced, certain issues have been fixed, and the sheer thrill of the stunning combat and immense depth serves to make Nioh 2 an undoubted champion of this current generation.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
Master the intricacies of Nioh 2 and immerse yourself in a world of splendid combat, satisfying challenge, and a transcendent experience like only Team Ninja can.
Gameplay - 9.5/10
Story - 8/10
Presentation - 9/10
Value - 10/10