Nioh 2 is the successor to the soulslike third person action game but where it differentiates itself from the flock is the hyper focus on more finessed player action and motion made popular by the people at TeamNinja famous for their Ninja Gaiden series.
Opening the game is a character customisation menu unlike any other I’ve seen in recent years, the sheer number of options for body tone, facial structure, hair colour, skin colour, bone structure and body painting is astounding. It puts games like Cyberpunk 2077 and Fallout to shame. I spent a good 5-7 hours making characters until I finally decided on what one to pick and to my amazement, you are given the option to save multiple character designs and swap between them on the fly! So multiple pretty people were made. This feature however also lends itself to having a silent protagonist (which isn’t a bad thing.) and means that your character inside the well led, voice acted cutscenes leans them towards the typical head nod and grunt at nauseum.
Presented with an overworld map as a hub of operations, the game marks itself as a now rare mission-based experience whereby it is condensed into shorter and more deliberate progression-based levels that usually end in a “Big Boss” type enemy. It harkens back to an arcade style of gameplay that tickles my nostalgia.
Gameplay is tough but rewarding, expect a lot of trial and error and many a pratfall as you explore the traps and environment in each level. Thankfully, shrines are dotted around each level and act as a checkpoint and opportunity to level up and clear out your inventory. Every weapon separates between 3 stances, high, middle and low. With the high stance being slower and heavier hitting and low being more suited to multiple, quicker hits at the cost of damage. You’ll swap between these stances on a dime if you are a more adept player; able to adapt and learn how best to counter enemy attack patterns but more often than not I myself kept between high and mid stance and using the deceptively long range of my hatchets to keep all but the tougher enemies at bay. Through weapon use you will also earn skill points to spend on a skill tree that opens up new abilities and permanent stat bonuses along with an increase in “Familiarity” that strengthens your weapon.
Player choice is clearly at the forefront for every aspect of Nioh 2, with 11 melee weapons, 3 ranged weapons and two magic types all using a typical yet unusually named line up of stats from which they scale leaves you spoiled for choice. It pays (Much like any game) to spend your level ups on stats that cater to your weapon type, for example Tonfa increase in power the most as you level up the courage stat which also increases stamina recovery or “Ki”. There is always the option later on to reset your level and be refunded the Amrita (What is essentially Nioh’s idea of experience points) spent on level ups so far – allowing you to experiment with each weapon type and find what fits you best.
Fun fact: Amrita essentially means immortality and ancient religious texts refer to Amrita being imbibed and referred to as a nectar to achieve power and knowledge akin to lesser godhood. Worth mentioning as it pertains to the story of Nioh.
It’s no joke that you will have PLENTY of opportunity to experiment with weapon loadouts as enemies drop all but their underclothes upon defeat. Money, new gear, smithing materials it all comes from enemy drops and donation rewards. You’ll be clearing out your inventory multiple times every level which does become quite tedious but if you don’t then you run the risk of missing out on especially powerful gear for your character. To add to this menu heavy style of gameplay is the addition of multiple ways to get rid of them, selling (ill advised), disassembly for new smithing materials at the forge, making offerings in exchange for Amrita and something called “Soul matching” whereby you can level up old gear with special properties essentially putting it on par with the higher-level gear you’ve just found. It’s a neat little trick you’ll make more use of in the endgame.
With all of these options it makes sense to be overwhelmed by how much choice there is and the abundance of menus to go with it… but there’s even more. Along with being a Yokai yourself and being able to possess guardian spirits that add special skills and utility to your character build. Your character has the ability to inherit skills from the enemy Yokai spirits and adopt them to their will much like how a Blue Mage is from the Final Fantasy series. To go along with this is a fairly convoluted menu that asks you combine these Yokai spirits in a ritual based synthesis that powers up and adds new skills. Ultimately however it was just one mechanic too many and I neglected this feature until the very end of my career as a Yokai slayer where it finally clicked what was being asked of me and how much it helped to stay on top of…. Along with everything else.
This being said where the game shines is in the combat and enemy/environmental design, taking strong influence from Japanese folklore and myth each level brings a new enemy type to struggle against who are as creepy as they are morbidly fascinating. The masterful use of colour theory brings these otherwise bland, dark battlefields to life as special effects flair and spark with a rainbow of colours as striking particle effects like cherry blossom petals fall from above. There’s seemingly no end to how you can choose to fight each enemy with videos online showcasing only the flashiest and stylistically impressive ways to toy with the enemy.
The games storyline is likely one that won’t stick with you and is ultimately less interesting than the actual gameplay widely due to the chopping and changing of the warlords and political powers that you follow through this loose adaptation of the Sengoku Era (1467-1615) with characters like Nobunaga Oda, Azai Nagamasa, Hattori Hanzo and many other influential individuals of the era. It makes for a disjointed story that never really allows for you to invest in their endeavours and ultimately their “History” is not all that influential to the story of an arch evil scheming to make their return. With the arrival of multiple DLC’s the game has remedied a lot of these issues in their self-contained narratives with a more focused approach to notable characters and their struggle.
Heavily encouraged is multiple playthroughs as only the best of equipment can be acquired on the harder difficulties. With 5 difficulties each with their own spikes in minimum item level before you even stand a chance in completing them it can be quite a time intensive endeavour however, Nioh 2 has garnered a massive endgame following with people creating forums about the best weapon builds and item skills as they tackle only the toughest of bosses with self-imposed challenges to achieve superiority over such an in-depth and complex game.
Nioh 2 at its base is a game that will cater to a very specific style of gamer that loves micro-managing with the manual dexterity to back it up or the Dark Souls fans that love to learn and persevere against great challenge. Dedicating a lot of time into learning the myriad of mechanics is the only way to really make the most of this game but the payoff is that it becomes a completely different experience that makes you feel like a superhero with how easily you can take down hulking giants and glide around enemy attacks with a finesse unique to Team Ninja games and with the PS5 upgrade (If you’ve managed to get ahold of one) and PC versions there’s no better time to hone your skills and see the game in high resolution 60fps!