Nioh 2 is definitely the one
Genre: Action RPG
Developer: Team Ninja
Publisher: Koei Tecmo & Sony Interactive Entertainment
Released: March 12th, 2020
Let me start by saying that anyone who knows me knows that I am a huge fan of the soulsborne game genre and for anyone who doesn’t know me I am a huge fan of the soulsborne genre. I played them all from completing max playthroughs of the Dark Souls franchise the first of which I played on PC, XBOX 360, and the remaster on PS4 to grinding out max level in Bloodborne. I have even played every bad soulsborne game from The Surge to Lords of the Fallen. The reason I tell you this is so that you will believe me when I tell you that Nioh 2 has followed in the footsteps of its predecessor and earned its spot among the upper echelon of soulsborne games like Bloodborne and the Dark Souls.
The once upon a time.
The story of Nioh 2 differs from that of the first in that you play as a custom created mute character instead of William Adams the protagonist of Nioh. The game takes place in a dark fantasy version of 1500’s Japan where your character nicknamed Hide fights his way through a feast of demons called yokai along with many human samurai. Hide must battle through the forces of evil to save the world. It's a standard story that we have all heard in some shape. The story likes to include people of historical significance from this era of Japan but unless you're a Japanese history buff you probably won’t know who any of them are. The same can be said of the yokai. Team Ninja does a great job of having many of the yokai be based on real Japanese myths and legends. They even have a section on the menu where you can view the yokai and find out the origins of there being. While the story of Nioh 2 often features real historical figures, locations, and battles it is by far the weakest part of the game with most of the cast of characters serving as a means to dump exposition on the player. The fact also that your character is mute means that during moments that are supposed to carry emotional weight Hide stands there like an expressionless tree stump.
Gameplay is king!!
So, let’s get to the reason why most of us play soulsborne games, the gameplay. This is where Nioh 2 shines brightest. Like every soulsborne game Nioh 2 works off a stamina system for performing actions in this case called KI. Unlike other games in the genre in Nioh 2 if you run out of stamina you are stuck on the spot for a few seconds while you catch your breath. This leaves you open to devastating attacks from enemies and believe me those attacks will come a lot. The counter to this stamina loss is the KI pulse system which makes a return from the first game.
Level design in Nioh 2 remains the same as the first game. You start on a map screen, choose your mission and away you go. Once you reach the end of the mission you are back at the map screen. The lack of an open world to explore is actually refreshing to me as finishing a mission gives you a good stopping point as opposed to an open world where you keep telling yourself, just a little further, and then it's 4 am and you realise work starts in 4 hours.
Returning from the first Nioh is your core set of 8 stats that you level up using XP. Like most soulsborne style games you will want to focus on a couple of core stats depending on your play style. Another returning feature is weapon stances. These allow you to switch between light, medium, and heavy attacks so even if you are a player that likes to tank you can still feel like you can do speedy attacks. The opposite is also true if you are a player that likes to feel like a lightweight ninja attacking from the shadows you can still land some powerful hits by using a heavy attack.
New to Nioh 2 is the addition of three new mechanics. The first of which is soul cores. These are equippable items dropped by the games yokai that allow you to perform powerful attacks that drain your Anima gauge. These attacks can be very useful in turning the tide of any battle when facing some of Nioh 2’s tougher bosses. The second new mechanic is burst counters. Now burst counters are just a fancier way of saying parry. You wait for the enemy to attack, block at the right time and counter for massive damage. The burst counter in Nioh 2 is a high-risk high reward system encouraging you to counter enemies’ vicious attacks but be warned almost every miss-timed burst counter will end in death. The final mechanic is called Yoki realms. These are a new area you encounter in Nioh 2’s levels. A portion of the map will be covered in a dark fog that once you enter you have reduced KI recovery which can be detrimental to your survival. The flip side of this is that you build up Anima more quickly, encouraging you to use your soul core abilities and bust counter more frequently. Once you find and defeat the source of these yokai realms they disappear and don’t return even if you rest at a shrine checkpoint.
You got a friend in me.
Nioh 2 features an online system because everything is better with friends. If you're feeling in a giving mood you can hop on and search for a random encounter and help another player with a mission and in return you will get loot and XP and that warm fuzzy feeling that comes with doing a good deed. On the reverse side you can open your game to others to give you that little boost you may need to keep those spirits up and keep fighting. Be warned that to open up your game to help you need an item called an Ochoko cup and you can run out. Nioh 2’s multiplayer also features a password system so you can play with someone specific just both set the password and the game will wave a magic wand and presto you and your buddy can get your ass kicked together and cry on each other’s shoulders instead of crying alone.
New to Nioh 2’s online, are expeditions. In this mode you can team up with other players to play through full missions together. What makes this different from normal online play is the introduction of the assist gauge. When a player dies they leave a grave on the ground and the assist gauge starts to deplete if it empties completely the mission is failed. This can be stopped by reviving the dead player which will also help replenish some of the gauge. This new mode adds an exciting spin to the existing gameplay loop of Nioh 2 as it gives players a kind of shared health bar to make them think about their actions and how it may affect the parties' completion of the mission.
Loot, a double-edged sword.
If like me, you love the almost meth like high of finding new loot in games then Nioh 2 will certainly have you chasing that dragon. There are 9 different melee weapons and several ranged weapons each of which can be dropped in one of six rarities. White is common, yellow is uncommon, blue is rare, purple is exotic, green is divine and red is ethereal. Then there is armour which also can be dropped in these rarities for your head, body, arms, and legs not to mention some armour provides set bonuses for wearing all the pieces. The higher the rarity the more special stats come attached to the gear. Then they are the consumable items that give you or weapons buffs etc.
On top of all that gear each weapon type comes with its own skill tree that you level up by using the weapon and they are huge. Also featuring its own massive skill tree is the magic system which can provide you with some powerful spells to help turn the tide of any battle. But wait there’s more. Nioh 2 has ninjutsu which helps with things like placing traps or being able to make bombs and you guessed it there is a skill tree for this too. Let’s not forget what’s behind door number 4. It's another skill tree to aid your yokai abilities gained from soul cores which are another loot drop from enemies.
Don’t get me wrong, it may sound like I am complaining about all this content. I am not. I love that Team Ninja has packed so much choice into Nioh 2. However, like with lots of choices in life there is often a price to pay and Nioh 2 is no different. The first being it drops loot so often that the likes of exotic gear are not that rare. After a few hours playing it felt like playing one of those claw machines where they guarantee a prize every time. It's great that you get a prize, yeah but it takes away from the fun of beating a hard enemy and knowing it was worth it because you got that super rare item you were praying for. The second and this is the big one, the menus. As an adult with limited time to play games I found that when I booted up Nioh 2 I could be upwards of 45 minutes in the menus pouring over all the gear I got from my last session deciding what to equip, what to break down for crafting parts and what to sell for gold. Once I had done all that it was time to head to the blacksmith to go through and another set of menus to see if I would like to upgrade my gear, re-role the stats or craft better items so I could go back into the menu and spend more time comparing my newly crafted wares to ones I had currently equipped.
It’s all worth it.
Nioh 2 is a game that takes the idea of its predecessors and builds on the formula in new and exciting ways. Sure its story is a little janky and its Borderlands style lootsplosion has you spend so much time in the menus you feel like you are playing football manager but, the moment to moment gameplay is good that I didn’t even care. No amount of menus or cheesy dialogue can take away that enormous sense of satisfaction that you get when you finally beat a boss that has been kicking your ass for days and it will happen because Nioh 2 is hard. The new yokai abilities add a fun twist to the risk-reward of trying to get that perfect parry. In my 55+ hours with the game I never felt like I was playing through filler, even though some of the side quests are just rehashed boss fights or battle arenas there was enough of a new spin to make me want to play on and do more. Plus, if you are feeling lonely you can search for random online encounters and help another player or receive some help.
In the end that’s what soulsborne games are about at their core, pushing hard to overcome a difficult obstacle and the feeling of satisfaction that comes with it.
Oh, and one last thing Nioh 2 comes with a new game plus that ups the difficulty for greater rewards and even though this game has had me screaming at my TV for dying to the same enemy for the 400th time I am off to give it a try because Nioh 2 has earned my respect as a truly great soulsborne.
Play this game if…
You like the soulsborne genre.
You love epic boss fights.
Deep RPG systems are your jam.
You're a fan of top tier moment to moment combat.
You like swords and samurai and the mad things that go along with Japanese game design.
All images taken from Nioh 2 press kit here
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