It literally took no time at all for Nioh 2 to win me over. I was a fan of the first game and I wondered what Team Ninja was going to add to make the sequel feel fresh. Well, it turns out, they tweaked the existing mechanics, added a plethora of new abilities, changed the level design, and thankfully added a host of new enemies.
This game kicks a ton of ass and it has no bones about kicking yours too. With that in mind, dont be afraid of change. Because that’s what ultimately at the center of Nioh 2. There are new weapons and abilities that will give you the edge in combat and this game will frustrate the shit out of you if you’re stubborn. Embrace the burst counter, the games version of a parry. The style of the burst counter depends on the type of spirit you select.
There are three types of spirits: Brute, Feral, and Phantom. Each have their own burst counter timing and once you have gathered enough amrita, you can perform a Yokai shift. Gone are the living weapons, which coincidentally are still in the game, but are actually buffs for specific weapons. The Yokai Shift ability takes its place, in which your damage, speeds, and abilities are enhanced. Use sparingly as they do have a fairly lengthy cooldown time.
As you progress through the game make sure to update and utilize different soul cores, which are abilities that are gained from Yokai that can be useful in clearing space when you’re in a pinch. Sure, you’ll get attached to some because of their rarity, but there will be situations where you will have to switch it up because some are more effective than others. Older mechanics like the ki burst to refill stamina return as ki still requires your undivided attention. Missing a ki burst could be fatal as stamina recovery is practically dependent on it.
Like its predecessor, there is significant challenge in Nioh 2. While you are given a whole host of new abilities to tinker with, enemies were given a more diverse moveset and the ability to unleash devastating attacks that can kill you instantly. When they turn red, burst counter or dodge to get out of harm’s way. These almost always end up doing massive damage and stronger enemies or bosses will kill you. They’re well telegraphed so you know what’s coming, but you still have to get the timing down or you’ll find yourself at the last shrine you prayed at.
I love that Team Ninja made enemies far more formidable to counter your new abilities. There are going to be moments where you feel powerful as you cut through waves of enemies with ease, only for a Yokai to bring you back down to earth. Always proceed with caution, the improved level design found in Nioh 2 allows enemies to remain hidden out of sight. Dashing through on your first play through isn’t recommended, because enemies will grab you and unleash a potential instant kill technique.
Some Yokai variations have hidden abilities, which leaves you guessing as to how the encounter will turn out. As you explore, there are new areas known as the dark realm that buff Yokai and limit your stamina refill. These areas requires you to eliminate a specific enemy that is considered the biggest threat in the area. Surviving means purging the dark realm which will allow you to have a shortcut as no enemies will respawn afterwards. These are vital for cutting through levels, which in turns saves resources.
While the games is difficult, it is often incredibly rewarding. Levels become more hectic as you become more comfortable. Boss battles tend to require varying strategies to ensure victory. Human bosses are still unfortunately considered “easy” encounters because their ki can be effected and they are vulnerable to debuffs and status effects, but they can srill one-shot you if you’re not careful. Yokai bosses are the real challenge, they tend to be far more aggressive with expansive movesets and the ability to summon the dark realm when challenged.
Winning will require quick-thinking, timely dodging, ki management, and using every mechanic at your disposal. This game keeps you engaged at all times. Having a moment of complacency will get you killed as its just how Nioh 2 rolls. I’ve had multiple instances where I forgot to use a buff or a burst counter and within no time flat the boss had ended the game. If you’re struggling, you can summon an benevolent spirit or a friend to assist you. There’s no shame, in fact, the game is really fun with friends.
What’s unfortunate about Nioh 2 is that the narrarive is forgettable. While the character creation tool is really in-depth and very cool, the fact remains that your character is the typical silent JRPG protagonist who adds zero emotional depth to cutscenes that are set up to be impactful. You probably won’t remember anything regarding the story, which is a small knock considering everything else about the game is so damn good. Seriously, even with what looks to be the same engine from the first game, this game is really detailed, especially the character designs. All are varied and unique.
In Nioh 2, everything is earned. If you take the time to learn the mechanics, you will be rewarded with hard fought victories that come off as incredibly gratifying. This might be the first game in the hardcore genre that made me constantly revise my tactics. Even when the new mechanics feel like they should make the game easier than its predecessor, enemies are given deadly new abilities that make every encounter feel important. It’s the rare sequel that is superior to its predecessor in every way.