Developed by: Team Ninja
Published by: Koei Tecmo, Sony Interactive Entertainment
Platforms: PlayStation 4
Reviewed on: PlayStation 4
Acting as the prequel to the first game, Nioh, the Nioh 2 tale takes place during the Sengoku Era in the 1500s. It begins when the protagonist’s mother was killed by a human-like Yokai (dark-realm entity). The incident has forced our hero into a path of despair and revenge. Now, armed with the family heirloom dagger left behind by the slain mother and with Yokai blood and power flows in the hero’s body, he/she (depending on what character you made) is now set out to cleanse the world of Yokai.
Okay, let’s talk about the Character Creation system first. The developer, Team Ninja did what I think is a great job by creating a character making system that allows detailed and in-depth customisations. You can literally model your character making after other human characters from other games as long as you have the time and patience to sculpt your character’s feature properly.
I have seen the creative works of other players in creating characters like Snake from the Metal Gear Solid series, Himura Kenshin from Samurai X, DVA from Overwatch, 2B from Nier Automata, and even Hatsune Miku. Yes, the darling Hatsune Miku avatar as your playable hero fighting Samurais and Yokai in this dark theme brutal soulsborne styled ARPG.
The best thing is, you can download and use the avatar other players have created. Say, if you like the Sephiroth avatar I made for my character, you can easily download it from a code that I could share on the social media. Just go on Twitter and search for #Nioh2_Code and you will see what I’m talking about. Thousands of avatars created by other players all lined up nicely for you. Although this makes little to no impact on the gameplay at all, it is still a fun and wonderful feature to have. Since I was going to die a lot in this game anyway, I might as well have an Avatar I like and would definitely avenge if he/she perished, this is also a form of motivation. For me at least.
Many new to Nioh might be thinking if the game is similar to Dark Souls, Sekiro, Bloodborne. Now, although Nioh 2 resembles them in many ways, for example – all of them share the same brutal and unforgiving characteristics when it comes to combat mechanism. It might take ages to down one monster’s HP down, but only a few hits from them are enough to send you kissing the floor.
Their hit radius, damage, speed, are all unforgiving. You would need to time your dodges, blocks, parry, attacks, and counter-attacks properly. There is little room for errors but it does get better as you play it through and get more practice. Games of this genre are all about reacting appropriately at the right time, Nioh 2 is no different in this sense.
But what truly distinguishes Nioh and Nioh 2 from its soulsborne-like game peers, would be the stance system. When in combat, there are 3 stances one can take – low, mid, and high, each of them when adopted, will offer a different attacking option. But sensing it to be too much trouble and time-consuming, I never really bothered mastering all the stances at first. I’ve only stuck to the Middle stance, it offers a good balance for both attack and defense. It didn’t take long before the game would slap me with a harsh reality, that I was sorely wrong – it does take more than one stance to play and win this game. And since the stance system forms a major part of the combat system, this is a part everybody needs to invest time into learning it.
While I could stick to one stance and slowly take my time in attacks and still win, it doesn’t feel right playing like that. After I understood the enemy more and mastered the stance switching, I was whacking everybody left and right, sending them up and down like I would in Dynasty Warrior. (Exaggerating of course!). It is time-consuming at first but don’t forget, nobody forced you to buy a soulsborne game. This isn’t a punishment, this is a reward for those who come and seek it. I feel so… rewarded…
The Weapons Skills tree has been revamped into Feng Shui-like compass, frequent use of weapons, onmyo magic, and ninja skills, will gain you a point, and the point is only available to the weapons that you are using while you perform those skills. So, I would advise switching your weapons from time to time when killing a yokai, the same goes to magic and ninja skills, just keep using and increase the proficiency to gain a point and there are totals of 9 types of weapons for you to choose from and master it. I’ve spent enough time trying them out and have enjoyed most of them. The variety of weapon choices caters to many different play styles making it accessible to many players.
My personal favourite though must be the Sword and Switchglaive coupled with the “Sloth” talisman combination. It has a slow down effect on the enemy. Imagine your enemy’s movement and attacks suddenly slowed down, as if in the Matrix dodging bullet scene.
The Yokai Shift is a new feature that allows you to transform into a unique Demon form, depending on which type you choose – Brute, Feral, or Phantom from the guardian spirits. In the first Nioh game, when an enemy launches an unguardable attack there is a red flash indicating you could either guard or avoid the incoming attack. But now with the new Burst Counter, players are no longer limited to just guard and dodge, and they could now counter every unguardable attack and stagger them, this includes boss unguardable attack. It feels pretty darn satisfying and when executed to perfection.
Stage designs for the main missions are nicely done with sceneries befitting the theme and mission, like the war-torn castle, cherry blossom garden, and more. They are huge and I sometimes find myself losing track of where I am. The opportunity to explore is plenty for the more adventurous players, with tough enemies usually lurking in the corners. Fights are often as you make from one save point to another – perfect for those loving to grind, a nightmare for those looking for a casual stroll. Then again, if you bought Nioh 2 for a casual experience, the fault is entirely on you really.
Expedition Mode and Random Encounter are the available online co-op modes. Players can host or join their friends or online randoms to tackle missions together. These 2 modes work differently – expedition mode is where you team up with either friends or randoms to join and complete a mission together, the mission will scale up in difficulty with enemy placement now different than they usually are.
The random encounter allows you to summon a ‘visitor’, where a random player will drop in and assist you. Likewise, you may also offer your service to visit other players in-need of help. If the host or the summoned player(s) is dead, the mission fails. I once managed to summon a visitor who is so powerful he/she killed an enemy in just 3 hits. Yes, the visitor carried me, and I gave a kindly gestured in-game bow in return to show my gratitude.
Co-op with friends not only has its practical benefits but also offers lots of fun. Having friends into the party chat to coordinate the strategy needed to defeat an enemy are memories I’d always be fond of. Or trolling my friends and watch them scream and then laugh at them is fun too. The game is fun when played alone, but great when played together with friends.
There are 3 Graphic modes for you to choose from – the Action Mode, Movie Mode, and Movie Mode ( Variable Frame Rate) mode. Throughout the game, I have been using action mode, the graphic becomes more pixelated in this mode in exchange for more fluid actions. In Movie Mode, the graphic becomes more detailed and the frame rate fixed at 30fps, not as fluid as action mode, the same goes for Movie Mode ( Variable Frame Rate) mode, its stabilizes the resolution but I personally feel the Movie Mode performance better if comparing these 2 modes. Even so, I’ve noticed some drop in frame rates while in action mode during action-packed situations.
The Music/BGM is lively in this game. Not only do they pamper us by setting a nice sound ambient in the background, but they also actively change according to the rhythm of the battlefield. During intense moments the music actually kicks up a notch, as if worried that the already panic-stricken me is not stressed enough. They even added a heartbeat pulsating sound effect when the HP is low, which is a good indicator to tell you when your health is at the critical, but stressful nonetheless, I like it!
What I really liked-
- Enemy placement is well done, even with the enemy sensor equipped, there are some enemies that remained hidden. Some even camouflage with the environment. In expedition mode, the enemy placement is different and added with different enemies.
- The new Burst Counter that can stagger an enemy after successfully countering an unguardable attack.
- Online Expedition mode can now invite 2 people instead of 1.
- New challenges like the Dark Realm is a warm welcome.
- No long wait “loading time”
What I wished was better-
- The map layout is shown in the minimap.
- The targeting system while in an open field is good, but once in the narrow corridor, the camera will sometimes be zoomed out of the wall, blocking my view which is quite annoying.
- The absence of sound effects when weapons are drawn is sorely missed.
- Small inventory space. Good for routine storage cleaners. Bad news for hoarders like me.
Nioh 2 is an obvious upgrade from Nioh, the new elements like Yokai form switching and Burst Counter added so much more depth to the game’s already rich combat mechanism. Nioh’s combat tradition used to rely on precise execution to yield any form of satisfaction for the player, but here in Nioh 2, the two new additions I mentioned provided a new avenue for fun and satisfaction. I have no doubt old players will welcome the new features as I did, and find the game exciting to play especially when teamed up with their mates. As for the newcomers, just like any other soulsborne genre game, Nioh 2 will take some time to get used to, and as you get better, the harsh journey will turn into a rewarding adventure. As we wave goodbye to the Q1 of 2020, I look back and could easily hand it down to this game for having entertained me the most this year so far, hence the score would rightly reflect so. A solid 85/100, go get it.