Team Ninja’s follow-up to the best Dark Souls game never made offers even better combat than before, but is there enough change
We feel a bit sorry for Nioh 2. Its predecessor was released in 2017 and was widely praised as the best Dark Souls clone so far. It didn’t seem to do tremendously well in terms of sales, but then it was a busy year and we’d hope that a sequel would take advantage of the good word of mouth and a decidedly less busy release window. But it seems to have snuck out without any pre-release hype at all, despite being even better than the original.
In a post Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice world we can’t really describe Nioh 2 as Dark Souls with samurai anymore, without causing unnecessary confusion. Dark Souls with yokai would be more accurate though, as while Nioh 2 is set in feudal Japan it’s very much a fantasy version of the country, with a bizarre selection of monsters, demons, and ghosts as your primary enemies.
Nioh 2 is a prequel to the original and casts you as a mute, customisable protagonist who’s half yokai and can wield magic and transform into various animal forms. Despite the supernatural origins of your avatar the game still features alternate history versions of famous Japanese figures, although unless you know your Sengoku period history that’s going to be largely irrelevant and you’ll quickly begin to tune the plot out.
Although it had many fine qualities, the best aspect of the original Nioh was its combat, which dared to offer more complex, combo-based action than Dark Souls. As well as generic light and heavy attacks, plus a stamina meter, you also had multiple stances – to emphasis defence, attack, and speed – and a wide range of different weapon types that all had their own pros and cons. Although there are only two new ones in Nioh 2: twin hatchets and a switchglaive that flips between forms like the saw cleaver from Bloodborne.
The sequel (prequel, whatever) also adds an extra layer of yokai magic on top, with a range of collectible abilities obtained from defeated enemies. These are basically fighting game style super moves and include all sorts of elemental weapon attacks or involve transforming into a monster for a brief time.
Yokai attacks are very powerful but they use up anima and usually leave you vulnerable for a few seconds after you’ve used them. Balance is further maintained by the fact that the new burst counters are also powered via the anima meter, and they’re the only way to defend yourself against the powerful burst attack moves that most enemies have access to.
As you’d expect from Nioh though things aren’t quite that simple and there are in fact three different types of burst counter. Learning the best uses for each is essential, especially when dealing with the game’s many boss characters, all of which are wonderfully weird in their design and, of course, extremely tough.
While it’s still a notch or two down from most Soulsborne games, Nioh 2 remains an extremely difficult game. Even the lowliest enemies remain a serious threat throughout and you’ll need a thorough knowledge of all the game’s systems, and serious hand-to-eye coordination, to get anywhere. But that’s exactly what you’d expect from a game like this and as with all the best Dark Souls-alikes Nioh 2 is never unfair in the challenge it offers. (Well, maybe it is when it comes to some of the side quests, but you don’t have to do them.)
Other new elements include an expanded role for yokai realms, which reduce your stamina but boost your anima meter, and will rid an area of all enemies if you clear them. Although most bosses can switch one on manually, altering their attack patterns and abilities, and complicating their encounters in a variety of interesting ways.
The bare bones multiplayer options of the original have also been expanded, so that you can play co-operatively with two friends or summon computer-controlled allies that are donated by other online players via specially placed graves.
Nioh 2’s faults are largely the same as the original, in that there’s too much unnecessary padding, overly long missions, and lots of recycled content – some of which is clearly from the first game. Why developer Team Ninja feels the need to do this we’re not sure, as this is certainly not a short game whichever way you look at it. The loot is also weirdly useless and after a few hours you just end up breaking it down and selling it for parts without even looking at it.
The whole role-playing backend is also unnecessarily complex, to the point where you wish you could just set it all to auto. Even Dark Souls didn’t have stats this confusing and it really does seem overboard for a game that already has plenty of depth and is still primarily an action title.
But while Nioh 2 is not perfect it still has the best action of any similar game and offers significant improvements over the original in terms of level design and enemy variety, especially the excellent bosses. And while some may be frustrated at Nioh 2’s lack of evolution the fact remains that every one of its changes, minor as they may be, are for the better and that makes it a very special game indeed.
Nioh 2 review summary
In Short: It’s not changed much but what improvements there are, are all positive in what remains the best Dark Souls clone not made by From Software.
Pros: Superb combat, with a wide range of weapons that are all a pleasure to use. Yokai abilities are interesting and well balanced. Some excellent boss battles and overall good art design.
Cons: Recycled content and overlong missions are an unnecessary flaw. Strangely useless loot and overcomplicated role-playing systems.
Formats: PlayStation 4
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment/Koei Tecmo
Developer: Team Ninja
Release Date: 13th March 2020
Age Rating: 18
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