A visceral journey through ancient feudal Japan with an emphasis on skill-based action.
The Nioh series carved it’s own lane into the soulslike genre by not only blending the creative weapons and stylish combat that Team Ninja is known for with the unforgiving difficulty of the Dark Souls games. Nioh 2, the prequel to Team Ninja’s unique take on the Souls genre, first released exclusively on the Playstation 4 on March 13, 2020. Now less than a year later, PC owners can once again enjoy getting repeatedly ravaged by yokai and samurai with Nioh 2 – Complete Edition. This release includes all three DLC expansions along with the base game and aims to keep you enthralled in it’s fast paced, addictive swordplay for potentially hundreds of hours.
The story of follows your created character, Hide (hee-day), through a yokai infested version of Sengoku era Japan. Yokai are supernatural monsters in Japanese mythology and there are an endless number of them in Nioh 2. Hide, who is half yokai, starts off as a bodyguard for a traveling merchant named Tokichiro before becoming a mercenary under the notorious Daimyo Oda Nobunaga, fighting in his campaign to unify Japan. You will fight both with and against a large number of Japanese historical figures throughout the story such as the legendary ninja Hattori Hanzo and Yasuke the African samurai.
The combat is the star of the show in Nioh 2 – Complete Edition and is extremely satisfying. Anyone whose familiar with the fast paced gory style of the modern Ninja Gaiden games will be able to enjoy a similar experience with this title. Like other soulslike games, combat centers around timing your moves and managing your stamina, known as “ki.” Team Ninja adds a clever twist to the ki system called ki pulsing where you time a button press to recover your ki faster than normal. Ki pulsing is an essential part of combat. If you aren’t doing it then you’re going to die a lot more than you need to.
Combat is expanded even further with stances. There are 3 attack stances in the game: low, mid and high stance with high being the most damaging but the slowest stance while the opposite is true for the low stance. Each stance has their own unique heavy and light attack strings along with a fair number of special moves you can get from skill trees. In order to efficiently do combos and deal a lot of damage, you have to learn to ki pulse into stance changes. Add in special moves and you have yourself a well rounded dynamic combat system. The enemies also react to every hit they receive, making it feel like you’re actually doing damage and not just swinging at hallucinations. There are 8 melee weapon types in the game with a few of unique options such as the switchglaive which can change between a spear and a scythe depending on the stance and the splitstaff, a Bo staff that can separate and turn into twin maces. All of the weapons are viable and they each have their own skill trees.
Playing Nioh 2 – Complete Edition, especially the first few stages, can be a brutal test of patience and mental endurance due mainly to the enemies and unforgiving nature of the game. The first few bosses of the game can turn some people off with how difficult they can be, mainly because you don’t have any decent gear yet. You can get killed by every enemy in the game in just a few hits and when you eventually die you drop all of your experience points, known as “amrita.” You have to go back to where you died to reclaim your amrita and if you get killed before you can touch your grave you lose all of it, often making the journey to the grave as tense as a boss fight. Speaking of bosses, there are over 40 of them in the base game alone and you should expect to get obliterated by each one multiple times. The bosses of range from pleasantly challenging to downright unfair with most falling somewhere in between.
A lot of the bosses are memorable not only for their strange, disturbing or grotesque designs, but also for their crushing difficulty. Saito Toshimitsu, while not a boss you have to fight, is the epitome of downright unfair and if you try to fight him at the recommended level you won’t win unless you’re near flawless. For starters, he has a giant sword that he swings as fast as a katana and he has an extremely fast uninterruptible attack that can one shot you and he uses it frequently. He can also chain his sword attacks into powerful magic that the player doesn’t have access to, and does not stop spamming spells once the player gets out of sword range. Blocking one of his sword swings can take half of your ki and if you lose all of your ki blocking, you can’t do anything for a second and he gets a free one shot attack. The most reliable way to beat this boss is to be a higher level than him. Most of the samurai duels in Nioh are really fun and are cinematic experiences but for new players, Saito Toshimitsu can be the exact opposite.
There’s a large number of smaller yokai and human enemies as well and each of them has at least one strong or annoying attack, wether it’s a grab that can take 90 percent of your health like the Enki or Nure-Onna. or a long attack string thats hard to dodge and covers a lot of ground like the giant axe wielding Aberrant soldiers. Enemies can also lurk above you on ledges or around corners just waiting for you to get close so they can take almost all of your life in one attack. All of the larger yokai’s attacks take more than half of your health in one hit. Every enemy is aggressive and will chase you for a good while if they see you, making it extremely easy to get trapped and killed if you get lost.
Online multiplayer returns in this entry, with the exception of PVP. Players can either join a friend or random player on a mission or summon a player to their session. Online play is smooth overall with the occasional lag spike and a rare glitch where the main player can’t complete the mission after defeating the boss, leaving you stuck in their world until one of you disconnects. If you’re stuck on a mission, adding a friend can greatly reduce its difficulty.
With the arrival of Nioh 2 – Complete Edition on PC has prompted a modding community to emerge. So far, the bulk of the mods have to do with altering the armor and clothes in the game but new mods are made every day. The game’s budding mod scene is only going to get better with time. Luckily mods don’t interfere with co op so you don’t have to turn them off to play with friends.
Team Ninja makes it clear that the game is meant to be beaten multiple times. After you beat the game, you can keep your level and gear from your first playthrough and tackle the game again at a higher difficulty. There are 5 extra difficulties in total, each adding several new challenges and surprises to levels and boss fights. Combine this with the DLC and you could have potentially hundreds of hours of play time.
Nioh 2 is a fast paced game and when the action picks up, you need to be able to see whats going on around you if you’re going to survive. The game’s camera can be a huge nuisance during fights, especially in small areas which can move the camera in so close you can’t see your character. There’s nothing worse than almost killing a boss just to get stabbed in the back or shot by an enemy that was off screen. Luckily camera issues don’t happen too often but they will happen, and there’s nothing more aggravating than dying and seeing the monster that killed you celebrating your death and taking up the whole screen because you backed up into a wall for half a second.
The story is told almost exclusively through cutscenes and is not only forgettable but also hard to follow. Hide doesn’t speak and is mainly just told to go and kill bad guys by Nobunaga. This is may be an easy element to overlook because the combat is the focus and it’s done so well you don’t even need to follow the story to enjoy the game. The satisfaction you get from killing a boss that was giving you trouble dwarfs any moment in the story.
Nioh 2 – Complete Edition is a good starting point for anyone looking to get into the series but may be a little overwhelming if this is your first venture into soulslike territory. This game’s a prequel so you wouldn’t need to know anything about the first game to follow this story, although once you start to get into the game, the story becomes secondary to the gameplay. For anyone looking for a fresh take on the soulslike genre or just a challenging action game, Nioh 2 has plenty to offer with by far the best combat of any game of the time and a large amount of diversity and depth in the weapons, enemies and abilities.
* Satisfying deep combat system
* Large skill trees
* Tons of replayability
* Mods on PC
* Diverse cast of enemies
* Very difficult early game can turn people off
* Camera can get crowded
* Story is unimportant and hard to follow