In this Nioh 2 Review I’ll share my experience with the full game and answer the burning questions that many have regarding the sequel to Koei Tecmo’s Nioh. It does not matter whether you’ve played the original game or not, this is a game you should be playing, and I’ll be sharing why in this Review! Is Nioh 2 better than Nioh? Is Nioh 2 worth full price? Should you buy it now or wait? What is new in Nioh 2? Read on and find out.
Nioh 2 Review
Published by: Sony Computer Entertainment
Release date: March 13th 2020
Platforms: PS4 (Reviewed)
Price: 59.99 USD
Nioh 2 Review: Story and Setting
Nioh 2 is a prequel to the original game, having you participate in the buildup of Lord Nobunaga’s power. If you’re unfamiliar with Japanese history for this period, you can check our Nioh-focused “Brief History of the Battle of Sekigahara” and the wiki’s lore page to familiarize yourself with names and concepts. But don’t be intimidated, the game’s setting might be history-focused, but it’s not assuming you’ll know anything about it, making the story easy to follow.
Nioh 2 has approached storytelling in a slightly different way, adding a lot more clarity to events and explanations that will make the events easier to follow. Koei Tecmo has opted to use animated shorts to liven up character backstories, which are always welcome in my RPGs, and add an artistic feel to the game that I very much appreciated. That said, your character’s story by itself would seem insignificant and a crutch to get the game along, were it not for the setting.
The setting of Nioh 2 is everything Nioh was and more. While the story of your character is a well-repeated one, the setting where it happens is not, and if you take a step back and think that this is a retelling of real and outstanding events that shaped Japanese history forever it does make for a very compelling situation. Team Ninja has cleverly weaved fantasy into real historic events and is using this platform to popularize Japanese folklore concepts that are not well known or understood in the west.
The Yokai of Nioh 2 are beautifully and carefully crafted, with a depth that rivals that of the gameplay. You will initially find all Yokai murmur things in an unknown language, but as you increase your “Astral Wisdom“, you will begin to understand what they say and gain further insight into their state of mind.
The Gaki, for example, are a yokai spawned from a human condemned to the starvation hell, roaming the living world in search of corpses to eat. As you gain Wisdom and begin to understand them, you will hear them begging for food, pleading for you to ease their hunger. It is in this realization of the blurry concept that mixes Yokai and reality that Nioh 2 achieves what few games can, and The Witcher is famous for: popularizing obscure folklore.
To compare to a recent title with a similar setting, let’s take Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. Sekiro is set in Japan (shortly after the events of Nioh 2), and features mystical yokai and a fantasy setting. Yet the focus of Sekiro is on the story of Sekiro, making the setting incidental and their renditions of yokai less important to your memory of the game. Nioh 2, on the other hand, is focused on the setting: the history and fantasy of medieval Japan. In this way, your character’s story is incidental but gets to shape the events that changed Japan forever, and you get to do a deep dive into Japanese aesthetics, myth and culture, down to the appraisal of tea utensils for display in your hut!
Nioh 2 Review: Gameplay
Gameplay is very much the focus of any ARPG, and Nioh 2 has spared no effort to make it outstanding in all aspects: from mechanic depth to variety of builds through character customization.
One of the main complaints about Nioh was that there was a fixed protagonist. Nioh was indeed the story of William, but this time you get to make your own character with a very detailed character creator that will likely occupy the first couple of hours of your gameplay (at least). You can change your appearance from in-game via the Hut menu, and you can also save your creations and share them using a code. We have a page dedicated to code sharing on the wiki so you can have fun trying out styles!
I had a lot of good things to say about Nioh, which mixed fast-paced Ninja Gaiden with tactical Bloodborne and Dark Souls checkpoints, spiced with a variety of weapon styles and skills. This continues in Nioh 2, and players can pick to buff specific stats to match their playstyle, and can learn several different skills or use consumables to buff weapons with elements that enemies may be weak to.
The combat feels extremely smooth and well-balanced, if also punishing. You will find that you need to familiarize yourself with the 3 available stances, but also make a point of learning to Ki Pulse and unlock skills that help you sustain your stamina. I have died a lot during my gameplay, but I also learned something most of the time. If hardcore difficulty is a turn-off for you (such as those who got stuck in Sekiro), you will be happy to know that the game not only gives you the option to co-op with others but also adds NPC phantoms of other players that you can summon to assist you. Sometimes all you need is someone to take the attention of a few enemies while you heal up, and NPCs are a great option for this, and they summon in no time at all.
With or without assistance, the game is challenging and will ask that you give close attention to its incredibly in-depth mechanics. Nioh 2 is not just polishing the original game, it is adding whole layers of complexity to dig into. Starting things off is the new “Yokai Shift“, that merges you with your spirit and results in an ultimately powerful version of yourself. This merging of you and spirit also adds the new “Burst Counter“, that allows you to interrupt the more powerful Yokai attacks and create an opening where you would have instead had death. It’s a high-risk, high-reward mechanic that adds even more depth for those looking to mix it up even further.
Since you leveled up, the Yokai have too and they can now draw you into a “Dark Realm” instance that severely impairs your Ki regeneration and powers up Yokai within. This realm is dispelled by killing one specific enemy inside it, that is identifiable by small blooming flowers around it. Be prepared to face multiple, tougher enemies in each level, all with unique movesets, elemental weaknesses and resistances!
Since the enemies are now harder, the rewards must be better – and indeed they are. Nioh 2 introduces “Soul Cores“, a new item that you can slot into your Guardian Spirit as you would a gem into a weapon in other rpgs. Soul Cores have defense and attack values, as well as “fixed” status effects and random benefits from a pool (the same as armor and weapons). The really amazing thing about them though, is that they give you a special Yokai Skill.
Yokai Skills allow you to use Anima to temporarily transform into or summon the Yokai the core belongs to. It cannot be overstated how awesome it is to suddenly become a One-Eyed Oni and swing your giant fists into the 3 ronin that were ganking you, draining all their ki in a swift combo. Soul Cores can be fused to upgrade and deconstructed to obtain special Yokai Smithing Materials, that you will be using for your high-end equipment.
The depths of Character Customization don’t end there, of course, with new Armor styles and Sets being added, including low-level ones that will keep you ready for main missions. Nioh 2 has also introduced “Yokai Weapons” and “Blessed Weapons”. Yokai Weapons are special arms infused with a spirit, and they will gain sentience and talk to you as you use them, much like Nier Automata. These weapons apply a special status effect called “corruption” or “purity” and have a set effect in addition to normal ones from the pool.
Other improvements include a revamped skill tree, which feels a lot better than the previous one, a myriad of new Special Effects, and improved explanations of what everything does via the “options” button as you mouse over each element. And did we mention you can equip more than one Guardian Spirit…yeah there’s that too!
Nioh 2 Review: Design, Visual & Audio
Nioh 2 is running on what seems to be the same engine as Nioh, which prompted some discussion about the quality of the graphics during the alpha and beta. For the full release, it is apparent to me that the game is focused on delivering a polished gameplay experience, with an emphasis on sustainable framerate during effect-intense milisecond combat. The graphics are therefore not comparable to Playstation industry leaders like God of War and Death Stranding, with some cutscenes looking rather odd – most likely as a result of it being done in-engine, since it has to render your character as you play.
That said, the artistic design and direction of the game is stellar, and at no point during gameplay did I stop and think “this looks meh”. The age of the engine does show, but it still holds strong and delivers a beautiful rendition of Japan, while also keeping 60FPS in 4k running smooth without any hiccups. Since the focus of the game is on the combat, I very much appreciated this approach and feel the artistic brushes of the design style make the setbacks on pixel refinement a worthy tradeoff.
Level design is much improved from Nioh, making each area significantly larger, more populated and interconnected. Shortcuts are not meaningless, and discovering the nooks and crannies of every location ticked all my exploration boxes. The game continues hiding collectibles such as Kodama and Spas around, while also rewarding explorers with Skill Points (usable “Ninja Locks”, etc), Sudama yokai for trading, and the adorable Scampuss spawns. Ambushes, traps and unexpected enemies happened often and kept me on my toes as I played, making each region a renewed but welcome challenge.
Similarly, the music score matches the game and setting extremely well, while adding depth to the experience. The soundtrack for Nioh 2 has many moods and emotions intermingled within, creating a more comprehensive experience. You don’t have “calm” and “combat” with a “boss tune” added. There’s sad, upbeat, challenger, nostalgic and even pondering tunes that add to the overall feel of the game in a very positive manner. I found some tunes stuck in my head long after I had put the game down, and even as I write the review, so the audio gets a big plus for me.
Nioh 2 Review Pricepoint, Multiplayer & Replayability
Action-RPG titles are often about variety of builds and min-maxing through loot farming and optimization. Nioh delivered a fantastic amount of content, and Nioh 2 does even more than that. Coming out of the gate with all the previous game’s DLC weapon categories unlocked, and promising to add more with DLC later, you can spend countless hours simply mastering each weapon type. This is before you start combining them, adding status effects, toying around with skills and stances, or introducing some Ninjutsu and Onmyo Magic.
If all of that isn’t enough, the Set Bonuses, special effects, Soul Cores and Yokai Weapons add further layers of tinkering for you to manage, all with a quality system so you can keep pushing to get something better: Common, Uncommon, Rare, Exotic, Divine and Ethereal. The rarer the item, the more beneficial status effects it will possess.
Each region features 7-10 missions to complete, and unlocks “Twilight” Missions for extra materials and challenge. Some of the main missions took me 2 hours to complete (exploring everything of course), so you can expect 100+ hours of gameplay to complete everything, given endgame farming and, presumably, New Game Plus. This means that even for a regular player who will not create multiple builds and will do online just here and there, there’s amazing value for money and well worth day one pricepoint.
Something I really love about FromSoftware games is the multiplayer, and joining others to help them through a tough area or boss. Koei Tecmo has made the multiplayer in Nioh 2 similarly simple to access, although you can only become a visitor if you have completed the mission. We tested multiplayer thoroughly during our time with the game pre-release and found each other consistently and easily, had no lag or frame drops, and overall felt it was well-balanced for a two-player team.
Nioh 2 innovates further by introducing “Expeditions”, a system that allows you to complete a level as a team with a shared pool of health. This means that even if someone dies, you can revive them and multiplayer does not end, rather depleting the communal “lives” of the team. Expeditions are likely my favorite part of multiplayer as they can be very challenging but allow for group effort to ultimately reap excellent rewards.
Another addition to the game is “Acolytes”. These blue-tinted markers will allow you to summon the NPC version of a fellow player to assist with your level, allowing for asynchronous co-op and rewarding the summoned players with items. Summoned NPCs are a lot more costly than a regular player and often not as good, but they do offer the right buffer when you are doing a mission with multiple enemies in small spaces, so it’s something that is worth trying out if you want a solo-like experience but are struggling.
Finally Clans are back and their bonuses revamped to match all the new effects. You can still earn Glory and trade in skins, and you can also decorate your Hut (which is the primary hub for expeditions). Decorating these with wall hangings, yokai visitations and tea utensils adds a fun little element of housing management and gave me more reason to explore the levels to their fullest rather than run for the boss.
I absolutely loved Nioh for what it brought forth in terms of innovation and smooth, fast-paced combat. When the Nioh 2 Alpha showed the same engine with what looked like minor polishings, I thought I would like Nioh 2, just a bit less than I liked the original. I was very wrong…
Nioh 2 has done what seemed impossible and improved on its first installment by not only polishing what was already there, but elevating it through the addition of layer upon layer of depth that kept me digging for more. I was delightfully surprised to find myself craving to get back to the game, the exploration and the challenge, and am impatient for everyone else to jump in so I can participate in more expansive co-op and see more amazing builds and community creations.
Nioh 2 is one of the few games to release in recent memory that you don’t need to wait for a patch or three to play. This is a day 1 buy, particularly if you love multiplayer!
Nioh 2 has done for Nioh what we all hoped Dark Souls 2 would do for Dark Souls. It’s not the same game with a new coat of paint. It’s a better version of the original game with a full on leather seat rework, new state of the art navigation and audio systems, the best tires you could find, and it gives you a massage as you drive!