Many games have tried to copy what made Dark Souls so great. While some people might give these copycats silly nicknames like Clunky Souls, Sci-Fi Souls, Anime Souls, and so on, the point is that the Soulsborne games are beloved for many reasons, not just the punishing difficulty. Not every wannabe has understood that.
The original Nioh was initally lambasted by some as another derivative, this time with a Geralt of Rivia lookalike. In reality, it turned out to be a more complex version of the now classic Souls formula. Sure, it still had the hallmarks, but it added new elements like stances, the Ki Pulse system, and Guardian Spirits to name a few. It was a great game, even better than some entries in the Soulsborne series itself. I know, pure heresy to put a Souls-like up there with the ones who spawned this genre.
Nioh 2 is more of the same as its predecessor, so much so that I initially wondered what its purpose was. However, as the hours go on, Nioh 2 ingrains itself as a distinct improvement to Nioh, making it the pinnacle of Souls-likes.
Samurai Souls 2
Bottom line: Taking what the first Nioh did right, Nioh 2 ups the ante and packs in one of the best values in gaming, especially for 2020. There are hours upon hours of content for you to enjoy, action-packed and brutal combat, and an interesting story that continues to expose the West to Japanese folklore and fantasy. All in all, Nioh 2 is up there with the best Souls-likes and it stands extremely high in the ARPG genre.
- Excellent combat
- Looks gorgeous
- Tons of high-quality content
- Fierce challenge
- Plenty of build variety
- Some framerate drops
- Occasional glitches that lead to death
- Sharp difficulty isn't for everyone
Disclaimer: This review was made possible by a review code provided by Sony Canada. The company did not see the contents of the review before publishing.
What you'll love about Nioh 2
Nioh 2 presented me with one of the best challenges since I first played Dark Souls III. And, I daresay, it's harder — way harder. If asked, I'd say the original Nioh felt closer to Bloodborne with its speed of combat and focus on dodging and countering rather than blocking. Nioh 2 is the exact same, but the challenge feels fiercer and harsher this time around.
Some enemies and bosses move at blistering speed, but so can you. Close the gap with a sprint followed by a quick attack that leads you into a combo. Roll and/or sprint away to create a new gap and repeat. It's an addicting loop, making the combat the defining piece of Nioh 2. If you love the thrill and euphoria of Soulsborne combat, I think you'll find Nioh 2 quite to your liking.
Nioh 2 checks every box I can think of — it's got the looks, the gameplay, the story, and the mechanics of a truly great game.
I've long been of the opinion that a game can look pretty all day long, but if the gameplay is lackluster (or just plain bad or broken), the game itself will suffer. Some, like the original Witcher, can get by with their story and characters, even if they're ugly, poorly-designed games. However, Nioh 2 checks every box I can think of — it's got the looks, the gameplay, the story, and the mechanics of a truly great game.
Unfortunately, I don't have a PS4 Pro so I can't speak to how well it runs on that hardware. But for my regular console, I was happy with how it worked. Sure, I was locked at 30fps versus the 60 I'm used to with Nioh on my PC, but Nioh 2 still felt fluid. So if you're like me and still holding on to the OG PS4, you're not missing out on a great experience.
Let's talk about content and value. Paying the full $60 for a game never sits right with me, but I'm a somewhat of a miser. Mostly, however, I find that many "AAA" games these days don't offer a significant value to justify that asking price. There are exceptions, like Jedi Fallen Order, but $60 is a lot of money to a lot of people, myself included, so the game better be worth it. All that being said, in my opinion, Nioh 2 is one of the best bangs for your buck right now.
Nioh 2 is divided into missions and sub-missions, unlike the connected world of say Dark Souls or The Surge 2. Each of the main missions can take upwards of an hour to complete, plus the boss. The latter alone can be multiple hours depending on if you get stuck or not. Completing each mission left me with a huge sense of relief, often leading to a good break for something to drink or visiting my character's hut to check out what I'd earned. So while I prefer an inter-connected world like Lordran, Nioh 2's mission system does make it easier to play the game in digestible chunks. You know that the next mission could be a couple of hours worth of playtime before diving in, instead of exploring the world just a bit more.
There's more than just the combat that makes Nioh 2 great. Returning from the first game are the Kodama, adorable green spirits who hang out at the shrines. These shrines server as checkpoints, where you refresh your healing items, level up, buy goods, and manage your Guardian Spirits and Jitsus. Throughout each level, you can find lost Kodama and lead them back to the shrine — really, you just hold O once you locate them and they find their own way. The more you locate, the more healing Elixirs you'll start off with in each zone. Unfortunately, moving to a new area for the next chapter of the story means you're back to the default 3 Elixirs.
Besides the Kodama, Nioh 2 adds Sudama, which are also adorable spirits, but they've been corrupted by the dark Yokai Realm. They can't be guided back to the shrine, but they can be traded with. Drop an item for them and they'll usually give you something in return. It's like the crows from Dark Souls, but you can drop whatever you want and usually get something nice in return. Be careful what you drop, though.
New to Nioh 2 is the Yokai Shift, an integral part to the story. Instead of Guardian Weapons from the first Nioh, wherein you imbued your weapon with the power of your Guardian Spirit, you can turn into a Yokai yourself. In Japanese folklore, yokai are essentially monsters, spirits, or demons. I'm no expert, but in Nioh 2, not all yokai are evil. You being half Yokai yourself, you can merge with your Guardian Spirit temporarily and become more powerful and invincible for a short time. In addition, you can find Soul Cores occasionally from downed yokai which you can then attune to yourself. Doing this allows you to copy that Yokai's main ability to use later in combat. It's a great system and can get you out of some seriously hairy situations. The Yokai Shift also lets you counter the new Burst Attacks, which are telegraphed with red auras around your enemies. Successfully countering them does massive Ki damage and lets you get a few attacks in on your own.
If you own a PS4 and appreciate the Souls-like genre, Nioh 2 has to be in your library.
There's so much to talk about with Nioh 2, but there's one last thing I haven't mentioned. The story doesn't follow a set protagonist this time. As much as I liked our Irish samurai from the last game, I enjoyed spending over an hour at the start of Nioh 2 creating my own custom character. While not as robust as Code Vein's, Nioh 2's character creator is still impressive with its variety of options. You'll be seeing your character in a lot of cutscenes, plus throughout the game itself, so it was important to me to get everything just the way I wanted. From your hut in between missions, however, you can change your appearance if you'd like.
What you'll dislike about Nioh 2
As I've pointed out a few times at this point, Nioh 2 is hard. Like, really hard, even for a Souls veteran. The most basic enemy, like the Gaki, can easily kill you or overwhelm you in groups. This can be frustrating for some people, and so be warned before diving into Nioh 2: it's a harsh and brutal challenge that heavily punishes your mistakes and greed.
Besides some seriously rage-inducing bosses that hearken back to Flamelurker from Demon's Souls, Nioh 2 threw a few weird glitches my way that led to cheap deaths. In one example, I performed a finishing move on a downed opponent, but he got back up during the attack and proceded to come at me with a Burst Attack while my character was still in the finishing animation. Suffice to say, I couldn't counter and I died. There were other oddities, too, like bosses clipping me into walls so I couldn't move; or a spot in one of the early sub-missions where I would suddenly fall to my death, despite not being close to the edge; or the camera completely flipping out and getting stuck inside a boss.
For most of the time I poured into this game, I had a great experience. However, these things nonetheless happened and led to me taking many breaks to calm down. The other technical problem I experienced was the occasional framerate drop, but I'll chalk that up to the fact I'm still playing on a non-pro PS4. It's most noticeable when praying at shrines, but I also saw it happen when a lot of enemies were on screen at once.
Should you buy Nioh 2?
Wholeheartedly yes, Nioh 2 is an incredible game well worth the full asking price. It does everything the first one did right and improves that formula — the end result just gives me pure joy. When you combine fluid combat, build variety, and fun and useful complexities to the Soulsborne gameplay, you get this masterpiece. Seriously, I can't praise this game enough.
Despite the random glitch/cheap death and framerate hiccups, Nioh 2 was a solid experience and one I'll continue to play. Hell, I'll get it again if it ever comes to PC. The slick combat, like with the spam-tastic kusarigama or sick switchglaive, is a pure treat. Its high skill ceiling means you have plenty of room for improvement, even if you played the first Nioh.
If you own a PS4 and appreciate the Souls-like genre, Nioh 2 has to be in your library. Though different in style and presentation, I'd rank it right there with Bloodborne as one of the best PS4 exclusives to own right now. It's that good.
Nioh 2 is harsh and difficult, make no mistake. That challenge is balanced by superb combat, beautiful environments, hours upon hours upon hours of high-quality content, and the list just goes on. I can't get enough of Nioh 2 and I'm constantly excited to get back into it. If you enjoy the Souls formula with several extra layers of complexity and nuance, then you'll love Nioh 2.
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