Sunday, 10 Dec 2023

Nioh 2 Review: Rage-Inducing, Soul-Crushing Fun

Nioh 2 is the first game that truly made me want to break my controller. And I don’t mean throw it against a wall or toss it on the floor. I mean grab a hammer, smash my controller into pieces, and then take those pieces and hurl them at random people on the street while shouting incoherent obscenities. Team Ninja apparently looked at Dark Souls and thought to themselves ,”Well, we can certainly make a game that’s harder than that.”

Nioh 2 has a deep and complex combat system that’s brimming with possibilities when it comes to customization, but in order to experience it, you need to prepare yourself for intense moments of soul-crushing difficulty.

In Nioh 2, you don’t control a pseudo-historical figure like in the first game. Instead, you get to make your own avatar with a rather wide selection of character cosmetic features. It all takes place in a fictional version of feudal Japan, where demons known as Yokai roam the land. Your character – named Hide or “Hiddy” – is a half-human, half-Yokai samurai who goes around taking odd jobs where they fight bandits and monsters. That’s until you run into a rather obnoxious merchant named Tokichiro who enlists you in his quest to become a rich feudal lord. From there, you take on missions that involve you fighting increasingly more difficult and more valuable demonic bosses.

Let’s face it, the actual main story in these Souls-like games never really matters all that much. The real interesting plot details come in the form of item description lore and other snippets of world-building that are revealed in the background. The narrative of Nioh 2 never really becomes anything more than cutscenes that play out before and after missions, although they do feature some moments that are interesting, or at least amusing.

Let’s Take Dark Souls And Make It Harder

What draws players to a game like Nioh 2 is the challenging gameplay, and it more than delivers on that front. In comparison to this, From Software’s games seem like child’s play.

On the surface, this looks like any other Souls-like game, and Team Ninja will take great pleasure in disciplining you for thinking that. The combat feels similar, but Nioh 2 has a stance system that offers different ways of tackling enemies. You can choose between a high stance, which increases your damage output at the cost of your mobility; a mid-stance which, allows you to use less stamina to block and defend; or a low stance, which makes it easier for you to dodge and move, although you won’t deal as much damage.

There’s also a wide array of weapons to choose from, along with ninjitsu – which are various forms of throwing weapons, buffs, or traps – and magic. You also have the Yokai Shift which transforms you into a monstrous demon form that you can customize to do even more damage. The way you level up your skills is similar to Souls-like games where you gain Amrita – the equivalent of souls – and use it to raise your stats. But you also gain skill points by using weapons and abilities often, similar to how The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion would reward you for jumping a lot.

One major departure from the way From Software handles these types of games is the way stamina – which is called Ki –  is used. You still have a meter that will deplete when you attack, dodge, block, or dash, but the way it refills is vastly different. There’s a move called the Ki Pulse which works almost like a Gears Of War active reload. If you don’t do that right, you won’t recover your Ki fast enough, which leaves you in a vulnerable position. This can lead to some dire consequences if you’re stuck sucking in the air during the incredibly vicious boss fights.

Don’t Prepare To Die, Prepare To Get Utterly Wrecked

Now, this is just a small selection of the various systems and mechanics present in Nioh 2, because this is a very complex game with a ton of things to consider. It can be pretty fun to master these techniques, but learning how all of this works can be pretty confusing. The game will continually throw new information at the player and it doesn’t always do a great job in explaining everything. There are a decent amount of tutorials that show you how certain aspects of the game work, but there’s just so much in Nioh 2, and it doesn’t feel like everything gets covered.

And you really do have to understand everything because you need all the help you can get. This game is hard. Unbelievably hard. Even the simplest, least threatening enemy can flat-out murder you in the blink of an eye. There’s no such thing as a pushover enemy in Nioh 2. Everyone and everything can kill you if you hesitate for even a moment. You need to master the stances, the Ki Pulse, the Yokai Shift and all of the other various mechanics or else you’re going to walking in and out of boss areas after you die over and over.

This game is aggressively difficult, but it is at least made a little easier by its multiplayer. You can acquire items called Ochoko Cups so you can call in other Nioh 2 players to help if you’re getting absolutely decimated by the bosses. There’s no shame in doing this, especially if you’re stuck. In fact, Nioh 2 can be played with two other people like a co-op game, so it might not be the worst idea to gather some friends to fight some Yokai together.

As for the levels, they’re fun to navigate and explore, but unlike Dark Souls, this isn’t one interconnected world. You choose your missions from an overworld map and get dropped into an area to start unleashing some bloody violence. Some might be disappointed by this choice as it makes the game feel a little smaller than it is.

However, the level and visual design are excellent. Nioh 2 looks incredible, and it gives you the option to either value your resolution or your frame rate. Some players want a 60 FPS thrill ride while others want the shiniest, prettiest game possible. Team Ninja gives everyone the chance to determine the graphical performance of Nioh 2. Hopefully, more developers will include this kind of functionality in their games.

The Most Fun, Rage-Induced Headaches You’ll Ever Have!

I enjoyed Nioh 2 even though I have a sneaking suspicion that it hates me. It practically ground my face into the dirt on multiple occasions and made me question whether I was having fun or if I had just discovered some latent masochistic tendencies. If you go into this game treating it like any other action RPG, or even like a standard From Software title, you will be grievously punished for your hubris. This is a game that demands your undivided attention and if you don’t give it then you can look forward to spending the first six hours of Nioh 2 stuck on the tutorial level.

If you enjoy a brutal challenge and managing complicated skill trees, then you need to jump on this right away. When it comes to difficult games, Nioh 2 is an incredibly deep and engaging experience that makes Dark Souls look like Kirby’s Dreamland.

A PlayStation 4 copy of Nioh 2 was purchased by TheGamer for this review. Nioh 2 is available on Playstation 4.

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