Nioh 2 by Team Ninja is an action role-playing game set in the Sengoku period of Japan with a fantasy twist. After character creation, the half-human half-demon protagonist embarks on a journey that loosely follows actual history but mostly focuses on Yokai, creatures from Japanese folklore, which serve as challenging enemies throughout the game. Instead of a connected world, missions are selected from a region map. They can be played solo, with the aid of computer-controlled spirits, or online with other players.
Most of the game is spent fighting, and luckily, the combat is amazing. Every fight in Nioh 2 is deadly and learning the enemy’s moves and reacting to them with dodges, blocks, and counters is a crucial part of mastering the game. Like the player character, each enemy has a health and stamina bar, and depleting the latter creates an opening for attacks. The real meat of combat is the stance system. The player can switch between low, mid, and high stances whenever they wish, even between attacks. The frantic battles call for different stances and their respective moves in different situations.
The game offers a variety of playstyles. There are 11 weapon types such as katanas, spears, and switchglaives. Each has its basic moves and unlockable Active Skills that can be further customized as the player sees fit. Enemy abilities can also be used with collectible Yokai skills, and the possibility to transform into a Yokai for a limited time is a great help in difficult boss fights. Using magic, ninjutsu, ranged weapons, and other abilities can also be extremely beneficial. Learning to utilize all the tools is a long process, and after 100 hours it feels like I am still just scratching the surface. The depth can be scary, but the game can be completed and enjoyed even with limited knowledge of its complex mechanics.
Apart from exploration, a more divisive part of the gameplay loop is the loot system. There is a ridiculous amount of equipment and usable items that drop during each mission, with different colors signifying different rarities. Each armor piece has multiple stats, and there is a lot of management that the player can (and eventually for more challenging content, must) do. I love random loot drops in games, as they constantly give me something to look forward to, but some may consider the constant inventory management a detriment to the game’s flow.
Unfortunately, Nioh 2 does not have much going for it besides the gameplay. The level design, despite some clever shortcuts, feels repetitive with too many gloomy castles used as set pieces. The graphics are technically great, but the overuse of particle effects can make the action look messy. The storytelling is mediocre at best, with fragmented cutscenes leaving the player confused about what is going on and how a mission connects to the previous one. Still, it was interesting to see how the game twists real history, and open-minded fans of feudal Japan can get kicks from meeting famous figures and being part of important events.
Overall, playing the game has been extremely fun and addicting, but at the same time, it is an uneven product that caters to a specific audience. I have found that the more effort I have put into learning the mechanical intricacies of Nioh 2, the more I have enjoyed it. There is a lot of content here for those that enjoy the gameplay and are ready to commit, with a lengthy campaign and multiple challenging new game plus -modes for repeat playthroughs. For those that like action games, the game gets a warm recommendation from me.
Publisher: Koei Tecmo, Sony Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Team Ninja
Platforms: PS4, PS5, PC
Release Date: March 12, 2020
Genres: Action, role-playing
Pictures: Screenshots taken by the author
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