Nioh 2

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Developer: Team Ninja
Release Date: March 13, 2020


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PS4 Review - 'Nioh 2'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on March 10, 2020 @ 3:00 p.m. PDT

Prepare to be overwhelmed with intense action and experience the ultimate sense of accomplishment with the Sengoku masocore title, Nioh 2!

Buy Nioh 2

Nioh was destined to be compared to FromSoft's Sekiro. Both are extremely violent samurai games about killing humans and monsters using Dark Souls-like mechanics. Nioh 2 shows that the two games aren't mutually exclusive. While Sekiro prides itself on smart movement and simple strikes, Nioh 2 has a complex combat system that lets you beat up on opponents like you're playing Ninja Gaiden (or die miserably in the attempt). It may not be the only kid on the block anymore, but Nioh 2 has everything it needs to stand with the big guys.

Nioh 2 is a prequel to the original game, though it's only loosely connected. You take on the role of the nameless child of a human and a Yokai. When your parents are murdered, you must survive alone in the wilderness. A chance encounter with a monkey-like merchant forces you from the seclusion into the monster-filled world of ancient Japan. Together, you set out to collect the Spirit Stones, which contain great power, so you can free Japan from the tyrannical rule of evil.

The majority of Nioh 2's gameplay feels extremely similar to the first game. Almost everything that I said in my review of the first title still stands, but Nioh 2 displays unmistakable extra polish when compared to the previous game. It does a better job of introducing important mechanics and has a number of features that are designed to ease you into the game — before it pounds your face. At the end of the day, if you enjoyed the original Nioh's gameplay, then Nioh 2 offers more of it. If you didn't, you're unlikely to change your mind just because there's a fresh coat of paint.

Nioh 2 does offer some new features. Most significant is the ability to take advantage of Yokai forms with transformations and special attacks. Transformations (Brute, Feral, Phantom) are like a Devil Trigger, allowing you to transform into a high-power super form. Choosing your form isn't as simple as picking your favorite. Each form has a different set of abilities and attacks, and most importantly, burst counters, which can be used outside of your transformed form. You'll want a form that meshes with your play style, and that varies from player to player.

Figuring out the right Yokai form and the right burst counter is critical because burst countering is a major part of Nioh 2. Every enemy, from the crappiest bandit to the biggest boss, has burst attacks. They're surrounded by a glowing red aura and perform an attack that has a very good chance of killing you in one shot. If you properly activate your burst counter, you'll inflict massive ki damage to the enemy in addition to a hefty dose of regular damage. It's essential to give you the advantage in boss fights, where failing to master bursting is a great way to die.

The three forms each have their own way of bursting. Brute form has an interrupt, which can be used while the enemy is charging. Feral has a super-dodge, which creates an afterimage that interrupts the enemy if they hit it. Phantom is a shield that deflects the enemy's attack if you time it just as it hits. If you like being up close and personal, then brute is probably your method of choice. If you like dancing around, go with feral. If you prefer hanging back and waiting for enemies to expose their vulnerabilities, then Phantom is the go-to.

I really enjoyed the burst counter system because it supports both aggressive and cautious play styles, allowing for instant responses to an enemy's deadliest attacks. Combine this with the Ki Pulse system, and you're as capable of launching an unending stream of attacks on helpless enemies as you are of blocking, dodging and parrying every attack until the enemy is worn down and helpless.

In addition to your customizable Yokai form, you can extract Spirit Cores from defeated foes, so you can briefly summon them to do a powerful attack. These attacks are extremely strong but use your magic gauge, which is also fuel for the burst counter. The attacks are cool, but I found myself using them sparingly and in emergencies, since running out of energy for burst counters can be far more lethal than taking longer to defeat enemies.

This is important because Nioh 2 is just as difficult as the original. It's a game where a single wrong move can lead to you losing a huge chunk of health. The fact that you have burst counters means that enemies are far more willing to pull out ridiculous stuff because you have a way around it. Enemies also can project Dark Zones, which power them up while weakening your character, and you need to drain their ki with repeated attacks and counters to disable the zone.

The difficulty level in Nioh 2 is very hit-and-miss. I rarely felt like any of my deaths were my fault, but it was still frustrating when I came within a hair's breadth of killing a boss only to miss one dodge and return to the closest save point. When you succeed in a fight, you probably won't limp to a win but will utterly wreck the boss. It's very feast or famine — in a satisfying way. The title isn't ashamed of being as painful as Dark Souls, so you should know what you're getting in to.

There are some things that make the game slightly easier. You can summon friendly blue phantoms, either AI-controlled or other players, who can help you in fights. The AI-controlled allies felt of only limited use to me but having a second target can make bosses less overwhelming. Other players can make the game easier in true Souls fashion, but it looks like they won't be as overpowered as in the original game.

Nioh 2 isn't quite as beautiful as Sekiro, but it does the job well. It has extremely nice visuals that are buttery smooth. You can choose to use higher-end graphics or the 60 (or 30) fps action mode, and this keeps the game feeling excellent, even on the aging PS4 hardware. A special aspect of note goes to the in-game character creator, which is one of the best I've ever seen. It allows you to adjust so many aspects of your character that you can create just about anyone you want. The voice acting and music are both quite good, but nothing stands out exceptionally.

Nioh 2 is going to be compared to Sekiro, but it is its own beast. It's an excellent follow-up to the original game, and it isn't any lesser for being compared to FromSoft's attempt at the samurai Soulsborne genre. The new features help keep the smooth gameplay feeling intense and exciting, and the various tweaks do wonders for keeping the game fresh. Its biggest flaw is being "more of the same," but the original game was fun enough that a fresh new set of enemies and items is worth a lot. Just be prepared to die a lot. A whole lot. As in, "I saw multiple corpses by the first enemy of the game."

Score: 8.5/10

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