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October 2023

Nioh 2

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Developer: Team Ninja
Release Date: Feb. 5, 2021


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PC Review - 'Nioh 2: The Complete Edition'

by Cody Medellin on Feb. 5, 2021 @ 1:00 p.m. PST

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

When it was released in early 2017 on the PC, Nioh: Complete Edition was hailed as a title that was a great spin on the Dark Souls formula. It took on Japan's feudal era before From Software did with Sekiro, but it did so with faster action and a loot system that felt like a RPG. It also didn't have the smoothest of releases, with some people reporting performance issues on high-end hardware and everyone dealing with a limited amount of graphical options compared to most other big PC titles. The game did well enough, and even though it comes about a year after the PS4 release, Nioh 2: The Complete Edition is now available on the PC.

The game takes place in feudal Japan in 1555, roughly 50 years before the events that brought the first game's protagonist William Adams to the land of the rising sun. You play the role of a shiftling nicknamed Hiddy, a child of a human and yokai union. With your parents dead for some time, you've managed to eke out a living as a mercenary thanks to your yokai slaying powers. As you progress, you'll eventually befriend a merchant named Tokichiro and fall under the service of Oda Nobunaga en route to becoming a samurai.

Much like the first game, the story acts as a conduit for the focus on fighting. There are plenty of twists that tie in to the events of the first game, and you once again take on the role of a silent protagonist. As in the first title, it is the characters that make the game's story interesting. The freewheeling attitude of your companion Tokichiro contrasts with the serious demeanor of your other companion, the demon slayer Mumyo, but Nioh 2 features a set of believable characters that you can connect with and care about, since your mute self doesn't cut it. Likewise, the cut scenes are vibrant with action with a few over-the-top moments serving as great eye candy.

You start the game with a character creation system that's quite deep. As points of comparison, the system is better than a WWE 2K game but falls short of the modern gold standard of Black Desert Online. The basics like height and build are here, but it also gets into the nitty gritty like being able to modify every facial aspect, including your teeth. You can spend plenty of time modifying your character's looks after you start up the game, so you won't be forced to do all of this up front. You can also customize your house and tea set collection, a fun distraction even if interior design doesn't provide any in-game benefit.

For the most part, Nioh 2 closely follows the formula set up by the original Nioh. This is a Soulsborne-style game where you manage a stamina meter (known as ki) while you dodge and block enemy attacks and use light and heavy attacks. Death means trekking back to the spot you died to recover everything, or you risk losing it all with another death. Shrines act as checkpoints, and while they help you recover health and let you level up and swap out items, they also ensure that every enemy in the area is resurrected, so there's no way to eliminate all yokai in a spot.

You carry two weapons at a time, but that's augmented by your ability to carry two separate projectile weapons and use magic. The types of weapons you carry determine your play style given their range and time to connect with a swing. Likewise, your three different stances (high, medium, and low) also change up your offensive and defensive capabilities, and they can even change your weapon style if your chosen blade has that option. Thanks to the game's inclusion of all DLC for Nioh 2, you have a wider variety of weapons to choose from. Trusty standbys like the spear and dual sword are still here, but you can now start off with newer gear, like the iron fists and splitstaff.

Thanks to the yokai blood coursing through you, the ability to temporarily change into a yokai-infused being is still possible, and you now have three different types at your disposal. The Phantom form attacks with projectiles and can teleport around the field. Go with Feral, and you'll employ lots of quick attacks to dash around, while going with Brute uses heavy hits to keep the enemy in a staggered state. Like before, you're invincible while in yokai form, and the damage you deliver is increased, but each time you hit an enemy, you'll decrease the amount of time you'll be in this state, so the transformation is a strategic maneuver rather than a way to prevent death. It also helps that you can carry around two forms, with the secondary form offering statistical buffs when it's not in use.

Whether you're in human or yokai form, the faster combat remains. When compared to its contemporaries, the rate at which the ki meter refills feels faster. The mastery of the ki pulse, which helps you recover at least half of the stamina spent on your attacks, ensures that you'll only feel the pinch of a low ki meter if you're careless. This isn't enough to transform the game into a new Ninja Gaiden, but it means that the base gameplay caters to those who want faster action to go along with smart decision-making.

Veteran Nioh players can easily jump into this game and feel at home, but there are two new elements that need to be mastered. The first is the use of soul cores, which come from fallen enemies. The uncovered ability is dependent on the defeated yokai, and just like the gear, killing an enemy doesn't guarantee it'll drop a core. Once the cores are purified, you get abilities like an ogre smash or the chance to twirl an umbrella to spit out throwing blades. For players, the better news is that the yokai core attacks take up a special spirit meter while leaving your ki untouched, so they're combo extenders and a way to keep fighting while recharging your ki.

The second new ability at your disposal is the burst counter. When an enemy flashes red, you can deliver a counter-blow that delivers a dose of damage and nearly wipes out the enemy's ki reserves. Since the enemies are governed by the same ki system as you are, this is a great way to stun enemies and deliver a serious amount of blows nearly uncontested, and since every enemy has their own burst attack, there are more than enough opportunities to unleash this.

The new additions may help the player, but they're also countered by additions to the enemy's arsenal. That red flash, for example, has some tight timing when it comes to unleashing your counter-move, and a miss means taking a lethal hit if you don't have a full health meter. Additionally, some enemies can throw down a dark zone that envelops larger areas, slowly draining your ki until the yokai dies. It happens often enough in levels and is pretty much guaranteed during boss fights, and unless you have a bevy of soul core abilities at your disposal, the activation of these zones transforms the game into a tense race to shut it down.

As such, these counters against your newfound abilities maintain Nioh 2's status as a brutal game until you master your abilities, learn to read enemies, or outrun foes until they give up. The game may love to kill you, but it feels fair about doing so, as you don't get stray attacks from off-screen and there are no surprise enemies (if you're paying attention). You can summon the spirits of friendly players with blue markers to help you; red markers let you summon evil spirits that you can duel for their gear. You can also summon live players for a brief moment in that stage or for the whole game, giving you the chance to complete the game from beginning to end if you can keep each other alive.

The game maintains the same progression structure as before, so you enter a level and make your way through to find the boss. The separate stages rob the game of feeling like a single interconnected world, but the stages make up for that by being non-linear. The first stage is a great example, as you can go directly to the boss yokai in less than five minutes, but you can also dodge the beast, take the time to kill everyone else to get better weapons and armor before unlocking a few gates that take you back to the boss — but you're now properly powered-up. It feels clever, and you'll wish that more games would take this approach to level design.

The only knock that one may have against Nioh 2 is that it can be incredibly dense. There is quite a list of stats to take into account, and every piece of gear you encounter has an effect. The skill tree is quite detailed and covers a ton of branches, and the gear can be briefly strengthened if you keep using it. There's also plenty of loot that gets dropped, scavenged from corpses, or obtained from chests, and you have the chance to either dismantle the unwanted pieces for parts or sacrifice them at shrines to get other items. These elements help the game feel like a hybrid action/RPG, a Diablo-like game where only a few hits will make you lose everything. That sounds fantastic for those who have become obsessed with the Soulsborne genre and want something meatier, but if you're coming into the genre fresh with this game or hate reading numbers to min/max things, you'll find Nioh 2 to be more overwhelming than expected.

The presentation is absolutely top-notch. The environments are picturesque even when they're set ablaze. The human characters look great, while the creatures look disgusting in a good way, and the animations in general are as smooth as expected from a game where tells need to be read clearly. As for sound, the music sounds beautiful. It's the perfect balance of quiet and ramped-up battle themes for boss fights, while the voice work in both English and Japanese sounds great. Also, the game should be commended on having virtually no load times while in a level. Dying is a frequent thing, and it's a godsend to be able to immediately jump back in without waiting a long time.

When compared to the first Nioh PC release, Nioh 2 is absolutely loaded with options. Full keyboard and mouse support is here from the beginning, and it feels pretty good even though the controller still works better. You can have the game display damage numbers for both yourself and enemies. All of the meters can have numerical values attached, and you can customize the sizes of the fonts for UI and subtitles. You can change lock-on behaviors and whether weapons are displayed. There are a number of graphical elements that can be changed, and all of this can be done in-game instead of going through a front-end launcher like the first title, but the frame rate cap of 120fps instead of unlimited might be disappointing for some. The game does have Nvidia Shadowplay support, which activates whenever you find a small sprite but works mostly as a way to automatically record every single death. Compared to the preview build, there's no DLSS option here, which is understandable since the feature didn't work in those older builds.

Nioh 2: The Complete Edition does everything that's expected from a sequel. The original game's mechanics remain as tight as ever, with the new additions slotting in perfectly without upsetting the overall balance. The game remains as tough as ever, but the deaths never feel cheap, and while the depth of the various skill trees and mountains of loot may scare away those who aren't used to this sort of thing, it works perfectly for those who want something different in their masochistic action games. Nioh 2 features a ton of content and the ability to play co-op, so Soulsborne fans will likely be playing this one for a long time.

Score: 8.5/10

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