Team Ninja’s eagerly anticipated follow-up to 2017’s excellent Nioh is finally here. Currently exclusive to the PlayStation 4, we traveled back to Japan in 1555 to explore the Dark Realm and do battle with fearsome demons.
When I’d be talking about the big PS4-exclusive games coming out during the first half of the year in 2020, I’d always mention the same three games: The Last of Us Part II, Ghost of Tsushima and Nioh 2. Sure, it might come to Windows later (like the first one did), but that didn’t make me any less excited to start playing.
And that is despite the fact that many of Nioh 2’s enemies can slay you if you take but one step in the wrong direction. As with the first game, there’s a grueling level of difficulty at work here, but it’s one that also feels rewarding and never unfair. Okay, almost never unfair. Practice, picking the right battle strategy and launching the right offensive and defensive moves at the right time make all the difference in a game like this, and when it happens you truly feel like a mighty warrior.
The combat mechanics in Nioh 2 are even deeper than before, and your skills can be customized to your heart’s content. Pick a favorite weapon, distribute your skill and attribute points and practice. On top of those basic (but already intricate) dynamics, you also have new abilities that are tied to the Yokai and Dark Realm elements of the game. Born as a half-breed between yokai and human, you walk the line between the spirit world and the physical one, which brings interesting confrontations with it as you traverse between worlds. Whatever your battle tactics are, countering enemy attacks is going to be crucial to your success and this isn’t a game where you can button mash your way through the narrative.
Besides the narrative-driven missions, which are generally long, you can also play shorter optional side quests that often help you accumulate additional skill points to help you level up. Other rewards include new gear, but the biggest impact of these side missions is that they pad the game to a very lengthy adventure that – even without any of the post-launch DLC that will probably come – already spans forty to fifty hours of gameplay. I skipped past some of the optional stuff just to get through the game in time, but the upside is that I already have replay value to discover when I head back in.
When I do, I might try playing side by side with others, as Nioh 2 supports online cooperative play that enables one or two additional warriors to fight side by side with you. The difficulty level doesn’t scale accordingly, so things get easier when you join forces with others – that’s a great benefit if you’re struggling, but those who actually relish the game’s difficulty might want to tackle it solo first. Doing so will also likely uncover a lot of secrets, and not just in the sense of pickups. You’ll find that success in Nioh often hinges on what you know and see, and failing often means you overlooked an enemy lurking around the corner or a trap that leaves you vulnerable. Playing these a second time gives you a sense of outsmarting the game, but that doesn’t always take away the frustration you had the first time.
Nioh 2 is a gorgeous game to look at, but the step up from the first game is relatively minor. 16th Century Japan also features a ton of dark backdrops with a lot of grey and brown hues, so the intricate details don’t always pop out of the screen as much as they could. Then again, it IS the “dark realm” you’re exploring, so I can’t complain too much.
If you enjoyed Nioh, you will most certainly enjoy its sequel (which narratively speaking is actually more of a prequel). It has the same kind of unrelenting combat and an incredible amount of narrative content, but with refined combat mechanics that make for a slightly more polished experience. As we wait for the first wave of PS5 titles to be announced, this is still a reason to be proud of your PS4.