Game name: Nioh 2 – The Complete Edition
Release date: February 5, 2021
Available on: Steam
Genre: Action RPG
Developer: Team Ninja
Publisher: Koei Tecmo Games
It’s been more than eight years since the original Dark Souls required a fan petition to bring it to PC, and in that time, we’ve gone from barely getting any Japanese PC ports even years down the line, to getting most of them, either day and date or a year late at most (depending on exclusivity arrangements, etc.). But why am I talking about this? Well, today’s review comes courtesy of Koei Tecmo, publishers of a game that’s related to that anecdote in more than one way, as it’s both a “souls-like” and a year-late port of a title that originally launched as a PlayStation exclusive. The original Nioh was an excellent title that took the mechanics that make From Software‘s games so compelling and added Team Ninja‘s own ideas to the mix, creating a tough as nails action RPG that delivered the goods for both fans of Souls-type combat and Team Ninja devotees. Will this sequel catch lightning in a bottle again and deliver an even better experience? You know what to do if you want to find out!
If you’ve played Nioh (and honestly, I’d advise you to do so if you haven’t, because as I’ve just said, it’s excellent) then you will quickly notice that Nioh 2 brings some changes to the formula, with the most noticeable one at the start being that we can now create a fully customizable character, choosing their gender, hairstyle, race, facial decoration, you name it. If you liked William and would prefer to play as him, there is a “transformation” option that will let you do so, but be ready for some story weirdness if you go that way. Speaking of story, I greatly enjoyed both the main storyline and the extra adventures from the DLC (which is included for free in the Complete Edition). It’s an interesting take on the history of Japan, and the writers had many neat ideas that elevate it above similar titles.
Gameplay-wise, Nioh 2 builds upon the first game’s excellent pool of ideas, so we still have the stance-based combat (the player can switch at will between three stances that can greatly change how combat is experienced, focusing on heavier/swifter attacks, or a more balanced approach), the Ki system (a stand-in for the stamina meter present in other Souls-likes, but used in a way that rewards quick thinking and when combined with Ki pulses, enable us to keep pushing the offensive for far longer than we would be able to in a different title), the Revenant mechanic (which lets us fight AI controlled versions of dead players for a shot at getting gear and other rewards), and a loot system that can keep players engaged for far too long if my experience is anything to go by.
For players who haven’t yet enjoyed the beauty of Nioh‘s combat, the basics are relatively simple but very rewarding: our character can attack, run, block and dodge as long as they have Ki, and that Ki is replenished by either waiting patiently (like in most games in this subgenre) or executing a Ki pulse/well-timed stance switch. This is a key part of the game’s combat, and the fact that all the enemies we’ll face have their own Ki bar which can be depleted by our attacks further reinforces the need to quickly internalize Ki pulsing. There are few things more satisfying than executing a takedown animation on a foe because we’ve finally emptied their Ki reserve with our incessant blows, let me tell you that.
Is that all though? Oh no, you can bet it isn’t. Reusing mechanics from the previous game is a great way of keeping a franchise going, but Team Ninja weren’t keen on resting on their laurels when designing Nioh 2, so there are a lot of new ideas in play. Our new protagonist can “shift” into a Yokai form (you know, these monsters we’ve been hunting on both games) and turn the tables on our opponents with some good old fashioned monster beatdown action (this mechanic acts as a new take on Nioh‘s Living Weapon system, which has been removed from the sequel). This new Yokai Shift move can be triggered once a special bar (Anima) is full, but there are also other things we can do instead, such as executing attacks (which greatly drain our enemies’ stamina) or counters, which lets us parry unblockable attacks. Defeated Yokai will often drop Soul Cores, which can be cleansed at a shrine (Nioh‘s equivalent to bonfires in the Souls series) and attuned to our Guardian Spirit, or even fused to others, or to Yokai weapons. Attuning Soul Cores to our Guardian Spirit will improve our stats and add new active abilities that can be used should we have enough Anima to do so.
Aside from the Yokai Switch and Soul Cores mechanic, we can also find new weapon types (and one of them can take advantage of the stance switching system in an unexpected way, adding even more variety to the mix), and skill trees that let us customize our character even more depending on our preferred weaponry (or even use magic!). I must admit that the skill trees can be overwhelming (especially if you are going through the game as fast as possible, as was the case for me) and my mind is not yet completely made up as whether I enjoy their existence or would rather see them removed. I can certainly say that people who enjoy optimizing their build to the extreme will be happy with them though, as the amount of extra customization they add is staggering.
Another addition that might generate some backlash is the AI summoning system, which lets us spend a special currency in order to get aid from computer controlled versions of real players who used a special item to create a Benevolent Grave (which appears ingame as a blue light). From my experience, the summoning system is a great idea to help players through particularly perilous areas without compromising on the game’s mechanics or altering its difficulty through stat manipulation. I know that the Souls-like community can be very strict when it comes to difficulty settings, etc. but I feel that the existence of Benevolent Graves is a net positive that will allow newcomers to the franchise to enjoy Nioh 2 even at times when they can’t summon friends to help them (the player summoning system is not only intact, but it’s been expanded to support three players co-op for the entire campaign instead of just restricted to a specific DLC). Further balancing the Benevolent Graves, the currency required to summon an AI partner is the same we’d use to call human visitors to our world (Ochoko cups), so I doubt people will just spam those too much.
And while we are talking about areas of the game that have been greatly improved, I feel that not mentioning how good the level design is would be a disservice to Team Ninja. I have a hard time remembering a map that I didn’t enjoy, and the amount of shortcuts and hidden passageways that unlock other areas to explore in each mission is simply astounding. There is even a new gameplay mechanic tied to parts of the map now, Dark Realms where our Yokai abilities are enhanced, while our Ki (and our enemies’) replenishes at a slower rate until we find the head Yokai for that section of the level. It’s a neat way of complementing the tight marriage of level design and gameplay that’s otherwise present at every turn in each ambush or combat encounter.
So, Nioh 2 – The Complete Edition is all sunshine and rainbows? Well, not quite, if you count certain PC specific aspects of the game. This is a title that looks gorgeous (especially thanks to its excellent art direction) but doesn’t exactly run as well as it should on capable hardware, and suffers from frequent stability issues. I have experienced countless crashes, which I think are caused by sudden input changes (I play with an Xbox 360 gamepad, but take screenshots with my keyboard, and apparently the game really doesn’t like that). Aside from that, I’ve seen weird performance drops where the game will go from 80-ish frames per second to the 30s. This is happening on a system that exceeds the recommended system requirements (Ryzen 5 5600x, 32gb RAM, RTX 3070 at 1440p) and it’s not something that only happens once in a blue moon either, sadly. According to Koei Tecmo, a DLSS patch is in the works, so I’m guessing that RTX card owners will soon be facing a completely different picture, but I have to report on the version of the game that we can play now. Another weird thing that will apparently be solved in a future patch is the fact that keyboard and mouse icons are not present at the moment, so we need to remember our key bindings if we choose to go that way (and mouse acceleration is also sadly present).
Aside from these technical issues, Nioh 2 – The Complete Edition is an absolute blast to play, and possibly my favorite Souls-like to date. If you have 50 dollars to spare, Team Ninja‘s latest will give you more than 70 hours of quality action RPG content that’s pretty much unlike anything else on the market right now.
9/10 – Great.