Japan and the legendary Samurai seem to be very popular flavours for games, these days. For me, it’s a big win button that when pushed, makes whatever you’re playing so much sweeter. I felt this after falling in love with Souls games. The Dark Souls Trilogy and Bloodborne were amazing games that I felt could only be enhanced by a dash of samurai or a hint of ninja. Then Nioh came along, changing the game.
The kings of genre would soon strike back with Sekiro and even with it being an amazing game, it still didn’t feel like the souls version of 1600 Japan that I was looking for. It’s all about Nioh.
Now, Nioh has a prequel. A very good prequel which hits all the right notes.
This one is set in 1555 feudal Japan and instead of controlling a young William, the protagonists from the first Nioh, you instead get to create your very own samurai. This is a massive change and to be honest, one of the best character creators I’ve experienced in a while. Every facet of the creator is really in depth, ranging from simple things like altering the depth of your cheek bones all the way to the colours of your eyes and so forth. You can even change aspects of your Yokai transformation. Oh yeah, your character is half Yokai.
It’s quite an empowering change which adds an extra layer of customisation to the mix. Dubbed the ‘Yokai Shift,’ it allows you to be possessed by your Guardian Spirit, giving access to powerful moves and special attacks with the three different modes being called Brute, Feral and Phantom. Another benefit from being half Yokai is getting access to the Burst Counter, a special move designed for dealing with enemies’ dangerous attacks.
Of course it’s not all about being a Yokai. The fantastic combat system from Nioh returns, refreshed and with more weapons to choose from. Like before, there’s an art to learning your weapon and it’s combos. The more you use a weapon, the more proficient you get with it, unlocking new abilities that open up your play style. I am in love in the Kusarigamas and it’s good to see they’ve remained largely the same since the first game. For my secondary, I went with ‘new kid on the block,’ the Switchglaive which has been a stirling addition to the roster of weapons.
Mastering the stance system is the main piece of the puzzle when working out Nioh’s combat system. For those unfamiliar with how it worked in Nioh, you have High Stance for powerful but heavy KI draining attacks, you have Medium Stance which generally works well for defence and Low Stance for quick light attacks and great dodging ability. Each enemy has a stance which is best used against, but managing your KI on top of that also comes into play. Swinging wildly till your KI bar is drained will just get you killed. After making a few attacks in a combo string, you will have a brief moment to perform a KI pulse which will give you some of that KI back, enabling you to perform larger combos.
It’s a fantastic system that really rewards you for learning it and even more so for learning your chosen weapon. This is also, where builds come into play.
Min-maxing was a strong part of the first game and is ever-present, here. It’s one of the most exciting parts of Nioh. Being able to come up with a build after looting and looking through tons of gear pieces can turn into a bit of an obsession. You end up spended ages trying to find the right skill to make your sword hit that little bit harder. It can be the difference between a boss walking over you and you one-shotting that boss.
It’s certainly not a free ride, though. The game is still difficult and if you’re not keeping your wits about you, you’ll end up another Revenant. I like that a lot. Despite having a quality build, I still found myself being challenged. The game difficulty continues to grow as you reach the end game where it really opens up. It’s like Monster Hunter in that sense. You don’t hit the ‘real’ game till after the credits role. That’s when you can start picking up Divine rarity items and properly tailor your build to be what you want.
Another cool customisation element comes in the form of Soul Cores. These items are dropped from enemy Yokai and once purified, can be equipped to give you additional abilities. Complementing this is a rather extensive skill tree which, as mentioned before, unlocks more nodes as you use a particular weapon or magic power. The options are seemingly endless, making each run feel unique.
There’s as much content here as you want to complete with a large number of main missions and over fifty sub missions to tackle if you still haven’t had enough. The co-op elements have also been fleshed out, letting you play expeditions with up to two friends. These missions are separate from the others and are played based on an assist meter that starts off full and depletes as a player dies. Once it’s empty, it’s game over.
Nioh 2 is everything its predecessor was and much more! The art design and soundtrack are sterling, the combat and customisation is deep and improved. There really isn’t much bad to say here.