I played the first Nioh some time last year after hearing about the hype of the sequel, which also released last year, albeit as a Playstation timed exclusive. The first game was a solid experience, with a complex and satisfying combat system with a plethora of fun weapons to mess around with (think something among the lines of Monster Hunter), a lot of similarities to the Souls games by FromSoftware, and traditional RPG loot mechanics as far as character progression is concerned. It was not a flawless game, as I had a lot of issues with Nioh’s enemy/boss designs which ultimately prevented me from reaching its “post-game” (Way of the Nioh and the Abyss). However, it provided an extremely good foundation for the sequel to improve on, which was why I was very excited to play the sequel once it finally came to PC in the form of the Complete Edition earlier this year. Overall, I will happily say that Nioh 2 is about as good as a sequel as one can expect, being a step up from the first game in almost every single way, good enough that I actually went all the way to the last difficulty mode and got the platinum trophy.
In the first Nioh, the protagonist is William Adams, an Englishman who later served as an advisor to Tokugawa Ieyasu towards the end of the Sengoku era in Japan. In Nioh 2, the protagonist is a player avatar who goes by the name of Hide, a “shiftling,” or someone who is half-human/half-yokai. Narratively, most of the game takes place as a prequel to the first game, focusing on the beginning/middle of the unification of Japan as opposed to the end, however the later parts of the game take place chronologically after the first game, and the DLC’s happen way before the events of the main story.
As the protagonist is no longer a preset character but a player avatar, Nioh 2 does have a character creator, and it is actually really well done. There is a lot of freedom for customization, and I’ve seen players recreate popular figures from media with startling accuracy (some of the better ones I’ve seen include DIO from Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, Samus Aran from the Metroid games, and Snake/Big Boss from Metal Gear Solid). What’s cool is that the game also lets me change my avatar’s appearance at any point in-game (when not in a mission), including sex, which is a bit weird from a lore/story-driven perspective but it is a nice quality-of-life feature as far as gameplay is concerned.
The meat and potatoes of Nioh 2, or its combat system, is still very similar to the first game’s. Managing stamina (or ki) is still crucial as it is used to both attack and defend/dodge, and the stance switch mechanic is still present as well (some weapons actually incorporate stance switches into their movesets). Weapons that existed in the first game still handle very similarly with the same moves, though they all generally received some new tricks to spice up their playstyles. I played through the first game using the odachi (a Japanese-style greatsword), and thus played through most of Nioh 2 using the same weapon, and was a big fan of a lot of the new skills they added to the weapon which allowed me to experiment with it more as opposed to just purely relying on my muscle memory gained from the first game. Nioh 2 also adds several completely new weapons, and some of the new additions are awesome with the new mechanics they brought to the table (I think the Switchglaive is easily the coolest of the new weapons that were not in the first Nioh).
The biggest change to the combat system from Nioh to Nioh 2 is the “yokai shift” mechanic, which replaces the living weapon mechanic from the first game. The process of building Amrita and then transforming into another being to beat down on enemies is still the same, but there are a lot more mechanics associated now, including something called the Burst Counter. Enemies in Nioh 2 are capable of launching highly dangerous attacks (called “burst attacks”) that are marked by a red glow, and those moves can be dealth with by a “burst counter,” which involves temporarily yokai shifting to counter the attack. There are also three different types of burst counters with different timings on how to counter an enemy burst attack, and which type depends on the guardian spirit currently being used. In addition to the burst counter, Nioh 2 also adds yokai abilities, which lets the player actually use abilities from different yokai (though they are not required to be in yokai shift to do so). These abilities are managed via soul cores, which are a possible drop from enemies. Equipping a yokai’s soul core to a guardian spirit allows usage of that yokai’s special ability, while also gaining various passive bonuses depending on the soul core. Soul cores can basically be treated as gear pieces for the guardian spirit, and up to three can be equipped at a time. Overall, I am a big fan of the new mechanics and I think they are a massive upgrade to the living weapon system, as it now adds a lot of creativity and depth to what was basically a “transform then mash to win” mechanic.
The biggest complaint I had for the original Nioh was its enemy/boss design. Most of the enemies in the first game felt difficult because they often did absurd amounts of damage, as opposed to having well-designed move-sets to keep me on my toes. That is not to say bullshit enemies do not exist in Nioh 2, but by and large the overall enemy quality feels significantly better and more fair, while still remaining a challenge. The bosses generally have more complex but fair move-sets, and learning/mastering a boss feels way more satisfying, which gives it a lot more longevity/replayability and more incentive to reach the end/postgame. The enemies/bosses are easily the biggest improvement between games, and it is largely thanks to the improved designs that I actually bothered to really delve into Nioh 2’s postgame while only just scratching the surface of Nioh’s.
The RPG elements of progression remain fairly similar, with the main differences being a slight revamp of the skill point system and the presence of soul cores. The skill trees look a lot better and are more easy to navigate, and skill points for different aspects no longer draw from the same shared pool (gaining proficiency for the odachi will give skill points to spend specifically on the odachi tree, same goes for omnyo/ninjutsu, etc.). Soul cores function basically like additional armor pieces, and can be farmed and upgraded (the process for upgrading soul cores is called fusion). Outside of soul cores, the only real major change in the loot mechanics between games is the presence of Art of Combat texts, which are unique skills that can be obtained as drops from bosses, just like smithing texts. It is a system that mostly works, though I do have a few criticisms (granted, these mostly apply to Dream of the Wise difficulty and up, so it’s not super relevant until going deep into the postgame). Smithing and Art of Combat texts can be super inconsistent to farm, and unfortunately Nioh 2 does not have any form of bad luck mitigation mechanics outside of stacking luck/item drop rates as high as possible and praying. This lottery-style system of drops can make fleshing out a complete build a pain in the ass at higher difficulties, as there is complete randomness in rolled effects and set bonuses on some loot pieces, outside of getting lucky with grace/rarity transfer stats and transferring them to the gear you want. One thing the first Nioh did better was that it allowed for forging of ethereal gear (the highest rarity of equipment that is unlocked at the second highest difficulty mode), which while not completely removing RNG from the process, made it a lot easier for players to at least create a solid foundation to work with. I personally am not a fan of such loot systems, as I personally do not like leaving things to pure chance and hope that I am lucky; if keeping players engaged is the goal then I would rather have a longer, but guaranteed grind for a certain piece of gear as opposed to just keeping my fingers crossed. This is even worse with soul cores, as soul cores cannot have their individual stats tempered (like with weapons/armor), so trying to get a soul core with desired effects is even more difficult. That being said, none of this is mandatory for clearing the game; I am only speaking from the point of view of someone who enjoys Nioh 2 to the point I am willing to get deep into its postgame.
Similar to the Souls games, Nioh 2 features a co-op system for players who wish to play with their friends or even with randoms online. The system is pretty robust, and I generally did not run into issues when trying to co-op with others. What’s cool about the co-op is that there is a “lobby” style system, where players can form groups to clear multiple missions while staying together (as opposed to summoning per mission and then disbanding upon death/mission end). There are also other online features like clan battles and the glory system which give some cool rewards to participating players, but I never delved super deep into them.
I am going to be frank here; I thought the first Nioh’s story was alright at best, and most of the time mediocre, but I think Nioh 2’s story is even more nonsense. Take this with a grain of salt, however, as I am someone who is at best only surface-level familiar with the end of Japan’s Sengoku era (which is when both games take place), so a lot of the significance of the events might be lost on me. At least in the first game, William Adams’s journey through Japan to save his guardian spirit was a solid foundation for a narrative, meanwhile the voice-less protagonist in Nioh 2 just seems to be there at the various events that take place. I do not generally care for silent protagonists in fully voice-acted games as I feel like it severely detracts from the quality of the story being told, even though it makes sense why in context (due to the player character being fully customizable). The DLC does not make the overall narrative better either, and really only did a good job of confusing me further. In the first game, there were at least a few characters I got somewhat attached to, mainly being William and his shinobi companions Hanzo and Okatsu, but I honestly could not find even the slightest damn to give about any of the characters in Nioh 2 (outside of some recurring characters from the first game).
I would imagine the game’s story would be a lot more appealing to people who are more thoroughly versed in the time period and folklore, but I am not a historian on Japan’s Sengoku period, so I did not find the narrative to be very compelling. However, ultimately I love Nioh 2 for its gameplay, and Nioh 2’s story matters very little to me.
Nioh 2 also has a pretty fire soundtrack. It does share a bunch of tracks with the first game, so for anybody who has played the first game some tunes will definitely be familiar, but I was a big fan of a lot of the battle themes in the various late-game missions. The game is also very pretty, though sometimes the particle effects can get excessive and put a lot of strain on my aging set-up (this is especially prominent in co-op).
All in all, Nioh 2 is a masterpiece. It is an absolute must-play for anybody who enjoyed the first Nioh, and I would recommend it to anybody who enjoys action games with well-developed combat systems. While I will recommend interested parties play the first Nioh to get a feel for the style of gameplay and storytelling, it is not mandatory (though playing the first game after starting with the second might be a rougher experience).
Rating: The complete edition on Steam is absolutely worth retail, as you get the base game and all three DLC’s for $50.