As exhausting as it is exciting, Nioh 2 just keeps you coming back for more. It’s a worthy successor to the first game, building on the strong foundations that made the original game great. Level design, enemy variety, weapons, character customization—you name it, Team Ninja polished it to perfection.
I’m no stranger to Souls-like games, but there is nothing more satisfying than Nioh 2’s combat system. Early on, the game pits you against a huge Yokai, which are the Japanese mythos-inspired monsters of this game. After a death or two, the game tells you that you can always run away and come back at another time. This really sets the tone of the game, giving you an idea of how deep the mechanics go in Nioh 2—and boy, do they run deep. Nioh 2 isn’t afraid to punish you for your mistakes, but even with over 300 deaths under my belt, the game never felt unfair.
The main draw of Nioh 2 over other Souls-like games is the incredibly complex mechanics and systems that you have. The game is generous with its varied selection of weapons, giving you almost a dozen weapons to play with each with its own play style. As an added twist, the main character is also half-Yokai, giving you additional tools to dispatch your human and Yokai adversaries. Alongside the weapons and Yokai powers, there is a plethora of items, stances, skills, and much more that you must learn to master the Samurai Way. At first, it seems like the game is out to get you, throwing a few hundred things at you right outside the gate, but with every death and triumph, Nioh never fails to show its depth in terms of gameplay.
Before any of the Yokai hunting begins, you must create your character. Going in, I had no expectations for the game’s character creation and I was pleasantly surprised. Admittedly, I probably spent more than half a hour creating my character because of all the options available. There was a lot more customization that I anticipated. You have the ability to fine tune your hair, eyes, complexion, scars, tattoos, and even a Yokai form. While there may be other games with more immersive customization, Nioh 2 definitely delivers in terms of the quality of character design (arguably much better than Cyberpunk 2077). The best part though, is that you can freely change up how your character looks at any point in the game.
No battle is without its challenges in Nioh 2. Every fight you encounter is a mix of two things: a dance, and a math problem. A lot of finesse is required for both. You time your dodges and attacks to the rhythm, but with one misstep it’s game over. Rest assured with time, experience, and a lot of deaths, you will finally learn the appropriate mix of attacks and dodges for every attack your enemy does. That said, rhythm is an essential mechanic to the game—just look at one of the most fundamental mechanics of the game, the Ki Pulse.
In the spirit of Dance Dance Revolution, perfectly timed button presses are key to Ki management, which is the stamina of Nioh 2. Stamina is one thing that needs to be micromanaged in every fight, and after every combo string fired off, you have an opportunity to restore a portion of your used Ki by timing your Ki Pulse at the right time. The more you’re off beat, the less Ki is restored, and that’s a good indicator of how important it is to find your rhythm in this game. As with every Souls-like game, stamina management is key to winning, and Nioh 2 brings on new challenges like the Yokai Realms, whole areas that heavily reduces your stamina regeneration.
Of course, your weapons of choice also define the way you play. The game immediately gives you an option of nine different weapons, each with their own battle style and skills, and you get to switch weapons on the fly. Ever wanted to be a scythe-wielding axe-thrower? This is the game for you. This diversity is a breath of fresh air, giving your character a few dozen ways of hacking and slashing through your adversaries. Weapons have different reaches, combo sets, and even ranged capabilities, and they’re all beautifully balanced, giving you the freedom to choose your weapon based on the enemy type or personal preference.
If the variety still wasn’t enough, the Way of the Samurai gives great importance to your weapon stance. You can shift from a speedy and defensive low stance, to a well-rounded mid stance, to a high power, stamina consuming high stance. Against quick enemies, you’d have to switch to the low stance to dodge attacks after getting a few hits in. Against heavily armored enemies, you’ll need your high stance heavy attacks to break their guard before switching to a mid stance for your powerful combos.
The amount of mechanics and tools to learn may be overwhelming, but these are also what set it apart from any other Souls-like and arguably they’re what make the game all the more enjoyable. If you’re new to the Souls-like format, it can be incredibly stressful at times as your death count rises all while trying to memorize the appropriate combos and managing your stamina. However, that’s what makes the authentic Nioh 2 experience. Partake in the struggle and enjoy the ride. At the very least, you’ll come out feeling triumphant at the very end.
GameRev was provided with a digital download of the game for the purpose of this review.