A great second entry that continues to set itself apart from its inspirations.
Nioh 2: Complete Edition is an action RPG developed by Team Ninja and published by Koei Tecmo. It’s a sequel/prequel to Team Ninja’s 2017 title Nioh, itself inspired by FromSoftware’s Dark Souls/Bloodborne titles. It is a re-release of the original 2020 title, but packs in all 3 of it’s DLC expansions, as well as marking the first time the title is available on PC. The move to PC means that the title now has a list of extra features for the PC release, including HDR support, 4K and 144Hz compatibility, ultra-widescreen support and completely remappable keybinds, as well as keyboard and mouse support.
I didn’t play the original release of Nioh 2, but I did play its predecessor and I can say that while this game doesn’t change a whole lot mechanically, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Nioh was the first major game in the “Souls-like” genre that seemed to actively try and add to the formula, as opposed to simply repeating it, and that continues with their latest title in the franchise, evolving it’s already in-depth gameplay by introducing a few key features.
The first new addition you’ll find almost immediately in Nioh 2 is its character creator. Unlike the first game, where players took on the role of a fictionalised version of real-life western samurai William Adams, this game has you create an original, silent character from scratch and the tools they give you to do so are utterly fantastic. This is one of the most in-depth character creation tools I’ve seen in recent memory, giving you tons of options and sliders to really make your custom samurai your own. I’m pretty sure I spent around 40 minutes fine-tuning my character, but you could spend far longer if you wanted.
From this point on you’re thrown into a tutorial level, which teaches you the basics of the game’s already fantastic combat from the previous title; switching stances with weapons to balance mobility, defence and power, and teaching you to balance your Health and Ki (stamina) meters. It also throws in some lessons on another of Nioh 2‘s new features: Yokai Shifting. Yokai Shifting is this games equivalent to the first game’s Living Weapon mechanic. A gauge fills as you play, and once filled allows you to activate a powered-up form. However, this time around it fully transforms your character into a Yokai based on the type of Guardian Spirit you have equipped to your character (3 types, Brute, Phantom and Feral, to choose from with differing effects). There is a story explanation for this ability, with your character being a half Yokai known as a Shiftling, and it even has it’s own dedicated skill tree. While in this form the player won’t take any damage but instead expend their Yokai Shift Gauge when taking hits or performing actions. It’s a great system, but I only really found it especially useful during boss fights, as it takes a while to fill the gauge.
The two other new main mechanics to combat however proved useful constantly, Yokai Skills and Burst Counters. Seemingly every enemy in the game has a chance of dropping a Soul Core when they die. These items allow the player to equip special enemy specific abilities to their Guardian Spirit. These skills are universally useful, especially against tougher enemies and bosses, and they can be switched up from any of the games Kodama Shrines (Nioh’s checkpoint system, equivalent to Bonfire’s in Dark Souls). A Burst Counter is essentially an offensive parry system. Enemies in Nioh 2 will occasionally emit a red aura from themselves before unleashing a devastating attack, with pretty much every enemy type in the game having at least one, making every fight a genuine threat. To counter this, you can use a well-timed Burst Counter to negate the attack, while also damaging the enemies Ki. If an enemies Ki is depleted, they go into a staggered state which allows you to inflict a large amount of damage with a Grapple move, but this can also be inflicted upon the player, too. It adds another layer to the game’s already deep combat and it makes every battle feel both engaging and challenging, an important thing in a game where combat is most of the gameplay. Both the Yokai Skill and Burst Counter systems use Nioh 2‘s new Anima Gauge as a resource, meaning there’s a little more to micromanage in combat, but the gains outweigh this. They’re a fantastic addition, further setting the game apart from its inspirations. Nioh is, like the first game, a very difficult game, I’d go as far to say that it’s tougher than the SoulsBorne franchise, but it counters this difficulty by also being more mechanically deep than those titles, and it really forces you to get used to each of these mechanics to improve your chances of survival. I felt a very satisfying feeling of progression in terms of actual gameplay as I started using the Burst Counter and Yokai Skills more. They’re not just there for show, they’re features the game is absolutely expecting you to use, especially as the game goes on.
You’ll also occasionally find yourself in a Dark Realm, another new feature in Nioh 2. These visually distinct areas are infested with Yokai and will have either an object to destroy or an enemy to defeat in order to remove it. These areas impede your Ki regeneration, while also making enemy Yokai much stronger. If you rid the area of the Dark Realm, however, the enemies that once populated it will no longer respawn, and they usually serve as either a shortcut through an area or will house a Kodama Shrine that will be locked off until the area is cleared.
In terms of what you’ll be fighting with, Nioh 2: Complete Edition features 11 weapon types (9 from the base game, 2 from it’s DLC), with each weapon containing it’s own pretty large Skill Tree. The way you unlock these skill trees is by simply using the weapon, meaning the game encourages you to at least try each of its weapon types. It’s well worth doing as they’re all pretty unique and lavishly animated, too. Along with the 11 Skill Trees for weapons, there are 4 further Trees for your players base Samurai, Magic, Ninja and Shiftling. There is an insane level of depth to how you can build your character, and it can honestly be a little overwhelming at first. Specific Skill Points are earned by using weapons, abilities or finding certain items, but you also have a character level which is progressed using Amrita, a resource gained from consumables and mostly, from killing enemies. Much like its inspirations, if you die, you’ll leave behind a grave that you must make it back to so you can recover your lost Amrita. If you die before getting there, it’s gone for good.
Another key aspect of the gameplay is gear. Nioh 2, like its predecessor, is packed with loot, you get new equipment and items from pretty much every enemy you beat and, honestly, it’s a bit much. I didn’t really care for the constant explosion of gear in the first game, and I was hoping they’d tone it down for the sequel, but it’s still here, and now there’s more of it with new weapon types and Soul Cores. It’s not just the loot that’s excessive, but also the amount of micromanaging that comes with it. Equipment doesn’t just give you damage or defence increases but comes with a host of smaller buffs and resistances to think about as well as bonuses for item sets. You don’t have to worry so much about the micromanagement stuff, it’s just there if you really want to use it. It doesn’t change the massive amounts of item drops that you’ll get from most encounters, however, which is something I did get sick of. It makes gear not feel special. There is a system to forge weapons, but it felt unnecessary given how quickly I was earning better gear. There’s also a system to alter the appearances of your gear if you are attached to how a piece looks, which is nice, but it’s only something you can do from the main map screen, and it’s not a feature I found myself using.
In terms of story, I was pretty let down. It’s fine, but it never felt like anything more than that. Characters are mostly uninteresting and for a plot that takes place over decades of time, I didn’t have much of a sense of what was happening. It’s serviceable, and obviously, it’s down to personal preference, but it was the weakest aspect of the game for me. It’s got some positives presentation-wise, like how when you encounter a new Guardian Spirit you’ll get a hand-drawn animatic sequence, and the choreography of fights in cutscenes is great, but in terms of a story, it’s lacklustre. What is interesting about the game’s structure is that it’s mission-based, as opposed to being in one connected world. It’s not a new feature for the franchise, but it is a good way to break the game into smaller, more digestible chunks, especially given the game’s difficulty. It’s split up into main missions and sub-missions and even features some online co-op for the first time in the franchise. Also new is the ability to summon in NPCs to help during fights that are computer-controlled versions of real players characters. It only lasts a short time, however, or until the character or player dies, whichever comes first (most likely death). I do have an issue with this structure in that it feels somewhat required to play at least some of the sub-missions in order to meet the recommended level. As someone who just likes to push on with the main parts of a game, it’s a little frustrating to have to stop forward momentum to grind out levels in an unimportant side mission. However, this is purely a personal thing, and for those that want to do everything the game has to offer then you’re looking at easily over 100 hours of content, especially as this version packs in the aforementioned 3 DLC packs. For me, however, my main motivation to play was its gameplay.
From an audio/visual standpoint the game is very good. It’s not the most graphically outstanding game out there, but its art design is solid and coherent, making for a game world that makes sense. Environments and effects can look really nice at times, with weather effects and lighting adding a distinct atmosphere. Character models have a high level of detail, especially when it comes to armour/weapon detailing. Enemy designs are varied, with bosses and enemy Yokai being especially interesting as opposed to the human enemies. I did find some issues with the camera with larger bosses and tighter environments, as it would end up clipping against walls, or the larger enemy would take up most of the screen making visibility an issue. It would’ve been nice to have some options to pull the camera further, but I couldn’t find them. The game also features a photo mode, a feature that’s becoming more commonplace now and something I’m always a fan of. It’s pretty in-depth too, allowing for multiple filters, expressions, enabling/disabling effects and features in the environment and so forth.
Music in the game was good, although nothing really stood out to me. When it’s there it reinforces the atmosphere of levels and adds an extra layer to things that would be missed if it was absent. The game is also fully voice acted, with both English and Japanese as options. I highly recommend you play with the Japanese however, not only for authenticity but because the English dub is not particularly good. I used it in one scene, just to hear the difference and voices just didn’t fit the characters that they were portraying. It’s not something I usually care about, and as someone who plays a lot of Japanese games, I usually opt for an English dub (I tend to lose focus and miss stuff so playing in a language I can understand mitigates that), but here it’s just not up to par with the Japanese VA.
From a performance standpoint, I was honestly a little letdown, as the game didn’t seem particularly well optimised. I’m running a pretty decent PC (Nvidia 1070, 16GB Ram, i5 8600K) and was playing from an SSD. It should also be noted that I was running the game at 1080p, no HDR, and am playing on a monitor limited to 60Hz. The load times were incredibly fast, which is appreciated given how often you’ll find yourself dying, but the actual performance of the game felt like it was lacking when it really shouldn’t be. In effects-heavy zones, it’s especially noticeable. Dark Realms and heavy weather exteriors hit the FPS the most. It would sometimes hit as low as around 25 according to my FPS counter, with it frequently dipping into the 40s and 50s. I even tried knocking down the graphical settings, but it didn’t seem to make much of a difference, and I could never hit a locked 60 FPS which was disappointing. There’s also not a lot to change in terms of the graphical settings, and while the added customisation is appreciated, it feels pretty barebones. I’m hoping it can at least see some optimisation patches, as I was playing the game in pre-release, but only time will tell.
All in all, Nioh 2: Complete Edition is a really solid package for fans of the “Souls-like” genre, and is one I’d easily recommend. It’s an incredibly deep action RPG, built on a fantastic foundation in its combat. I had my problems with it, however, its story, performance and its constant shower of loot were all downsides to me, and while the technical performance is arguably an objective negative, the other issues were purely my preference, and aren’t enough to make this game anything less than great. It’s also incredible value for those who want to dig deep, offering a ton of content as well as countless options for build variety with all the different weapon types, Guardian Spirits and Yokai Skills.
Nioh 2: Complete Edition is available to purchase on PC through Steam, and is also available on PS4/PS5.
Tom Woods is a Games Journalist for ICUGamer.com. Follow Tom via Twitter @T_Woods93
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