by Quinn Levandoski
reviewed on PC
Food for Thought
Much like eating food, I play different games for different reasons. Some games are like Doritos, not really giving me anything of substance but always tempting to snack on; some are like my motherís broccoli corn casserole, hitting me with nostalgia and reminding me of more simple times; and some are like soy sauce Kit-Kat bars, just so strange that I HAVE to try them. Nioh 2 - The Complete Edition is something else, though. If anything, Nioh 2 is the spiciest chicken wing on the menu, the one that you know hurts to eat but that you canít stop ordering. Or, maybe Nioh 2 is the 5 pound challenge burger at the local bar and grill, intimidating in its presence and bestowing a badge of honor upon anyone who can finish it. Whatever food you compare it to, Nioh 2 exists in that weird realm of gaming between love and hate. I donít think Iíve ever been more stressed out playing a game, but, even as I type this, I can't stop thinking about jumping back in for more. Those who have played similarly enraging-yet-satisfying games like Dark Souls, Remnant: From Ashes, or Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice will immediately understand the cocktail of emotions (yes, Iím writing this review hungry) that has earned these titles the massive following that theyíve garnered, and, while there are certainly some similarities between Nioh 2 and some of its ilk, Team Ninjaís yokai-filled slasher does enough differently- and enough right- to stand on its own as a triumph in a genre too-filled with imitators.
Breaking Bad Habits
In Nioh 2, like in Australia, absolutely anything that moves can kill you. Though some enemies have more limited capabilities, even the most basic ones can kill you with only a few hits. Having never played any of these ultra-punishing third-person action games before, it took me quite some time to shake old habits. I skipped all but the most basic tutorials and jumped right in. The very first enemy that I came across, a creepy, Gollum-like yokai and one of the most basic enemies in the game, served me my lunch four or five times in a row. It became immediately clear that Nioh 2 doesnít just reward patience, it completely requires it. If youíre looking for ďeasy to learn, tough to masterĒ combat, look elsewhere, because the combat here is deep, complicated, fast, and absolutely unforgiving. Another mistake I made when I started playing was thinking that all the combat systems were merely options, and that I could focus on mastering the fundamentals over the course of the first levels until things became a bit more ingrained in my muscle memory. But, alas, that isnít how the game works.
Itís easy to be overwhelmed by the amount of options Nioh 2 makes available early in the game, and theyíre all required more or less right away. Youíll have two melee weapons, each with multiple attacks and combos. Thereís also three stances (high, low, and medium), and each one completely changes the attacks of each weapon. Youíll need to change stances mid-fight, or, sometimes, even mid-combo. Some attacks also deal status effects. There are more attacks and abilities tied to each weaponís skill tree, plus a ranged weapon that youíll also carry. Youíll have to know how to bock, parry, dodge, and interrupt, and youíll have to use magic and/or ninjutsu. Some of these work differently depending on if the enemy is human or a yokai. All this also takes Ki (stamina) that needs to be actively watched and manipulated. Youíll also have to understand your spirits and yokai form, along with the myriad of combat options that those bring to the table. Add in a deep loot system with weapons armor that gives critical boosts and resistances, and itíd forgive you for throwing your controller out the window before you even see the first boss.
If you manage to hang onto that gamepad (and I do recommend a gamepad over a mouse and keyboard), the reward is an immensely satisfying game of chess. I was absolutely terrible at the game for at least an hour, and by terrible, I mean ďcanít reliably beat the most basic enemiesĒ terrible. Then I got a little better, then I understood a few more things, then I was able to work my way through the first levelís ďpudsĒ relatively safely. But, right as I was feeling good about myself, I got to the first boss and was reminded how much I didnít yet grasp. Thus is the cycle of Nioh 2. Nothing is impossible, but everything is challenging, and there really arenít any moments in-mission to relax.
Minor Glitches, Impressive Design
As is necessary in games like this, everything runs smoothly and looks solid. I did run into two glitches (one time the game loaded with everything incredibly dark, and one time my character could do everything except attack), but they were both within the first 15 minutes or so, and I didnít have any problems after that. The environments are varied, and each one is a satisfyingly dense tangle of pathways and shortcuts. The enemies are eye candy, too. While the humans were a bit on the generic side, the yokai include gloriously macabre creatures that were always as fun to look at as they were deadly. The gameís also ripe for replaying. The wide variety of weapons, skills, and armor types make for completely different experiences and approaches to gameplay. I repaid the first level a few times, bouncing between quick, dodge-based builds and tanks more skilled in blocking and parrying, and I was impressed with how good each felt despite not playing alternate builds long enough to play with things like magic or ninjutsu.
Nioh 2 isnít a game for everyone. It requires real dedication to learn to an even functional level, and itís not a game that lends itself to quick pop-in sessions or returning to after playing something else for a while. But, like a coconut or your really introverted friend, thereís beauty to be found beneath the hard exterior. Team Ninja has made a fantastic addition to the still-young souls-like genre, and Iím incredibly happy that the experience is no longer limited to the PlayStation consoles.
Tight controls, multiple viable playstyles, interesting enemies, well-designed environments.
A few glitches, some harsh difficulty spikes.