I don’t know what I expected from Nioh 2, really. Perhaps more of the same but with a new setting? To some extent, that’s what we’re getting – but its new features have made me very eager for its release.
Sitting down to go hands on with Nioh 2 at Sony’s London office, I was surprised to hear that Nioh 2, despite its name, is actually set before the first game. That was pleasing to my ears; it meant there was likely to be more lovely Japanese architecture rather than less. I also learned that the demo I was about to play was about halfway through the game, and that I was probably going to die. A lot. (Narrator’s voice: He did.)
Stepping into the shoes of a mercenary who channels the power of a Yokai, players will be happy to hear that Nioh 2 features what is seemingly a robust character creator. If you want to jump straight onto the action with a pre-made character that’s fine, but if you want to make the most fabulous warrior ever to grace the Sengoku period you can spend some time doing so. I didn’t have all the time in the world, unfortunately, so I quickly made some choices and threw myself into the game.
Having not played Nioh for a while, sure enough death came fast. Tackling a lowly undead warrior, a backwards dash saw me fall through a hole in the bridge I was battling across, resulting in me plummeting to my death. I picked myself up and tried again, this time making it to the other side of the bridge. But then a large demon materialised and caught me off-guard with a powerful attack. That was death number two.
At that point, I thought it was wise to jump into the tutorial that introduces Nioh 2‘s new Yokai abilities before carrying on, and it’s these abilities that really differentiate this sequel/prequel from its predecessor. You see, having previously been a Yokai, your mercenary has all manner of supernatural abilities available to them.
If an enemy readies up an attack and their eyes flash red, for example, it’s time to pull out the Yokai Counter, which is performed by pressing R2 and the circle button. You’ll momentarily turn into a Yokai and attack your foe, interrupting their otherwise deadly attack. You have to be fairly close for it to succeed though, otherwise you’ll feel the pain. It’s risk versus reward, something that fans of this type of game should be familiar with.
And there’s more. Your mercenary can make use of three Yokai abilities by holding R2 and pressing either the triangle, square or X buttons. These abilities are somewhat customisable, too, by obtaining the souls of enemies. I made use of multiple powerful melee attacks during the demo, which my mercenary would turn into a hulking demon for a second or two to perform. I then changed one of my abilities into what was essentially a ranged spell, however, sending forth multiple projectiles. Don’t worry though; you can’t cheese Nioh 2 by using these abilities excessively. To recharge them, you need to take the fight to the enemy, and that, as ever, is dangerous.
The foes I fought as I made my way through what appeared to be a burning temple were a mixed bag. Some I recognised – such as the fiery wheels of doom – but others were new to me, like the monster that seemed to attack me with a giant tongue. Outside of the occasional ninja they were all grotesque, and they all had unique attack patterns that I needed to overcome. The real fun came when they attacked two or even three at a time.
In Nioh 2, you can even up the odds a little when outnumbered. The graves that you find on your travels that allow you to summon powerful enemies so you can kill them again and steal their plunder make a return, but this time there are also graves of friendly spirits. In the demo, they were handily located close to bosses, allowing me to summon an AI-controlled companion to assist me in battle. Or at least for the first boss, anyway. Summoning an AI companion requires Ochoko Cups, so if you run out you have to go it alone until you’ve obtained more. I ran out after just two summons, leaving me to fight the boss at the end of the demo one on one.
Of course, there are other new features in Nioh 2 as well. There are new weapons that change form depending on your stance, for example, making them more versatile and, initially at least, unpredictable. When a gauge is full you can go full Yokai for a short while, turning into a demon to even the odds against giant enemies. In your demonic form you have access to yet another powerful counter move if you have the skill to pull it off, and can perform other unique attacks.
My short time with Nioh 2 left me elated. As already stated, I didn’t know what to expect from it going in, but going out I was convinced that I’m going to like it more than its predecessor. It’s maybe somewhat a little bit easier thanks to your new Yokai abilities and the opportunity to summon help – I also noticed that once killed, the enemies standing between you and a pesky boss don’t respawn when you die, which is a nice touch – but it’s still rock-hard.
In my first boss fight against a samurai, my victory was expedited by a friendly spirit, taking me just two attempts. Against the giant demon that stood in my way of the demo’s completion, however, I died 10 times or so before finally emerging victorious, adrenaline pumping through my veins. I had to learn to counter every single one of his attacks, or simply find a way to avoid them. And effective use of my Yokai abilities was pivotal to success.
Nioh 2 sees the series finding its own feet. It’s stepping away from the Soulsborne genre a little and becoming more of an action RPG, with heavy emphasis on action. Your newfound Yokai abilities make combat more entertaining, varied and interesting. You’ve got yet more opportunities to make your mercenary your own. In Nioh 2, you’re still going to die a hell of a lot, but the experience seems generally more accessible and more respectful of your time. I didn’t know what I wanted from Nioh 2, but now I do. It’s what Team Ninja has delivered. Roll on March 13th.
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