Nioh 2 is a return to an insanely difficult, mind-bendingly frustrating and awesomely detailed world of hurt that has fans of the sadistically hard games lining up around the block.
It’s precisely the difficulty – and the fact that Team Ninja want you to suffer and fail – that makes this style of game so popular.
In the 2020 edition, instead of an Irish pirate samurai (yep), you’ll step in to control a supernatural warrior called a Yokai (also yep) and do battle with legions of the dastardliest demons this side of Battletoads.
The enemy types for some of the demon and human grunts are lifted straight out of the first game, but the real variety comes in the mid-level and end-level bosses, which are truly something. They fill the screen with their sheer size, and their attack range is even more immense. The intimidation factor is what gets you here. The first time you face a boss, you’ll be utterly destroyed in mere seconds. You’ll have to learn their patterns, level up your character and call on every single tool at your disposal to stand even the slightest of chances. Having said that, even some of the lieutenants can mess up your day, especially when they come at you in numbers.
This series, as with genre defining Dark Souls and the truly excellent Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, doesn’t waste a single second helping you to learn the game. Nioh 2 throws you into the deep end of the challenge pool and gleefully holds your head under the water – and that’s what makes this game so great, not the difficulty in itself, but the sense of achievement you get from making that next shrine where you can rest and level up. You earn every inch of progress you make in this game. You’ll die at the hands of almost every creature at some point, and you’re meant to. It’s through these deaths that you’re forced to be better to progress to the next area.
Nioh 2 is super pretty and the character customisation options are incredibly deep. From giving your avatar a complete kabuki makeover, to head-to-toe tattoos, all the way to heterochromia (different coloured eyes). You can mould your own likeness, or morph yourself into an incredibly awesome looking samurai, which may or may not be the same thing. It’s a complete system that gives you a sense of ownership and investment in the storyline. Although the customisation is almost completely irrelevant as soon as you apply armour and helmets… While some of the armour will allow you to see the cool changes you’ve made to your character, most of it will cover you in dark black clothing, which can make you wonder why you spent an hour designing your fearsome Ronin of doom.
Even if your character wasn’t shrouded in black, the rest of the world definitely is. Nioh 2 is a very dark game, even with the contrast cranked way up. Team Ninja have spent so little time and money on the lighting budget that DC could mistake it for one of their superhero movies.
The weapons system is back and badder than ever, including giant odachi swords, dual-wielded hatchets and the crazy-dangerous (and stupidly impractical) kusarigama – a sickle on the end of a metal chain. The weapons all have a range of stances, which allow you to attack in specific ways unique to each style of combat. It is absolutely essential to be comfortable and knowledgeable with your weapons, because Nioh 2 requires you to use every ounce of your proficiency to get past even the first mid-level boss.
“To make it super ultra-clear for those wanting a casual playthrough, this game is insanely difficult.”
To make it super ultra-clear for those wanting a casual playthrough, this game is insanely difficult. Your margins for error are razor thin. Half a second too late, or half an inch too wide and you’ll be spawning back at one of the very few save points in the world faster than you can say “blueberry pie”. It’s not until you’ve defeated the first level boss that you get the title card and realise that the last three hours have been spent in the tutorial. This is not a game for the faint of heart.
Rather than this being a step forward, Nioh 2 is a refined step sideways. It successfully builds on the previous title, and makes everything from the first game slightly better. Team Ninja themselves have referred to this game as an “evolution” from the original title and it’s clear now that they’ve been able to deliver on that objective.
Nioh 2 is a return to a world of pain and challenging game play that some players find simply irresistible. It focuses on tight, intense and technical samurai combat, and while there is an accompanying story, it’s more of a contextual learning tool than a focus for the game. To be honest, if you’re purchasing this game the compelling storylines are not the reason you’re here. Those with the patience to push through will be rewarded with some of the most leap-out-of-your-seat exciting moments of satisfaction (and possibly relief) that gaming has to offer.
Without a doubt, Nioh 2 will be the most challenging game you’ll play in 2020, and you’d best come correct if you don’t want to be left with another game title in your pile of shame – and lasting emotional scars.
Nioh 2 is available March 13, exclusively for PS4.