So I’ve literally spent this entire past week playing nothing but this game. I even spent another entire day writing up this review. It’s a bit longer than what I usually do (and maybe a bit rambly), but I just had a lot come to mind and wanted to share my thoughts on what has already become frontrunner for my game of the year 2021.
Incredibly satisfying combat. Simply put, Nioh 2 has some of the best combat I have ever seen from an action RPG, or really action games in general. It has that perfect blend of depth, difficulty, customization, and impact. You’re not just cutting down paper here, you really get a feel for the combat through the visual and audio feedback – it has a nice sense of meat to it. For a lot of the fights, especially bosses, I found myself leaning into the screen and really getting into the combat – oftentimes being very vocal about it despite no one listening.
At the same time though, this isn’t another one of those “dodge, attack, dodge, parry simulators,” it has a bit more of an action focus and the combat is generally fast-paced even when using heavier weapons. I personally went through the entire game mostly using a giant axe, which is quite a bit slower than the other weapons, but you would find me dashing all over the place and even wailing on enemies to break their guard.
Part of what allowed me to do this was the game’s block mechanic, which I was a huge fan of. It negates ALL physical damage, whether that be a quick stab or some giant hammer strike, all at the expense of some Ki (your stamina meter). This allows you to straight-up facetank enemies if you have enough Ki and is essential if you’re going to be using a slower weapon like I did. Even then though, there’s a lot of movement and very little downtime, especially because there’s neat little mechanic called Ki pulsing.
In short, a Ki pulse allows you to recover some Ki after each and every attack you do simply by hitting a button at the right time. It sounds simple, but it was actually the single hardest thing for me to grasp when I was getting into the game. I mean, you have to time these Ki pulses while in-combat with things going on everywhere. Once you get the hang of it though, the combat becomes a lot more involved, as you’re no longer wasting a bunch of time waiting for you Ki to recover – something a lot of other Souls-like games fall victim to.
That brings me to combat depth and customization, which Nioh 2 is a shining example of. Not only are there eleven main weapon types, but you’re able to equip two simultaneously and each has three stances to switch between – and that can be done mid-combat. In fact, doing so acts as a Ki pulse, so you can hit an enemy with a high stance heavy attack before switching to low-stance for a quick backwards dash while at the same time recovering some of the stamina you just expended with the heavy attack. That’s just one example though, there are a lot of layers like this on top of the core combat that really make it more than just “another Souls-like.”
Take the yokai mechanics for example, which act independently of the weapon you’re using. There’s the yokai shift (which allows you to change into a yokai mid-fight), the burst counter (which allows you to interrupt powerful enemy attacks if you’re fast enough), and the yokai skills (which are special moves that can be dropped by certain enemies and equipped at shrines). So not only do you have the solid core combat, but you got all this yokai stuff on top of it and this is all linked in such a way that it’s really rewarding for those able to make use of it all. It does give the game a bit of a learning curve for sure, but the payoff is immensely satisfying.
And I should give a brief mention to the difficulty. Nioh 2 is an incredibly difficult game and is absolutely going to be frustrating for those that aren’t already into the genre. I myself had several moments where I felt that same frustration. However, it never got to the point where I was so frustrated that I felt like quitting. I was always learning something new and taking that experience with me to the next life. Finally taking down that boss after multiple attempts or finally mastering that Ki pulse mechanic to carry me for the rest of the game are just a couple of the rewarding experiences I had here and I’m glad I stuck with it all the way.
Really cool overall aesthetic. So I may be bit biased given that I love Japanese history, but Nioh 2 really knocked it out of the park here. Levels that look straight out of the Sengoku period, weapons pulled from that same time, and of course, enemies that are all based on Japanese folklore – it does a lot of good in staying true to that traditional Japanese aesthetic. Even the more minute details, like the terminology, are all kept the same and you’ll likely recognize a lot of the historical events and yokai if you’re at least somewhat into Japanese history and folklore.
The enemy variety is pretty good too. There are some common enemies you’ll see a lot of for sure, but there are a lot of bosses and bigger yokai to fight and they all have some cool designs to match. Really, the graphics and overall art direction were solid and the music was a nice touch too – I’ve already been listening to the soundtrack since completing the game.
Nice level design. One of the common complaints I heard from the first Nioh was that the level design was poor. Blocky terrain, boring layouts, lacking exploration, I found none of these to really be an issue with Nioh 2. The levels are varied (both in design and layout), the enemy placements make sense, and it didn’t feel like it was just a series of blocks put together – a common problem with a lot of JRPGs I play. It even has a nice touch of exploration to it, hiding secrets in little rooms or branching paths that you can easily miss if not paying attention.
And the level design also solves my biggest gripe with the Souls series – that being the distance between checkpoints and the boss rooms. In Nioh 2, the levels are designed in such a way that shortcuts become available as you progress, usually in the form of opening locked doors and kicking down ladders. This makes it easy to get from the shrine (the game’s checkpoints) to where you last died, especially so if it’s a boss arena. Oftentimes it’s just a straight sprint to said arena, so you’re not wasting a bunch of time traveling or coming up with creative shortcuts.
The level design may be mostly linear and definitely isn’t perfect, but it was a nice enough complement to the gameplay and made for a far less annoying experience if anything.
Tons of content to play through. So when they say “The Complete Edition”, they’re not just messing around. This is a monster of a game, one that you can easily dump hundreds of hours into. I mean, you kinda know it’s gonna be one of those games when it opens with a super in-depth character creator that in itself can take upwards of an hour to go through. There’s a lengthy main story, three major DLC, a mountain of extra missions, and several new game+ modes.
Yes, there isn’t just one, but four new game+ modes, each unlocked after completing the last and each changing something about the game. These aren’t just lazy “enemies have more HP” changes, but entire new game mechanics, new moves for both bosses and regular enemies, and each is even given its own map. This allows you to hop between the different new game+ difficulties for each mission depending on what you’re looking for.
Of course, all of this would be wasted if the gameplay was repetitive, but that is not the case here. It took me 35 hours to clear the main story and I was having such a blast that I saw no reason to just stop there. It’s a testament to how refined the core gameplay is – and not just the combat, but all of the mechanics on top of it. There’s the crafting, the gathering, the online stuff, the different builds, and that’s before you even consider the achievement hunting. Honestly, it can be a bit overwhelming, but once you really get the hang of things, the game really opens up and you’ll find that it is far more than just another Souls-like.
In fact, now that I’ve played through it, I gotta say that I actually prefer it to the Souls series. I can’t even remember the last time I was able to sit down and play a game for 12 hours straight, but that’s exactly what happened here with Nioh 2. It’s just that good and when the core gameplay doesn’t get tiring even after all of those hours, you know the game is doing something right.
Multiplayer just works. In my experience, the co-op in Souls-like games can be a bit hit or miss. Whether that be technical issues or improper implementation, it never quite works right out of the box. Given that, I was really impressed by the co-op elements in Nioh 2. I played it before release and had absolutely no issues joining up with a friend and playing through a bunch of missions, both extra and main ones.
There were no disconnects, no random lag spikes, no desyncs, it just worked right out of the box and even scaled down my stats to match my friend’s – who at the time was a third of my level. Even with the scaling down though, I still received high-end gear to match my own level, so it wasn’t like I was just wasting time. The AI could still use some improvements when handling multiple players, but it was a solid multiplayer experience otherwise.
Lackluster story. So first of all, if you’re wondering if you can play this game without having played the first Nioh, the short answer is yes. Nioh 2 takes place before the first game, so it’s technically a prequel despite having that “2” in the title. That said, don’t go into the game expecting anything too great here. The story isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s just kinda “there” – serving more as a means to connect together a bunch of different levels than to actually tell something of interest.
The main problem is that there’s simply not enough time devoted to the story elements for it to have any sort of lasting impact, even on major reveals. I mean, it’s kinda hard to have any impact at all when you’re introduced to so many new characters so quickly and only get to learn about them for the couple minutes that the cutscenes last, leaving you with a cast that hardly has any personality and is somehow supposed to carry the story. And it doesn’t help that that story is constantly jumping all over the place, from different locations to different time periods – it’s trying to do too much with the limited time it has.
I was honestly more of a fan of the lore behind it all rather than the story itself. The history, the blending of Japanese folklore and mythology, that stuff was great. The cutscenes, dialogue, and other story stuff? Not so much.
Tedious inventory management. A decent chunk of the Nioh 2 experience, especially in the post-game, is managing your equipment. I’m talking stuff like weapons, armor, soul cores, and the complex web of menus behind it all. You’ll come across a mountain of this stuff and occasionally have to do something with all of it as there is an inventory cap. The problem is that doing so can become a bit tedious, especially later in the game.
I found myself having to visit the blacksmith more and more as it went on, staring at a menu for upwards of 30 minutes at a time just to shuffle around my equipment and abilities to make sure I wasn’t handicapping myself with lower-level gear. And I was mostly just doing the easy way out by swapping out my old equipment with new sets every few missions rather than dealing with item forging and soul matching and so on – which I didn’t even touch until the post-game. If you really go at it, you can easily spend hours min-maxing all your equipment and stats, which some will definitely enjoy, but I found it to be a bit too much at times – a distraction from the otherwise solid gameplay.
Nioh 2’s PC port may not be the greatest, but it’s not bad either – although there are some things I need to mention. For starters, the system requirements are a bit higher than what I expected. It calls for a GTX 1660 Super in order to hit 60 fps at 1080p. I have a 1070 Ti (which is a little bit better than the 1660 Super) and still had to tone down some settings just to reach that 60 fps. Ambient occlusion, for example, would tank my fps at times, so I ended up having to switch it off.
And I also usually play at 1440p, but had to tone down the internal resolution to 70% to avoid any fps dips, effectively setting my game to 1080p. After that change though, I was able to play at a solid 60 fps without any fluctuations – and the game didn’t even look that bad. The only notable outlier would be the cutscenes, which are locked at 30 fps. I don’t think they’re pre-rendered – as my custom character appeared in them – so it was a bit odd that they couldn’t at least do 60 fps there.
There’s also a 120 fps option, but in my own testing it didn’t appear to work. I would enable it, but my fps still would not go above 60, even when I toned down all of the settings to push it that far. It actually had the adverse effect of causing some pretty wild fps fluctuations down to 30 or so that weren’t present when using a 60 fps cap
So I checked with the publisher and – according to the specs they sent over – it’s recommended to have at least an RTX 3070 if you want to play at 120 fps at 1080p, so I imagine most won’t get much use out of that 120 cap. At 1440p, an RTX 2060 is recommended for 60 fps and an RTX 3080 if you want to do 120. And then at 4K, you’ll want to have at least an RTX 3070 to run at 60 fps. It’s a rather demanding game, but I was also told that it will be receiving optimization patches in the future – including support for DLSS.
Then there’s the controls, which also has its ups and downs. I had planned on playing through with an Xbox controller, but found that the game does not appear to have Xbox button prompts. In fact, it doesn’t have anything but PlayStation button prompts – so that’s the controller I ended up using and I had no problems there.
The keyboard and mouse controls are where it gets even funkier. It does support them – and even offers the option to rebind them – but the mouse in particular has a couple of its own issues. Menus, for example, do not play well with it and the cursor would constantly be jumping around and resetting itself. There’s also the fact that in the build I played, the mouse cursor was stuck on-screen at all times, but I was told this would be fixed for launch. I was also told that keyboard and mouse button prompts would be added at a later time, but no specific date was mentioned.
Outside of all of that, I had no further issues with the port. It never crashed on me, never froze, never bugged out, and was smooth sailing once I had the graphic settings figured out. It’s definitely better than some past Koei Tecmo PC ports, but there are still some improvements to be made.
Nioh 2 – The Complete Edition is easily one of the best action RPGs I have ever played. The core gameplay is very fun, with incredibly satisfying combat, a good amount of depth, and a nice sense of challenge to it. The overall aesthetic on top of that really elevates the whole experience as a fan of the time period, even if the story falls flat. I’ve already poured dozens of hours into the game and likely will continue to do so as I work through all of the extra content added in this version. The only thing I’m really holding out for are those PC port fixes, hopefully they come soon.
Quote: Nioh 2 – The Complete Edition is easily one of the best action RPGs I have ever played. The core gameplay is very fun, with satisfying combat, a good amount of depth, and a nice sense of challenge.
You can buy Nioh 2 – The Complete Edition on Steam here. The game is also available on PS5.
I was provided a review copy of the game in order to write this review. Read more about how I do my game reviews here.