Nioh 2 Review: Not for the Faint of Heart

In 2017, Team Ninja released Nioh for the PlayStation 4. Taking place in a fictionalized version of Japan in the year 1600, the game debuted to strong reviews, with many complimenting its story and use of traditional Japanese folklore. Unfortunately, the title's blistering difficulty made it very much an acquired taste. Nioh 2 is the kind of sequel that's very much more of the same. As such, fans of the original game will likely find a lot to enjoy, but newcomers and the more casual crowd might find themselves quickly overwhelmed. It's easily the game's biggest problem, and it will likely prove divisive for most players.

Nioh 2 is an action-RPG. The RPG elements allow players a lot of different customization options. Right off the bat, players are tasked with deciding their character's appearance down to the most minute of details. Customization fans will find a lot to love in this respect. Players that don't care about their character's gender, eye color, hairstyle, or chest size can opt to skip through this segment as quickly as possible, but fans of customization will get a lot of joy out of this part of the game.

Unfortunately, that joy quickly fades as players are given a choice between sitting through a plethora of tutorials or jumping right into the action. Players that opt for the latter will quickly discover, however, that Nioh 2 does not naturally intersperse these lessons throughout the gameplay; while players can go back to the tutorials at any time, it's a dull way to start off the game, particularly for those that opted to spend some time on character customization. Making matters worse, there’s no real learning curve. Instead, from the get-go, players will find opponents that, quite frankly, are incredibly difficult. It would have been much more preferable to see a gradual incline in the difficulty level as players acclimate to the game.

Because Nioh 2 is a sequel, fans of the first game might be happy that they can get started right off the bat without having to sit through lessons on elements they might already be familiar with. In fact, a strong case can be made for this approach. Drawn-out tutorials are a common complaint amongst gamers, but for Nioh newcomers, this is hardly a welcoming way to kick off the game.

Making things worse, the game's difficulty level can be described as mean-spirited, at times. The game requires a lot of patience, as rushing into an area with more than one opponent can quickly spell certain doom. While there is an elegance to the game's combat and difficulty level, there are a lot of problems that prevent it from truly excelling.

There's a certain realism in the way Nioh 2 approaches its combat, yet it often feels like players are forced to play the game a certain way, and any divergence will result in death. Considering all the ways Nioh 2 allows players to customize their experience, it would have been nice to have more options in regards to how to take on opponents. For example, it was disappointing to see how little stealth actually mattered. While there is an advantage to striking an opponent in the back, this game seems like it should absolutely give players the ability to quickly dispatch an enemy through a cut throat or a broken neck. Nioh 2 is in an entirely different genre from stealth-focused games like Metal Gear Solid or Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell, but it just felt odd not having that option. At times, players might be able to drown an enemy, but those moments felt more based on luck than skill.

Of course, enemy AI makes stealth a bit of a moot point, anyway. There just doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason in the way that some opponents attack. At times, I would kill an opponent six feet away from another enemy, and the other character wouldn’t notice. At other times, however, I’d be spotted from far off in the distance. Once, an enemy was firing arrows at me from a high ground, while an enemy in the foreground was walking towards my general direction, yet clearly hadn’t noticed me.

These issues might sound like nit-picking, but they hurt the overall experience. Nioh 2 has a difficulty level that requires players to take their time to consider their actions before leaping into battle, but it's hard to develop a strategy when the game handcuffs the player's abilities and the enemy AI is inconsistent. That's not to say the game is bad by any stretch of the imagination. It can be a pleasurable experience, particularly for those that enjoy an old-school level of difficulty. The graphics are mostly strong, and the music and sounds perfectly match the game's setting.

Nioh 2 is the kind of action game that's clearly targeted towards a certain type of gamer. It’s an incredibly difficult game, and gamers that don’t have the patience or commitment to learning its various intricacies just aren't going to get as much out of the game. However, fans of the original title and gamers that enjoy that kind of difficulty level will find that they will get out of Nioh 2 what they’re willing to put into it.

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Rating: 3 out of 5

Nioh 2 is currently available on PlayStation 4. A retail code was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review, and it was reviewed on a base model PlayStation 4.