Nioh 2 Beta Impressions: Back to the Past, Better Than Ever
The concept behind the Nioh franchise isn't one that should work as well as it does. Take Souls difficulty and marry it to a deep, technical combat system, then set it in Feudal Japan and fill it with Diablo-style loot. That's Nioh in a nutshell.
Despite all conception to the contrary, it works like a dream. Thankfully, Nioh 2 takes the original game's dream-like formula and perfects it. Based on my time with the beta, I can see this being the definitive edition of an already stellar outing by Team Ninja.
Nioh 2 Beta Impressions: Weapons, Combat, and General Gameplay
Nioh 2 boasts every weapon from the first game and its DLCs and even goes so far as to add a couple of new ones. I wish I could have tried them all in the short time I've had with the beta, but I can say that any worries about combat depth and variety can be put to bed.
The combo system from the original Nioh is back in full force, and if you mastered a weapon in that game, many of those skills will transfer to the sequel without much trouble.
Players will find all their favorites back in all their glory. The single and dual katanas remain the game's bread and butter weapons. The kusarigama is still as technically challenging and rewarding as it ever was. Newer additions like the tonfa and odachi are back. But for me, the star of the show is the Nioh 2 switchblade.
Essentially a Bloodborne-style trick weapon, the switchglaive transforms as you move between low, medium, and high stance, going from a bladed club to a spear to a full-on scythe with the click of a button. It's a slower weapon and mechanically challenging enough that few will truly get a feel for it in the beta. That said, I think those who dedicate the time are bound to find something to love.
Combat itself is as fast and chaotic as Nioh players will remember, with plenty of iterations on old formulas as well. For one thing, rather than imbuing your weapon with a Guardian Spirit like the first title, your character takes on a yokai-human hybrid form, complete with new attacks, combos, and special abilities.
Using Yokai Shift, as it's called, would have added more than enough variety to the game, but Nioh 2 goes even further. You can now pick up souls of dead yokai and add them as modifiers to your armor. This new mechanic — called Imbue Soul Core — grants you a limited number of additional equipment perks. More importantly, every bonded yokai soul core gives you a special yokai attack based on the creature you pulled the core from. All of this drains a new energy bar called Anima.
I would say it stops there, but it doesn't. There's a whole new type of counter-state as well. Enemies will now telegraph their windup attacks with a red aura, and with a properly timed combo breaker, you'll be able to do significant damage with moderate risk to yourself.
The Yokai realm got an overhaul, too. Now there are entire areas of a map that exist in a separate dimension. In this dimension, your stamina regeneration is significantly reduced, making the Ki Pulse ability more valuable than ever. Killing the miniboss yokai who rule these pocket dimensions cleanses them of taint, bringing back both their color and your stamina recovery.
On top of all that, skill trees get a complete overhaul, with old favorites and new additions making their returns. I can confirm that Onmyo magic is still broke as hell, and while I didn't spend as long with ninjutsu, I can say that it's probably just as good.
One interesting change to the progression system is how you advance Nioh 2's more specialized skills. Magic, samurai, and ninjutsu skills now only progress through usage, so you won't have easy access to any of them right away. Until you find Onmyo magic items in the wild, I don't think there's a way to advance that tree at all.
That's good from an early game standpoint, but once you have a few talismans to use, you can grind your way into every magic ability known to Japan. The only thing keeping you from tearing through the entire game at that point is the capacity system, which limits how much of an ability you can equip at once.
So far, that's quite a few notable changes, which begs the question: is it still Nioh? Oh, yes.
Nothing about the core gameplay has changed. You will still be showered in mostly worthless loot. You will again slaughter your way through small armies of 14th-Century samurai, ninjas, and uncountable demons. And you will still do it looking as serious — or silly — as you please. Add a custom player character and one of the most robust character creators since Code Vein, and there will be seriousness and silliness in spades.
Just as it should be.
Nioh 2 Beta Impressions: World Design, Enemies, and Bosses
One of the chief complaints haunting Nioh was how the game's worlds were flat. They gave little lip service to the twisting, turning levels present in the Souls games that inspired Nioh.
Seemingly, that hasn't changed too much in Nioh 2.
Verticality is more present in Nioh 2 than it was in the first game, but without any new ways to traverse the world, there's only so much a few ladders and hill pathways can do.
Shortcuts are more frequent and more creatively laid out, which is a welcome change, and I liked the forest environment as a nice change of pace from the constant nighttime settings from the first game. There was a nighttime level in the beta, of course, coupled nicely with the obligatory poison cave, but the sweeping change of scenery was a nice change of pace.
I can't say the new enemy types in the beta are all that nice, however. All of them are horror-terrors with fast attacks, high damage, and Nioh-brand close-quarters fighting. Most have seemingly been conceived under the design moniker of "let's-put-this-enemy-and-his-friends-in-an-arena-that's-way-too-small."
But saying it that way sounds a tad cynical. So let me say it another way: I love every one of them.
They're everything I could ask for in a Souls-like enemy. Tough to learn, punishing to the smallest mistakes, and generally freaky looking. I can't wait to see what other terrible things I'll get to take down come full release.
The bosses give me the same feeling. Between the two, I prefer the one that's a bit more catty, if only because it's a cat and I'm a cat person. Though, I do find myself at a distinct disadvantage mobility-wise, as bosses can and will cross the entire arena in seconds only to flee once again when I get close. It's a frustrating balance to strike between caution and aggression, one that needs tuning in any Souls-like.
I hope Team Ninja can nail it more than miss the mark.
Short version: I'm picking up Nioh 2. Even on my launch PS4, it runs well enough, and while I want it on PC for the frames and textures, I won't complain either way.
So far, Nioh 2 is a game that speaks to Souls fans. It pairs technical combat and tons of loot with genre-accurate difficulty and a change of scenery. That alone makes it worth checking out.
I put too much time into Nioh, and I look forward to doing it all again with Nioh 2.