Back in 2017, Nioh was initially viewed as being little more than a Soulslike in a samurai’s armour. It came amid a flurry of other such games, and while that might have hurt it to begin with, opinions quickly changed once people actually gave it a chance. Rather than being about slow and plodding combat, the game was far faster than its peers and contained systems that were a little bit more varied as well. That’s why so many people enjoyed the game and, having spent a couple of hours with Nioh 2, that’s why people are going to love Team Ninja’s follow up as well.
Nioh 2 is a prequel to the original game, and while I can’t tell you what that means from the perspective of an interconnected story, I can tell you a bit about the setting. It’s set sometime in the century preceding the events of Nioh, so William’s character has naturally been put to one side in favour of being able to make your own character. Better yet, your character is half-yokai, meaning they can actively tap into their otherworldly powers in combat. Though exactly how a half-human, half-yokai baby raises a lot of questions, though I can’t imagine we’ll find out in any explicit detail here.
What this means in terms of combat is that you have access to a few new abilities. For starters, you can now use a yokai counter, which has you becoming a demon, ignoring damage, and smacking any fool attacking you upside their head. This usually knocks them to the floor and is especially useful against specific special attacks that many enemies use.
It also means you can transform into other demons and steal their signature attacks. While I only saw a few of those that the final game will hold, they all felt varied and useful in their own way. If I was at long-range, I could turn my arm into a cannon and fire, if an enemy was smaller than me, I could turn into an oni and grab them before pummelling them into the ground, and if I was feeling spicy, I could throw a big stick at an enemy in a weird monkey form.
On top of all of that, you slowly build a meter that allows you to become immune to damage for a while and go full yokai. In this form you do far more damage per hit, and you can actively summon your current spirit to perform a unique attack. This all adds up to make the already deep combat system a bit deeper, and that feels great.
It’s not like the original game was wanting in the weapon department, but Nioh 2 will have a few new options to play with, including the Switchglaive. This is a shapeshifting weapon that changes its form and range based on the stance you’re using. This doesn’t so much give you more options as it does makes those options far more stylish.
The combat still feels incredibly slick, with each fight being potentially lethal to your character and a need to cautiously scout areas for enemies lying in wait to ambush you if you get too close to them. It does feel a bit odd revisiting another samurai game having played Sekiro last year, but the two are only really comparable in setting, which makes it a bit easier to digest.
I got to fight two bosses in the demo. One was a human who took me far too long to beat thanks to his absurd ki regeneration, which made creating an opening incredibly tricky. It did feel fun smashing my head against this battle though, kind of like faceplanting a mattress, rather than the floor. The other was demonic, with huge tusks and two gigantic axes. He was actually easier to fight, but an unfortunately timed fire alarm at the venue meant that I never got to finish my fight with him. I will, however, be taking him out when I meet him in the game proper.
I also stumbled into little areas cloaked in darkness where the yokai regenerated faster, these are known as the Dark Realm. They’re basically little hubs of stronger yokai that can only be dispelled by ringing a bell in those areas. Though, I did find one that was removed when I killed the strongest yokai in the area instead, so it could be a mixed bag in the game too.
All in all, Nioh 2 feels like a well-refined Nioh, which is all anyone can ever really ask for in a sequel. It’s definitely gotten a bit deeper, and that’ll keep those who are looking for a variety of gameplay options very happy indeed. Whether or not the whole game shakes out as well remains to be seen, but hey, we’ve only got to wait until March 13th to find out.