Since Nioh 2 was unexpectedly announced at E3 2018, there's been a tremendous amount of hype, anticipation, and some hesitation for Team Ninja's next big release. Having released the first Nioh in 2017 - clearly lifting some inspiration from From Software's playbook - it managed to do enough to differentiate itself from the competitors while finding its own stride and audience. I got the opportunity to play Nioh 2 ahead of the open beta arriving this November (and release in early 2020), and I'm happy to report that there's a lot here that fans of the first game will feel right at home with, but does it do enough to justify its sequel badge?
The playable demo present at Comic Con Africa 2019 for Nioh 2 dropped us somewhat early in the game, with not many skill trees unlocked yet, and few points available to maybe upgrade a couple of attributes. A big deviation from the first is the ability to now create your own custom character. Unfortunately, we were only given a few presets to work with, but it seems like there will be a pretty robust character creator at launch. The UI also largely remains the same from the first game, being easy to navigate as you rest at shrines and pour points into honing your ideal build. You can choose from a handful of Guardian Spirits, each coming equipped with their own skills and abilities that either dish out major damage or provide defensive capabilities - and on that front, defense comes highly recommended as the game remains as tough as ever.
Much like the first Nioh, stances play in important part in tackling enemies and adjusting your preferred gameplay style on the fly. Opting for a low stance ensures fast attacks with minimal damage, while the high stance dishes out modest damage with slower movement speed. Stamina management has been tweaked quite a bit to make dashing and dodging easier, as your stamina bar regenerates at a fairly quicker rate this time. However, abusing it will leave you open to some devastating attacks as enemies are now faster and more aggressive than before. Even small goblin-like enemies can end you if you aren't careful.
The demo presented a couple of interesting, harder Yokai enemies to trade blows with. The first, a shaman who can teleport around the area and summon fireballs to hurl at you in quick succession, proved to be a daunting task, but a necessary one in order to get you to understand the flow of combat. We also learned to be quick on our feet, paying more attention to spacial awareness and when to strike (sometimes the easier option is to pull back and study patterns before attacking). The second enemy to give us a tough time was a gorilla-like brute wielding a fiery staff. He could leap around the environment quickly, dish out huge chunks of damage, and reset in a matter of seconds. It took me a few tries to really get the hang of it, but it also acted as a perfect tutorial for how the sequel's new range of diverse enemies perform.
Another thing to pay attention to is the purple Yokai bar beneath your stamina, called the Yokai Force. When filled, this allows you to use your Guardian Spirit's abilities - of which there are plenty to try out - by offering Soul Cores to it at a shrine. Additionally, this will be used to transform you into a Yokai yourself (though this came in short supply in the Comic Con Africa demo). The demo concluded with a boss fight which we cannot mention yet, but as an opening boss, it's certainly on the harder side of things, and punishes careless players who aren't familiarized with the mechanics of the game yet.
For all the good that Nioh 2 is promising, there are a couple of things holding it back from being a greater game than its predecessor. In many ways, Nioh 2 feels like Nioh 1.5. Visually, there are some upgrades such as textures and lighting, but nothing really striking enough to be a full-fledged sequel. It also plays similarly in certain aspects. Stances are smoother and more refined, but there's a lack of innovation when it comes to really wowing us. We left satisfied that we got more Nioh, which is all that some fans could hope for, but it also left me feeling perplexed as to whether or not it did anything drastically different to the original - apart from some of the aforementioned abilities and skills - to really take the series forward.
Of course, the elephant in the room should be addressed as well: From Software took a few leaps and strides in bringing something new to the table with Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. There, From Software managed to evolve their trademark formula and more. At least in terms of its blueprint and ultimate goal, Nioh and Sekiro share common DNA, and we'd naturally be looking at how Nioh 2 shakes things up like its predecessor did. Sadly, until we see the final game, I didn't get the sense that they were trying to evolve the first Nioh, but rather continue its footsteps - the age old "if it ain't broke, don't fix it". I must also stress that the demo limited a few things, but from the time we got to spend with it, I was left wanting more for the sake of proving me wrong.
Writer. Enthusiast of all things geek. Legend has it he completed Final Fantasy VII without a memory card.
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