Nioh 2 isn’t for the faint of heart. Building on the player-punishing combat of its predecessor, the action role-playing game wears its ability to obliterate your spirit like a badge of honour.
While Team Ninja’s sequel is similar to other entries spawned from the ‘soulslike’ genre, it pushes the boundaries of the tough-but-fair formula even further. As a human-demon hybrid warrior braving Sengoku-era Japan, players are tasked with thwarting an endless parade of screen-filling foes of the horned, fanged, and clawed variety.
Making a dent in these monstrosities requires not only identifying their strengths and weaknesses, but determining how to exploit the latter. No part of this process benefits from button-mashing, but rather approaching each encounter like a complex puzzle. Coupled with the lightning-quick cadence – despite the combat’s strategic, deliberate nature – breaking down an enemy, literally and figuratively, is endlessly rewarding.
It doesn’t hurt you have access to nine weapon types – all with sprawling skill trees – as well as devastating demon powers, and enough gear and goodies to keep an entire ninja army in upgrades. New features, like Soul Cores, which allow you to collect and leverage the powers of your eviscerated enemies, introduce additional death-dealing options. Managing your enormous arsenal is a game within itself, adding layers of depth previously unseen in the genre.
While there’s absolutely no shortage of ways to open baddies from brain-stem to bellybutton, Nioh 2 will still beat you down, repeatedly. On top of spending hours on the trial-and-error treadmill during boss battles, you’ll frequently be bested by low-level enemies. Additional salt is poured in the wound courtesy of the Dark Realm, extra-extra challenging areas that give the bad guys a boost, while making it more difficult for you to maintain your stamina.
The above-and-beyond approach to ensuring you can never take a breath sometimes feels like too much. Nioh 2 needn’t be easier by any means, but a few stretches of cathartic creature-carving would have been appreciated.
The immense depth of the game’s multiple systems and mechanics, combined with its nuanced, difficulty-cranking combat, make it a perfect match for seasoned soulslike fans craving their next conquest. In fact, its added complexity and challenge give it a sort of next-level feel, as if it were specifically aimed at those who’ve already put the Souls games, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, and Bloodborne to bed.
Newcomers – even those who’ve been seriously considering dipping a toe into this increasingly popular genre – however, need not apply. Unless, of course, these masochists have wondered what a DualShock 4 would look like planted in the centre of their 4K display.