DEVELOPED by Team Ninja and published by Sony for the PlayStation 4, Nioh 2 is the sequel to the 2017 game Nioh, a samurai action/adventure game set in 16th Century Japan.
Like its predecessor, the game is set in the same time period so the lift pitch – dark fantasy action-adventure samurai game set during the Sengoku Jidai era of Japan – should be pretty much “Shut up and take my money!” territory.
Unfortunately, Nioh 2 is one of the hardest games I’ve played, and I mean that in a “bad and frustrating and I did not enjoy this” kind of way. In fact, it sits alongside Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice in that regard.
I freely admit I’m not a twitch-reflex kind of gamer and even as a squeaky-voiced teen would never be gracing the high score rankings of a fast-paced action game – but ultimately Nioh 2 was just a brutal and unenjoyable experience for me.
Enemies – even low-level ones – were ridiculously tough or could do ludicrous amounts of damage. I lost count of the number of times I thought I was getting the upper hand on an opponent and suddenly they busted out a special move and cut my character in half with a No-Dachi or something.
No amount of grinding or levelling up seemed to make a difference; getting better weapons and armour meant I could last a few more seconds but I’d still run into the same roadblock in the form of getting absolutely smashed by the game’s equivalent of a miniboss or taken out by some unexpected combo attack from what was supposed to be a low-level enemy.
I can’t even give the game a full review because, despite literally several days of effort, I was simply unable to get past the first level. That means I can’t tell you what the story is like, how character progression works, what skills you might learn later in the game, or any of the other stuff I’d usually include in a review – which is why this is headlined “Some Thoughts” rather than “A Review”.
There’s obviously lots of people out there who thrive on games that provide impossibly hard challenges, and if that’s you, then stop reading now and go and buy the game, because you’ll love it.
For everyone else, though: Reconsider any plans you may have to purchase it.
The story, as I could ascertain it, is that you are a demigod with part human, part supernatural abilities, who is fighting some sort of ancient evil/demon which is attacking the land.
You get to create your character, as you would in any RPG, and select which weapons you want to use – and there’s a good range, covering everything from katana and nunchuku to bows and muskets. You can even select which attack stance you want to use, changing it in mid-combat if you like, and it will affect how your attacks land and how much stamina they require.
The combat was complicated – there’s a lot to keep track of – and even with a high-end controller featuring extra buttons (an Astro C40, in this case), I still felt like I didn’t have enough fingers to do everything.
One of the big issues is that your character will run out of stamina very quickly, even when you press the button at juuust the right time to quickly replenish it between attacks.
The even bigger issue is I just didn’t seem to do a lot of damage against the larger enemies, which made fighting them stupidly hard, because they could take you out in one, maybe two hits while it seemed like you had to strike them literally a hundred times.
One of the features of the game is that you can embrace your otherworld nature and transform into a sort of demon, but charging up this ability seemed to take a really, really long time and once I transformed, I couldn’t remain in it long enough to defeat the major enemy that was blocking my progress.
You can raise revenants (the ghosts of other players) to fight and try and obtain better loot, but the problems were still the same as with the enemies – hard combat, complicated controls and enemies that just seemed to move much faster than you could.
It was clear to me, even in “getting smashed by enemies every few seconds” state, that the game was well made and there was a lot of depth and complexity to the controls (far too much complexity, in my opinion) – but it was all beyond me; no matter what I did, what skills I upgraded, what different attack/defence combos I tried, I still got stomped on in short order.
To me, that scenario violates a cardinal rule of gaming: namely, Games Should Be Fun.
Everyone has their own reasons for playing and enjoying games, but for me “being challenged” is not one of them. I’m a grown-up, with gainful employment, a family, and adult responsibilities – I get quite enough “challenge” just trying to get the kids off to school each morning, without a video game metaphorically laughing at me because a demon warrior bashed me into next week with an oversized club after I mis-timed a counter-attack.
Every time you die, you respawn at the last shrine you visited, with your accumulated items and money – but your guardian spirit, along with all your XP, remains where you died, so you have to go back there to collect it. And, because it can’t be too easy, all the enemies in the level reset, forcing you to fight them all again and not die, or else you’ll lose the XP that’s at the gravesite you’re trying to reach.
The game looks great and the actual premise (dark fantasy samurai adventure) is really appealing, but the game was so ridiculously and punishingly hard I simply can’t recommend it to any except the most demanding and skilled gamers, and even then I feel obligated to still append the warning that THIS GAME IS REALLY HARD.