Action RPGs are one of my favourite video game genres ever. I fell in love with them playing games like Tales of and Diablo, and I’m always able to find a new action RPG to play and sink countless hours into. This genre of video games experienced a huge shake up in the late 2000s and early 2010s with the release of Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls from FromSoftware. These games introduced a trend that combined deep and precise combat, complex character building, and brutally unforgiving enemy design with a special emphasis on boss encounters. These three things, plus an intriguing hands-off approach to storytelling, combined to create something so compelling that an entirely new sub-genre was born that would inevitably be known as “Soulsborne”, named after the two FromSoftware games Dark Souls and Bloodborne.
With the Soulsborne genre becoming as popular as it is, there were bound to be some studios that wanted to either ape the formula completely or put their own unique spin on it. One such game was Team Ninja’s Nioh, which some fans of the Soulsborne genre immediately dubbed as “samurai souls”. I’ve never played the game, but with the sequel being literally days away from release I decided to give Nioh 2’s last chance demo a fair shake. To give some context about my own experience with Soulsborne games, I’ve always been someone who’s enjoyed the games from afar while never quite finishing a full run of any one game myself. I’m not by any means phenomenal at these games, but I have a great appreciation for brutal “tough-but-fair” approach to games.
Right off the bat the game’s demo allows you to play around with most of the weapons and abilities you’ll have access to throughout the game, that being all of the weapon types and all three Guardian Spirits that provide you with a transformation and a counterattack. The weapons and Guardian Spirits you pick at the beginning of the game provide you with bonuses to your primary stats, but unfortunately I never found myself the weapons that my stats were best suited for due to the game’s loot system. My character was built towards the “magic” stat and the Switchglaive weapon, but the best weapons that dropped off enemies and chests were always geared towards the “strength” and “heart” stats, which made me feel quite crippled in the harder missions available in the demo. I’m not sure if it was just poor luck in drops or what, but it wasn’t a great feeling to use an Odachi almost exclusively after being so excited to use the Switchglaive. Alongside weapons, armor and items called “Soul Cores” can also be looted and used to upgrade your character. Soul Cores in particular are ways in which you can add extra active skills to your Guardian Spirit which have a variety of different effects. It was really fun to mix and match weapons with Soul Cores and discover what combinations best suited my playstyle for any one situation. I’m really interested to see how far builds go in the full game
Building your character is one thing, but playing them is a different thing entirely. Nioh 2 sends you on missions that task you with exploring an area in search of that area’s end boss. In combat you’re able to swap between two melee weapons and two ranged weapons on the fly, and each melee weapon has three different stances you can fight in. High stance focuses on slow and high-damage attacks, mid stance focuses a more careful defense-focused fighting style, and low stance focuses on quick attacks and rapid dodges. You can focus on any one stance, but you won’t unlock the full potential of your character unless you’re able dance between your three stances and make full use of the “Ki Pulse” mechanic. Your Ki functions as your stamina in Nioh; you need it to attack, you need it to move quickly, and you need it for defense. If you’re caught without any Ki by an attack then you’re a sitting duck while your opponent gets a free shot on you. The best way of keeping up the offense while not putting yourself in a bad position is the Ki Pulse, where you’re able to time a button press after a combo and refill a portion of your spent Ki. It took me some time to get used to Ki Pulse, and I started dying a whole lot less once I did.
The demo itself had three missions available: two exploration missions and one mission that was purely a boss fight. The second exploration mission and the solo boss fight are meant to be much more challenging than the first mission, but are all still very doable with enough game knowledge. One thing I very much appreciated about the exploration missions was how the checkpoint shrines were commonly placed right after a difficult encounter or right before the end boss. It always gave me a sense of reward, and in the case of the end boss shrines they remove a lot of the frustration of being stuck on a boss fight in a game like this and eliminate long runs back to the fight. Sadly I wish the solo boss stage was a little more forgiving itself. The one issue I had was (unless I was blind and couldn’t find the way to do it) how it was impossible to change your skill loadout inside the level and impossible to leave the level if you wanted to change. Once you start a solo boss mission, you’re stuck there until that boss is dead. I don’t mind having to “git gud” at the game, but I would also like to experiment with different weapons and Spirits.
Overall I have to say that if my only complaint is some minor things about how and when you’re able to re-outfit your character, then Nioh 2 is doing something right. I hope that once I play the full game that I’ll be able play around with the build I want more and not be crippled by poor loot drops. With a rapidly approaching release date of this Friday, the 13th of March Nioh 2 is poised to be both brutal, and enjoyable.