Last week I was going through my email and found a message from PlayStation regarding Nioh 2. "Oh cool," I thought, figuring it was a trailer. Lo and behold, it was an invite to the Nioh 2 closed Alpha demo. It said "You have been chosen. Be one of the first in the world to play Nioh 2 Closed Alpha Demo in our limited-time Alpha Demo." Beneath the invite was a code to join the Play Test. To say I was surprised is an understatement. Stuff like this never happens to me, and Nioh is one of my favorite games. Now I don't know how/why I was chosen. I'd like to think it was because I put a LOT of hours into Nioh, eventually earning the Platinum. But I've also heard that it's completely random. Which one it actually is, I don't know, but for now, lets just assume it's because I'm awesome.
For those unfamiliar with it, Nioh in a PlayStation exclusive that was released in February 2017. It's an Action-RPG in the Soulsborne subgenre. Meaning its punishingly difficult, enemies reset whenever you rest, and if you die you lose all your XP and get sent back to the last checkpoint. If you die again before reaching your grave and reclaiming it, your XP is gone for good. However Nioh was not developed by From Software, it was developed by Team Ninja, known for the Ninja Gaiden series of games. More than one studio has tried to put their own spin on the Soulsborne formula, often with mixed results. And while graphically impressive, Nioh looked like it would be just "another Dark Souls clone."
And then the game was released. The first thing gamers learned was just how wrong we had been. Yes, Nioh wears its influences on its sleeve, but its very much its own beast. For starters, you don't choose a class and go to a fantasy world. Instead, you play as real life Samurai Williams Adams (I'll explain later) during the tail end of Japan's Sengoku period, coming face to face with Oni, Yokai, angry spirits, and all other manner of demon monstrosities. With tight, fast paced combat, and a diablo style loot system, Nioh won critical acclaim. Nioh was a big success for PlayStation, and a sequel was announced last year at E3, much to my delight. The Nioh 2 Alpha Demo came with three missions, and a handful of features that will be in the main game, like blacksmithing. Here are my thoughts, but please keep in mind that this is all from the demo and subject to change.
What's New: Nioh 2 sticks pretty close to the rule "if it ain't broke, don't fix it," particularly regarding combat, but that doesn't mean it doesn't bring some new tricks to the table. This time around the game starts with a character creator, allowing you to customize your protagonist, as opposed to the first game where you play as William Adams. The character creator looked pretty thorough, with all the typical options you'd expect for making your character. However, those features were not accessible during the demo. You can choose to play as either a man or a woman, and each of those have four presets that mirrored each-other. Two characters were Asian, I'm assuming Japanese, one was white and looked a lot like William Adams, and one was black. So if you want to play as a black female Samurai, you can. It doesn't change the gameplay, the look of the armor simply changes slightly based on your gender (think Skyrim). The map of Japan is now topographical, showing lakes and mountains.
Weapon skills have been reworked with branching skill trees that look more like a modern RPG than the unlockable scrolls of the last game, although many of the abilities remain the same. However now you gain skill points by using the weapon/ability and becoming more familiar with it. There was some of that in the last game, but most of your points came from leveling up. That's not the case anymore. You can't earn Ninja or Onmyo skills through leveling up either. You get them from using Ninja abilities (shurikens/kunai/poison etc.) and Onmyo scrolls (elemental damage/buffs/debuffs/etc.). It's going to make a Ninja or Onmyo build rather difficult. My guess is the devs want these skills to be supplemental rather than primary. Weapons are a mixed bag.
Swords and spears are back, which makes me happy since I used those extensively, as is the Odachi, originally from the first game's DLC. Kusarigama, axes, tonfas and dual swords are gone, which makes me less happy. The Kusarigama was the best weapon in Nioh. Yes, it was the hardest to master, but if you did, it gave you complete battlefield control in a way no other weapon did. I found myself using it more and more during the later levels, and I'm loathe to see it go. The only new weapon we received in the demo was dual hand-axes. These operate very similar to the tonfas and the dual swords, with the added benefit that they can be thrown at your enemy. These were fine, but I never really focused on dual weapons. So while I tried them out, I spent most of the demo with my usual sword and spear combo.
There are new Yokai of course; some were difficult, others were a nuisance. The snake-women however can go die in a fire. No other "regular" enemy pissed me off anywhere close to these things. They're quick, hard to hit, can easily break through your guard, and best of all, can paralyze you. I don't know whose idea these things were, but he's one sadistic SOB.
But along with the new Yokai are two new features that I confess I really liked. Sometimes when defeated, Yokai will drop a Yokai core, spheres that can be added to your Guardian Spirit that confer additional abilities. You can equip two at a time, the higher level the Yokai you kill, the better the core. But as cool as that is, my favorite new feature is the "Dark Realm." Similar to the Yokai gates in the first game, instead of small circle, this is a part of the Yokai realm that envelops everything in the immediate vicinity and it won't go away until you find Yokai generating it and kill them, and that's not always obvious. While in the Dark Realm your stamina recharge slows significantly and your map is blacked out. Also your horns are visible, which brings me to my next point.
The biggest and most obvious change is Yokai Shift, gone are Living Weapons where your Guardian Spirit envelopes your weapon, enhancing it and your attacks for a limited time. No, instead you now actually turn into a Yokai for a brief period of time. In essence, it acts similarly. You're temporarily invincible and you do more damage. Also your Yokai Gauge (another new feature tied to the Yokai Shift) fills up quicker while in this form and in the dark realm. I won't lie, I didn't like this feature at first. It changes your attacks to something else entirely than from your weapon, and all of the attacks have to be at close range. By the end of the demo, however, it had begun to grow on me, but I personally still prefer the Living Weapon of the first game.
Lastly, benevolent graves have been added to missions. These are like the specters of other players you can summon to fight, but instead they will help you. You can even leave a benevolent grave of your own to help other players. When other players use it, you'll get rewards for helping. It's a neat mechanic.
What's Old: Almost everything else, as I previously stated, Nioh 2 is very much "if it ain't, broke don't fix it." That's not necessarily bad, but there are definitely places where they can and should make some tweaks. For example, parrying is nearly impossible, just like last time. Maybe it's because I just came off of playing Sekiro, but the parrying stands out as a giant flaw. My advice would be to literally just copy the parrying in Sekiro. The graphics looked like a step down from the first game, and they felt very last-gen to me. Now I'm going to give Team Ninja the benefit of the doubt and assume that's because this is an Alpha Build, and they haven't polished it yet. Missions could use a bit more variety. The first mission in the demo takes place in a village that's on fire and ends with a Yokai born of rage, and the second boss takes place in a cave full of things that can paralyze you. Just like the last game.
Overall, I enjoyed my time with Nioh 2, and I'm sure that in the near future there will be an open beta. My guess is that the open beta will be sometime later this year (November/December) and that the game will be released sometime in the first half of 2020. I'd like to see a bit more variety in terms of mission and abilities, but even if this game simply ends up being MOAR NIOH, that's not a bad thing. And just in case you're still wondering, yes, the bosses are exceedingly difficult and will beat the ever-loving shit out of you.
Right, I said I'd explain William Adams, or why you're playing as a white guy in Sengoku era Japan. William Adams was an English Sailor who was shipwrecked in Japan in the year 1600. He quickly learned the language and soon became a close friend, adviser and the personal interpreter for Ieyasu Tokugawa. AKA, the man who unified Japan and became Shogun. Adams was forbidden from leaving Japan, but Ieyasu made him a Samurai, presenting him with the two swords and all the authority that came with it. Ieyasu decreed that William Adams the sailor was dead, and from that point on Adams was known as Miura Anjin, a bannerman to Ieyasu Tokugawa. William Adams story was the inspiration for John Blackthorne, the main character in the 1975 novel Shogun by James Clavell, as well as the 1980 mini-series of the same name.
Both are easily available, and I highly recommend them.