- evolution of the complex combat system
- great design of new opponents
- similar game size a lot of content
- quality-of-life improvements, such as saving the character configuration
- more appealing visuals
- disappointing big bosses
- clinging to the schemes too much
- side quests are still not compelling
When I started writing this review, I felt tempted to follow the example of Team Ninja and just copy entire paragraphs from the review of the original, change the headings, and add a couple of small changes. Yes, Nioh 2 is a calque. The visuals are similar, the design and atmosphere are virtually the same. Similarly, to the first game, this one favors quantity over quality, throws tons of random-stat weapons at you, offers insubstantial side activities, and some insignificant mechanics, such as sorting out tableware on a shelf. If you performed a blind test of showing people screens from both games at random, few players would be able to tell them apart.
It may sound like a small disaster, but it actually isn't. Nioh 2, despite the lack of innovation and bold solutions, is just as riveting, and has just as much soul. The small changes that were made bring an additional tactical level to combat, while also introducing a pinch of chaos. Team Ninja responsibly follows the ancient Oriental philosophy, which says that if you have a good game on your hands, you need to strive not to spoil it.
What happened to the "Japanese Witcher?"
One of the first things to notice about Nioh 2 is that we get a new main character, William, sometimes called the "Japanese Geralt." Nioh 2 is a prequel, and it introduces a new protagonist an unnamed warrior whose mother was killed by a mysterious man with a staff (by the way, we can now create our own character in the editor). This samurai holds a secret as a carrier the yokai blood, blood of demons that people hunt down. We quickly join forces with Mumyo, the leader of sohayo, a faction focused on hunting demons, and Tokichiro, an ambitious mercenary and traveler who is looking for soul stones that give power. The ending is predictable not only because it's a prequel, but also because similar stories have been told many times. The mineral, of course, guarantees power, but not for free. The price is the loss of one's own humanity and the descent into blind greed. This is a hackneyed trope, but it works quite well in the context of such a game, especially since everything is beautifully served, neatly tied together with references to the first part of the series.
The game seems to feel comfortable as a sequel, showing the origins of famous characters, and introducing new persons. As the original, Nioh 2 reinforces the narrative with historical events and figures from the Azuchi-Momoyama period. For most of the campaign, we follow Ode Nobunaga's attempts to unite the country (he was one of the great Japanese leaders, who appeared in many other games, such as Samurai Warrior series, or Nobunaga's Ambition, a strategy). The history of his reign is full of glorious victories on the battlefield, and proliferation of culture, but also behind-the-scenes schemes and intrigues, including the betrayal that led to his death.
I honestly admit that these historical touches in Nioh are really great, especially since they have been recreated with high fidelity. The demons that serve as the background of the story are just a symbolic representation of the human fallacies, yielding to the temptations of power. Only that here, the demons are real, and you need to pierce them with pointy things.
The protagonist, grappling with their inner demons, fades a little among all those historical characters fighting for good or evil. The voiceless hero can only watch and try to understand. But I don't see this as a big disadvantage, because, after all, our contribution to the narrative comes down to swinging the sword, rather than discuss philosophy. What I really liked about it all was the short notes on the demons and the historical figures.
Of course, it will be hard to appreciate this lore without any sort of background knowledge, but you can learn many interesting tidbits about the Japanese beliefs and customs. The hero's hut, for example, includes teacups and pots labelled "splendor," "simplicity," or "originality."
The character editor in Nioh 2 is expanded and provides a lot of freedom. I wanted to go for a character inspired by Michonne from The Walking Dead, a dark-skinned female warrior with a katana. And although this sounds quite absurd in culturally homogeneous Japan, we know from historical reports that it could have been true. During the reign of the above-mentioned Oda Nobunaga, about whom Nioh 2 talks a little, an Italian missionary arrived in Japan with a black warrior hired as bodyguard. Nobunaga, intrigued by his character, was to take him into service. The samurai was named Yasuke and reportedly served the leader until the very end of his days. Besides, if you played the first Nioh, you already crossed swords with him.