Having not played the first Nioh and going into this playthrough with almost no knowledge of Nioh 2, I can assertively say that I knew I was creating a trap for myself. The main reason being that Nioh 2‘s combat system turned out to be much deeper and more complex than I was ever expecting and so the first few hours of gameplay consisted of me trying to work out what attacks and block/dodge combinations were most effective. After dying and experimenting for a while I was happy that I knew roughly what was expected from me. Time to advance.
Or perhaps not, because the second enemy in the entire game was actually a very tough mini-boss. I did backtrack to defeat this scoundrel eventually but not until the very end of the mission, this however perfectly set the tone for the rest of my time with Nioh 2 and taught me not to ever let my guard down or get too comfortable with enemies. As I advanced further through the first main mission I dove deeper into the multilayered combat, unlocking ability after ability and forgetting to use most of them for 90% of the level. It wasn’t until I reached the end of this area that the first real challenge presented istelf to me in the form of an unskippable boss. As is commonplace in many games in this genre I was utterly annihilated during my first attempt, and so I sat up in my chair and got stuck into understanding the skills and abilities a bit better.
First off lets talk about the incredibly large amount of basic weapon combos and attacks that can be used in Nioh 2. You can choose to equip two main weapons from around fifteen different types. These can be changed and upgraded as you collect more resources throughout the game. Each of these weapons has a basic light and heavy attack and multiple different combos depending on what you unlock in the very large and in-depth skill tree and equip to your character. On top of that you have three different fighting stances. High stance focuses on attack power, Mid stance on defence and Low stance on dodging and each time you change stance, you change your attack combos. A quick bit of maths shows me that with basic weapon attacks alone there are over 200 different ways to to deal damage to an enemy.
Sometimes even that doesn’t seem enough for the tougher enemies in the game, but thankfully there are a few other ways of dealing some major burst damage. At the very start of the game you are able to choose a guardian spirit to inhabit your body allowing you to equip and use special skills. These skills are not infinite but deplete as they are used and regenerate when you defeat enough enemies. You can also find new skills and level exiting skills by collecting rare soul core drops from enemies and combining them. The most exciting and biggest damage dealer is the Yokai Shift, an ability that I like to call Nioh 2‘s version of an ultimate ability. This transforms you into a warped version of your chosen guardian and allows you to deal some major damage free of the contraints of your normal characters health bar. Yokai Shift lasts mere seconds but allows you to burst through tough boss phases and come out the other side with no extra damage dealt to yourself. I found this a vital tool for survival many times during the first few missions of the game.
On top of all these combos and abilities there are also bows and guns and throwable bombs and stones that allow you to aggro single enemies from afar and take out those pesky out of reach enemies that deal damage to you from above. You can also enchant your weapons with limited time elemental damage and even life steal if you feel you need a bit more survivability. Again these abilities are limited but refresh when you visit a shrine to save your progress.
It eventually took me five attempts to beat this first boss with my final attempt utilizing the Yokai Shift ability to chip off that last bit of health and as I basked in the glory of what felt like the games first solid challenge I realised just how enjoyable the combat in Nioh 2 really is, more so than in other games of this genre. It feels as if you are able to adapt to different situations and enemy attack patterns with relative ease and death usually occurs as a fault of your own rather than some surprise damage or hidden attack.
Moving on I completed a couple of sub missions and started the second main mission of the game. With combat mechaninc knowledge firmly placed in my mind I was able to move through this level a lot faster, even discovering some hidden areas. I felt like I was putting my skill points to good use, solving the environmental puzzles well and still really enjoying the combat. The end boss of this second area was much tougher. I died eight times beofore deciding to use one of Nioh 2‘s new features and summoned another player into my world. This is done by going to a shrine and offering Ochoko Cups, a rare item that you mainly find by defeating the phantoms of players who have died in the game world. As the game progresses these Ochoko Cups become harder and harder to collect and so using them was a tough decision. Thankfully the player that answered my summon was level 50 and seemed to really know what he was doing. We managed to take down the boss at the first attempt and again I basked in the glory of achievement, while simultaneously dreading what was to come.
Of course there are other aspects to Nioh 2 both good and bad, such as the great visuals and level design, the lack of early game story and poor optimization but I feel talking about anything other than the dazzling combat and how well it gels with the enemies and environment around you would be doing the game a disservice. And as I load the game up once again, I’m fully prepared for the fact that I will die dozens more times over the course of the game but at least I will go down in a blaze of glory and I will sure as heck enjoy it.