(NIOH 2 is out now on PC. Distributor provided review copy.
A review of The Nioh Collection for PS5 is available here.)
Love it or hate it
My relationship with the Dark Souls-inspired genre is one filled with love and hate. Often much more of the latter. While I emphatically adore the lore and the oppressively melancholy mood in games like DARK SOULS 3 and BLOODBORNE, I find myself more and more frustrated by actually playing them.
So get your “git gud” cries out of your system; it’s going to be one of those reviews. One that dares to say that NIOH 2 would be a better game if it had a difficulty setting.
Set in the Sengoku Era’s waning years, NIOH begins years before its predecessor, telling the tale of Hide, a half-demon caught in the battle between good and evil. Encountering both fantastical and historical characters on their journey, Hide comes to take part in significant events that shape Japanese history and mythology.
Lore for days
The world teems with fascinating stories, fates, and mythic creations. Written by Ryohei Hayashi and directed by Fumihiko Yasuda, NIOH excels at combining the outrageous with the mystical. At its best, it has all the outlandish stupidity of a hyperactive anime running alongside a deeply reverent look at its history. It’s an odd mixture, one that occasionally stumbles as it leaps between tones, but you can’t help but admire the audacity. Whatever NIOH wants to be, it goes full-hog for it.
But that something is also hugely influenced by the DARK SOULS franchise, almost to the point of uncomfortableness. Everything about NIOH is beholden to something else, and sometimes those connections highlight the clunkiness of this newcomer series.
Most notably is the sluggishness, which NIOH dabbles in far too often. While the characters feel floaty and handle considerably less tightly than in the competitor, executing actions is an exercise in futility. The fighting mechanics, while varied, are shallow, and there’s an aggressively lousy case of too big hitboxes, which causes its fair share of pain.
Yes, some of it does boil down to getting better at the game and understanding how to play it in a way that it requires. But it’s undeniable that NIOH lacks the precision and fine-tuning of the SOULS games, especially when it comes to close encounters. Too often, a character will swing at emptiness even though another character is standing before them. Similarly, it’s far likelier to be hit by a rogue staff even when you’re visibly out of its reach.
Similarly, the boss battles are hectic and far too often beholden to luck rather than skill. NIOH 2 introduces a way for the character to embrace their inner demon, allowing for more devastating attacks and sturdier defenses. These are easily the highlight of the combat system, giving players more room to breathe in fights. As a result, most energy will go into gaming the system to skew in favor of magic rather than physical warfare.
It’s a strange pitfall, considering how much of NIOH emphasizes action. The world itself is closed off, and there’s surprisingly little to explore in the end. Unlike the FROM SOFTWARE creations, there is no open world, and the levels are a bit too similar to one another.
On the PC, NIOH 2 suffered early on from some debilitating bugs, which resulted in the game not even launching correctly in its first week for me. After multiple attempts of uninstalling and reinstalling the software and then messing with the resolution and framerate some more, I finally got in. Any other game and I probably would have called it quits way sooner.
The most recent patches fix most of these issues, though some stuttering and frame drop still exist, even on a sturdier rig (i7-9700k, RTX 3080, 32GB DDR4), which is odd considering the source material.
For fans, for now
That said, NIOH is still an intoxicating game to play because of its gorgeous art style and brilliant lore. It’s top tier as a playable anime experience, but getting to that content often feels too much like a chore. I wish the series came with an option to change difficulty levels, even if it was just for the few of us who don’t want to spend their days and nights grinding away at the same thing.
While recognizing that fans of the series will be in heaven, especially with the resolution bump and gorgeous audio presentation, NIOH 2 is hard to recommend for others even though I’d want to.