Nioh 2 is not to be trifled with. Building on the original’s tough-as-nails reputation, Team Ninja’s second samurai action-RPG brings back the original’s penchant for punishing and highly nuanced combat. The sequel hones the original’s distinctive take on the Souls-like without completely reinventing itself. The result is a long, tough slog that will push even the most challenge-hungry players to their breaking points as they fight for every inch of ground and become master samurai.
Despite the title, Nioh 2 is a prequel, revealing the secret history of a decades-long period of war in medieval Japan. As the silent, customizable hero Hide, you fight to uncover the secret nature of “spirit stones,” which grant supernatural power, and defeat hordes of Yokai across the country. The plot, which you mostly hear through cutscenes and exposition between missions, has an interesting historical bent, but it is really just glue to hold the levels together. Historically relevant names like Nobunaga and Tokugawa play into the saga, but whatever flavor they add in the moment fades the second you take control and it’s time to start killing demons.
But that’s okay. Nioh 2’s story gives just enough context for you to follow along and make you feel like you’re making progress without getting in the way of the gameplay. Nioh 2’s definitive feature is its challenge. With core mechanics refined from the bones of Dark Souls, Nioh 2 boils down to a series of battles and duels in all kinds of situations. These battles demand intense precision: Not only are your attacks and skills limited by a stamina meter–called Ki–but any extra attack or mistimed movement will leave you exposed, often to an attack that will cost you a substantial amount of health. Like other Souls-like games, there is a painful pleasure in mastering whatever opponents the game throws your way.