Nioh 2 – Closed Alpha Hands-on Preview

I’m a sucker for Souls-style games, and one browse through my PSN trophies is evidence enough of this. Dark Souls 1-3, Bloodborne, Nioh, The Surge, Sekiro, Darksiders 3, and even the below middling Lords of the Fallen have platinum trophies, or damn close. This is a genre which brings me lots of enjoyment in the current generation of console hardware. So going into Nioh 2, there should be a lot to draw me in, yet after playing around with the recently released closed alpha, I walk away not inspired by what might come next, but bored by the prospect of more of the same.

I’ll admit right away that Nioh is far from a favorite of mine. I have the platinum trophy in it, so I definitely put my time into the sucker, and I absolutely love the deep combat mechanics which put other games in this genre to shame. But the largely uninspired level design that makes up half the experience and the lack of enemy variety throughout the entire thing really hurt it for me.

The bosses are excellent, but fighting a One-Eyed Oni for the hundredth time, or a Yoki for the thousandth got really tiresome. So heading into Nioh 2, my biggest hope was that the enemy variety would be drastically increased. Such a developmental move would go a long way towards making the sequel feel fresh and new, yet disappointingly, if the alpha is anything to go off, Nioh 2 will be spent fighting many of the same baddies I already got bored of in the first game. And in that sense, Nioh 2 feels more like Nioh 1.5.

The closed Alpha contains two levels, or three if you include a harder ‘Twilight’ version of the first. The levels aren’t particularly great, and I’d have liked for even more diverging paths, but they aren’t necessarily bad, either. Filling them are a few new enemies, including but not limited to a female snake creature that is an absolute pain in the ass to fight (but in a good way!), some mini creatures which seem to devour injured ones around them to grow even larger, and a grotesque slug… thing which rolls into a ball for massive damage, burrows underground to charge the player, and thrashes around to whip the player with it’s appendages.

The creature designs for the new enemies are well done, which makes it hurt all that much more because the majority of the two (technically three) levels are spent fighting creatures from the first game. Returning are skeleton warriors, Yoki, Karakasa Umbrellas, Oni Bi, Dwellers, Kappas, Magatsu warriors, and even a few others.

I wasn’t kidding when I said this feels like Nioh 1.5. Though, that might be what some other players prefer, as the combat is thankfully still great, and it’s made even better by some new mechanics.

Replacing the living weapons from the first game is a mechanic called ‘Yokai Shift’. This ability allows you to morph into a creature, of sorts, and lets you to deal fairly heavy damage. I particularly enjoyed one called Kagewani; it gives me a shark as a spirit animal and the morph looks cool, as well as being incredibly useful against the first boss.

Adding to their customization are Soul Cores. Each one possesses a unique power, and when properly combined with various moves during combat, they not only look neat, but they give you quite the edge. Two I was particularly fond of were the Skeleton Warriors , which momentarily dropped down two skeleton archers to hit my foes with some arrows, and another called the Ippon-Datara which gave me the power to unleash a devastating hammer attack. Below is a clip of me fighting the Twilight version of the first boss, and as you can see, when the combat mechanics are properly utilized, it not only looks great, but it feels awesome, and the player becomes a powerful force of chaos.

As for the rest of the combat, it feels exactly as you may remember it from Nioh. I’m not going to waste a lot of text explaining how it plays out, but just know that the stance system returns, Ki is still a juggling act to properly maintain stamina, there’s long range weapons like guns and bows which deal massive damage, and the more you use various weapons and abilities, the more unlocks you receive for their various skill trees.

While I’m still discussing combat, it’s also worth mentioning that the bosses look great, and make for some fun and challenging gameplay. What Nioh lacked in enemy variety it made up for with countless bosses, and there’s nothing in the alpha that suggests the sequel won’t play similarly.

Adding a level of creativity to the game is what appears to be a deep character customization. This time around the player chooses their gender and makes a character from scratch. For the alpha all the options but gender were locked, but if the various tabs are anything to go by, I’ll easily be able to spend 30 minutes fine tuning my character come release. Though, there’s no indication as to how this may affect the story, and while I personally don’t care, I can see some being slightly turned off by the lack of an established character. Nioh followed William and he had a defined story, who knows what Nioh 2 will be like in that regard.

One surprising aspect of the alpha is its multiplayer. Added to the sequel is something called ‘benevolent graves’ which allow the player to summon an ai controlled partner. These are based off real world players, and using an item called ‘righteous jasper’, a player can lay their own grave which will go on to help others, and reap rewards for whoever a particular grave belongs to. It appears this was added to make the game easier for some, but as anyone who played the first game will probably remember, mutliplayer only goes so far. There were quite a few bosses in Nioh which didn’t allow multiplayer, creating a difficult challenge for those who got stuck at a particular part. Only time will tell if that’s changed as the alpha gives no indication one way or the other.

Walking away from the alpha I can’t say I’m hyped for Nioh 2, but realistically I’ll still play it. I do have the platinum trophy for the first game, so even with my qualms, there’s still a highly enjoyable game in there, and it clearly kept pulling me back. Hell, as Niche Gamer’s resident Souls fanatic, I’ll probably be reviewing it. I just hope that come the full game, the first two levels of the alpha aren’t indicative of the experience as a whole.

Team Ninja, you’ve made a badass game with kickass combat, now just give me more enemies to use my skill on.

Nioh 2 is currently in development for PlayStation 4. A release date isn’t confirmed.

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Sophia was a former Niche Gamer contributor.

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