Balancing a challenging game is tough. After all, how do you make losing fun? Well, Nioh 2 might be a great example at just how to do so.
For starters, challenging games are made or broken through their combat system. An extremely easy to understand system makes the gameplay repetitive but an overly complicated one can hold back a player and prevent progress when facing difficult enemies that require complex strategies. Nioh 2’s combat system is a nice middle ground, simple enough for anyone to pick up with time but also with a high skill ceiling. Engaging with enemies can be as simple as understanding the timing of their attacks and gaining familiarity with your weapon’s attack patterns.
However, as the game progresses, new battle options open up. There are about 10 different weapons with 4 different stances each. On top of that, each weapon has an expansive skill tree. This means that as the player gets more comfortable with one weapon, they have the option to continue leveling up the weapon, unlocking new and more powerful skills incrementally, but also can switch things up to freshen up their playstyle. In the end, though, the battles are simple at their core: time your attacks and block when needed. But with the weapon variety and weapon-dependent skill tree, the way players approach combat can grow as they become more familiar with the game.
This combat system plays well with the difficulty. At first, it’s incredibly challenging to get past even mini-bosses but once you master the weapons, these battles get easier to navigate. Obviously the game scales with you, but once you conquer the core mechanics of the battle system, every battle feels like a challenge that can be overcome. There are certain enemies that will likely take several tries to beat – namely, the mission bosses – but the way Nioh 2 balances out the difficulty scaling of the enemies helps it feel as if you’re actually getting better at the game, not just beating your head against a wall the entire game as the level of difficulty is never master-able.
If I do have my gripe about the game, it’s the lack of any substantial character and story development. Your character is the definition of a blank slate avatar; the avatar is meant only to be a playable character, nothing more. The insignificance of the character is underscored by your ability to access the character customization screen at any point in the game to change all aspects of the character – sex, body type, muscular build, height, etc. If the character was meant to be anything other than just a playable avatar, this wouldn’t be the case as other characters within the Nioh universe would notice the non-cosmetic changes.
This leads into the second weakness of Nioh 2 – the story. A beautifully drawn intro sequence outlines a seeming conflict between demon and humans but doesn’t clarify what role you play in it. The character is a yōkai (both human and demon), but he fights both humans and demons equally. Missions give brief glimpses into a dark world of 16th CE Japan, but don’t give clear indications as to why the world is infested with demonic spirits and the motivations behind the character’s actions.
Outside these elements though, Nioh 2 is a masterclass when it comes to the difficult game genre and a classic for fans of this type of gameplay. Although potentially not as appealing to those who care more about story or see the difficulty as a little overbearing, the game rewards players who keep with the challenge.