It's been three months since Nioh 2 opened its doors to the public with an open beta. Allowing players to get to grips with what sets the sequel apart from the 2017 original across a single weekend, it was an eye-opening experience for developer Team Ninja. That's because the most overwhelming piece of feedback was that the technical test was actually a little bit too difficult, and we agreed at the time. Enthusiasm gave way to frustration all too quickly as even the most basic of enemies fought without mercy while tougher foes brought about destruction wherever they stood. It was a bit of a soul-destroying experience, but after a lengthy list of balance changes was published on the PlayStation Blog, how is the PlayStation 4 exclusive shaping up as it nears a March 2020 release? Doing better than ever, the turnaround is plain to see. Nioh 2 will be yet another phenomenal swan song for Sony's current-generation console.
Two hours of hands on action in an all-new location was enough to convince us of that. Equipped with high-level armour and weaponry, we explored a burning Japanese temple which made for a much fairer playing game. Of course, enemies still put up a fight, but we found ourselves slicing and dicing our way through lesser foes on a much more consistent basis -- very much leaving behind the seemingly unfair nature of last year's scrap with the supernatural.
It's still going to be a challenging game, however. The area's main boss proved to be a tough opponent with a punishingly difficult second phase, while testing encounters on the way up to its lair had us doubling back for a breather or two more often than not. As such, Nioh 2 feels like it's in a much, much better place difficulty-wise. Just as testing as its predecessor, it's a game which rewards high-level play and gives those who can just about manage a stamina bar a fighting chance. You'd have to improve rather dramatically to make it to the end credits, however.
It's the Yokai skills which set this Team Ninja sequel apart from the rest, though. Mapped to the face buttons after holding R2, these flamboyant, powerful attacks are governed by a new meter making up the HUD. The more enemies you dispose of the quicker it fills up, prompting swift attacks in the process so that combatants have even less of a chance to do something about your presence.
It can also be used as a defensive weapon at a moment's notice. Taking a page from Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice's book, Yokai skills give you the chance to counter unblockable moves and deal an extraordinary amount of damage in the process if you get the timing right. They add a much needed risk-reward system to a set of combat mechanics which feel wholly familiar to the original -- something which isn't necessarily a problem, although innovation is always welcome. Nioh 2 has added more depth where it is appreciated and further refined what it got right three years ago, making for an experience Dark Souls fans won't want to skip on.
Elsewhere, the title feels very much par for the course. Its mission-based structure returns alongside open-ended levels which you can explore to your heart's content -- uncovering secrets and passageways to make life easier while stocking up on items procured from chests and fallen enemies. The four combat stances make a comeback with a bonus feature which changes the shape and form of certain weapons, while mixing and matching life cores with Guardian Spirits could have minmaxers revisiting menus for days.
Team Ninja has opted to fine-tune what it already has rather than reinventing the wheel and it's going to be all the better for it. In a time where From Software's Elden Ring has seemingly gone AWOL, Nioh 2 can be the definitive Souls-like experience on PS4 for the year 2020 -- potential it is primed to fulfil as we edge closer to release. With a refined level of difficulty, Yokai skills for those theatrical enough to pull them off, and everything which made the original game great at the helm, this is going to be a PS4 exclusive worthy of your attention.
Are you excited about playing Nioh 2 next month? Are you pleased to hear that its difficulty level has been fixed? Counter attacks in the comments below.