Nioh 2 Alpha Demo impressions: More of the same, but with polish

Team Ninja’s samurai action role-playing game has a playable demo, bringing in many old elements as well as new and refreshing ones to Nioh 2.

I was so ecstatic to jump into and get a preview of what’s to come in Team Ninja’s second installment of the Nioh franchise. The first game was so fun and deep in content and difficulty that I spent a few hundred hours grinding out the hardest bosses for even stronger loot.

Within minutes, I had the Nioh 2 Alpha Demo downloaded and without hesitation, jumped right into it. The intro cinematic did feel reminiscent of the first, though it was missing the previous game’s protagonist— William. Then came the game’s splash screen and main menu; then I realized many elements are very reminiscent of the first Nioh.

So instead of using William, you create your own character. You can choose to be a male or female, though only with presets in this build. However, seeing the menus and UI, you can go much more in-depth with customization. In the first Nioh, customization was seemingly endless with so many armor pieces, weapons, and even cosmetics for which you can attribute your gear.

Nioh 2

Team Ninja

For all you want, you can wear light armor but refashion it to look like heavy armor and vice versa. Now that we can make our own Nioh 2 characters, it adds even more time for me to throw at the game.

But then came more familiarity. The Dojo you train and play tutorials in looks just like the one from the first Nioh. The layout, the lamps, trees, bridge, and landscape are all the same, just looking prettier this time around. Personally, it isn’t an issue to me since the first game’s Dojo had a beautiful layout.

But then as I focused more on the UI and the menus, I realized a good chunk of it was recycled from the first game. At some point, it felt more like an expansion rather than a demo to a new standalone game.

Starting on the first level, I realized it’s starting to feel a bit too familiar.

Starting on the first level, I realized it’s starting to feel a bit too familiar. It was effortless for me to engage enemies and manage my health and ki (stamina). The weapons felt and played just as they did in the first. I was expecting to die often or get blindsided by the random difficulty spikes this game throws, and it happened, but it was just as it was in the first Nioh.

I’ll forgive it since it is just a demo and Team Ninja are probably just wanting people to test the newer things introduced into the game, like level layouts, new abilities and mechanics, and new enemies. I loved the first Nioh, so the uncanny similarities and recycled elements from the first didn’t hinder my experience.

The gameplay of Nioh 2 felt nearly identical to the first, too. The button layout was almost the same too, but with more depth, as there are new mechanics to the game’s combat. One of the newer things noticed right from the get-go is the Yokai Shift. It’s the replacement for living weapon like from the first. The button combination is the same, but instead of imbuing your weapon with the element of the animal you have chosen, you become a yokai with a whole new moveset.

Team Ninja

The weapons and move sets differ based on which spirit animal you go with. This demo offers three spirits: Makami, the mountain wolf, harnesses the element of fire and gives you a giant flaming club to beat your enemies with; Ame-no-Mitori, the eagle who uses thunder and gives you dual daggers to gouge your opponents with; and Kagewani, the shark that grants you a water staff.

They all have different offensive and defensive capabilities with their stats, so it allows for the player to find one that suits their play styles better. Each spirit in the Yokai Shift form is such a visual spectacle and totally makes the living weapon mechanic from the first game look lame.

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To add onto that whole Yokai aspect, you can equip Soul Cores to your spirit animal to unlock new Yokai Skills. There is a third bar under your health and ki which you fill up in combat. Pressing R2 and square or triangle expends some of that bar to perform those said skills. You summon or turn into various Yokai enemies to dish out some mad damage, especially if you chose the Ippon-Datara Soul Core like I did.

However, to use these skills, you must acquire the cores first. You can only equip two at a time as well. They’re obtained from random enemy drops and they all have different stats and levels, essentially adding another layer of farming to a farm-heavy game.

Team Ninja

I was sad to see that axes, kusarigama, and tonfas aren’t in this game. Instead, we get dual hatchet-styled weapons which you can throw and go close combat with. But judging from how the weapon skill trees look this time around, perhaps we are getting even more depth to the combat system in this game.

The skill trees look so much more confusing and complex than they did in the first Nioh, and I don’t know whether to be looking forward to it or be concerned. Most skills, including the ninjutsu and onmyo magic skills were kept intact.

Playing through Nioh 2 did not feel very foreign to me, with many familiar enemies standing in my way. There were new enemies, neat bosses, and cool little things to add depth into the world.

The new enemies look horrifying and disgusting, but not in a bad way. They looked intimidating or made me audibly say “ew” from how grotesque they looked. These are demons, after all. The wairas, in particular, were just so nasty and repulsive, and the way they crawl at you and try to impale you with their claws is such a scary experience.

Team Ninja

So with new enemies being showcased, there are also bloody blue graves called “benevolent graves.” Instead of seeing a bloody red grave showing what the person died by, these blue graves can be summoned to bring in an AI-controlled NPC of a player and their loadouts. I won’t be using them too much since I welcome the challenge, but it’s nice to give newer or lesser experienced players a crutch or boost in parts they’re stuck in.

There are kodamas to find and bring back to the shrines just like in the first, as well as finding purple kodamas, called sudamas. They are hostile or friendly, depending on how you interact with them. If you give them soul cores, they have a chance of giving you a kodama core or just some spirit stones.

Sometimes, you run into these glowing cats which you can pet. They grant you a temporary buff and follow you for a set time. It’s odd to find them scattered throughout levels in demon-riddled areas, but it’s a neat addition for those who explore every crevice and narrow passageway in this game.

Team Ninja

Once I was able to finish a level and go back to the overworld map, the UI and menus all looked the same, except for the map itself. It’s no longer a colorless, wall-scroll looking map; it shows terrain and looks more like a high-definition aerial view of the locales.

Tome is still your blacksmith, and it seems all the things you can do in the first Nioh are doable in the Nioh 2 alpha demo, aside from reforging and customizing your hair since it’s not the full product. The hidden teahouse is still a thing, and Torii Gating (co-op mode) is still intact. Though this time around, you can have up to two people playing co-op with you in most activities. I’ll be using that feature more to carry friends or play the tough levels with them.

Team Ninja

To those unfortunate enough to not get selected for the Nioh 2 Alpha Demo, you aren’t missing out on much. This isn’t to say that it’s a bad thing per se. It seems like a more polished add-on. Since there isn’t a release date on it yet and you are interested in the game, try the first Nioh. It may be challenging for newcomers, but it’ll prepare you for the sequel.