Nioh 2 snippet of the official artwork with the logo

Despite having some incredibly tough competition in the Souls-like genre, Nioh 2 has managed to genuinely impress me with its balance of combat, customization and exploration. Rather than simply copy games like Dark Souls and call it a day, Nioh 2 has brought in plenty of its own unique and interesting ideas, some of which are very likely to become staples of the genre moving forward.

So if you're wondering what the PC version of Nioh 2 is all about, as well as how exactly it fares when compared to the rest of the Souls-likes, allow me to give you my thoughts now that I've lived and breathed Nioh 2 for well over a week.

Nioh 2 PC artwork for the Enera boss

As is tradition, prepare to die time and time again!

Even on the very first screen Nioh 2 makes a pretty good impression. Unlike the original where you could only tweak a couple of features of your pre-set character, Nioh 2 allows you to go wild with the customization. You can tweak just about everything, and often to a ridiculous degree. As such, if you're particularly talented you can easily replicate characters from pop culture, or simply create your very own rendition of what the missing link would look like with clown makeup on.

There is also a very easy way to import and export these custom characters. So if you're like me and you don't have even a single artistic bone within your entire body, worry not as you can simply search up some codes online, quickly test what they look like in-game, and be ready to go within minutes. Best of all, you can change the entirety of your appearance (including armor and weapons) at a moment's notice, thus ensuring you'll always be able to look exactly as cool or absurd as you want. It's a remarkably good system!

Nioh 2 PC screenshot of the character creation

For goodness sake, there's a tooth paint option!

Unfortunately, right after making a stunning entrance and dazzling me with its numerous customization options, Nioh 2 proceeded to slip on the figurative banana peel and slide straight into a wall... face-first. What I'm trying to say with this painfully long analogy is that despite this being the most basic feature of pretty much any PC game, new or old, Nioh 2 does not have mouse and keyboard prompts displayed on screen! Instead they're exclusively controller prompts, which as you might imagine, is just about useless when you're trying to learn the game using a mouse and keyboard.

For most games this wouldn't be too big of a problem because the controls usually boil down to a couple of simple actions you constantly reuse. However, Nioh 2 has a lot of keybinds you'll need to utilize in order to keep up with the ever-increasing enemy strength, many of which require combined button presses. So unless you look up a guide online, chances are you're going to completely miss an important move somewhere, which will then make the already challenging start a straight up nightmare.

The good news is that the developers are not only working on bringing in mouse and keyboard prompts with the next major update, but that the controls themselves work perfectly fine. So as long you're willing to do a little bit of research on the side, you can play through Nioh 2 with mouse and keyboard controls without any sort of trouble. Still, unless you're incredibly stubborn about all of this, I'd recommend sticking with a controller as it's simply the better option for these types of fast-paced RPGs.

[Update]: I'm happy to say that all of this nonsense has now been sorted out. Nioh 2's March 2021 update has finally added mouse and keyboard prompts!

Nioh 2 PC screenshot of the issue with mouse and keyboard controls

You'll need to figure out how all of these abilities work with basically no help

Since I'm already talking about the state of the PC port, it's also worth bringing up the performance. Before I even started my playthrough I noticed a large amount of complaints on Steam about crashes and FPS drops, though after spending over 40 hours in Nioh 2 so far, I have to say that I've encountered almost no problems whatsoever. Despite my GPU being fairly old (GTX 970) I was able to max out most settings and still have a stable 60 FPS throughout the entire journey.

The only technical issue I encountered was related to the lighting in one of the very first levels. For whatever reason the entire level looked like it was taking place on the surface of the Sun, with shadows being nearly nonexistent and every single object outside bathed in blinding white light. Messing around with the settings offered very little aid, though thankfully the bug never appeared again. So barring the downright embarrassing lack of mouse and keyboard prompts, the PC port of Nioh 2 has been extremely solid on my end.

Nioh 2 screenshot of a lighting based graphical bug

Thankfully only this level was overly bright and washed out

With that little diversion out of the way, let's return to the actual gameplay. Much like the rest of the Souls-like genre, Nioh 2 has a great deal of options when it comes to dishing out damage. You have eleven unique melee weapons to choose from, a fully fleshed out set of magic and ninja skills, special Yaokai abilities that let you briefly transform into a demon to really bring down the hurt, as well as a frankly absurd amount of gear to help you customize things even further.

Because of this, no matter what your playstyle might be, Nioh 2 will have you covered. You can even be that guy and pretend your super secret martial art is just throwing a nearly endless supply of grenades at your enemies! The sheer amount of customization is genuinely staggering, and unless you really put in some serious effort, there is almost no chance you'll be able to experience all of it in a single playthrough.

Personally, I find that to be a rather positive thing as it ensures that future campaigns will still be as fresh and interesting as the very first one. There's also the obvious benefit of always being able to drastically change things around and never being locked to a single build, which then allows you to tailor your loadout for specific bosses and enemies, or simply mix things up every once in a while to keep things from becoming too stale.

Nioh 2 PC screenshot of the claws in action

Some of the builds are ridiculous, but in a fun way

That said, your first run through Nioh 2 is likely to be a bit of a mess. Much like Ninja Gaiden and Dark Souls from which it draws a great deal of inspiration, Nioh 2 has one hell of a difficulty curve. If you're not familiar with the genre you'll likely die over and over and over again until you finally gain the skills and mentality needed in order to succeed. And even if you're a veteran of the Souls series, chances are you'll still be annihilated by even the simplest enemies as Nioh 2 has quite a few tricks you'll need to master.

This is by no means a flaw, however, as Nioh 2 has my favorite kind of difficulty - it's challenging but fair, yet also equally punishing for both you and your enemies. There is no attack in Nioh 2 that cannot be dodged or blocked, and if you're skilled enough it's entirely possible to go through the whole game without taking even a single hit. Combine this with enemies that follow the exact same rules as you do, and you've got yourself a combat system where your success entirely depends on your skill and patience rather than outside factors like random dice rolls or specific gear.

As a consequence of this, while dying constantly during your first few hours might be infuriating, it also makes your progress all the more meaningful. If I didn't die ten times in a row to the very first monkey-faced Yaokai in the very first level, then learning how to combo him down from 100% to 0% health in one smooth motion wouldn't be nearly as satisfying. Similarly, if I didn't get slapped around by the very first boss time and time again, then eventually becoming good enough to split-second parry a scythe-weasel that's flying towards my face at Mach 10 would not only be impossible, but far less cathartic!

So even though Nioh 2 is an incredibly difficult game that will punish your every mistake, I also found it to be a remarkably rewarding one as well. It took a little bit of getting used to, I'm not ashamed to admit that, but once I finally got into sync with its combat system I simply couldn't stop playing! There is just something unbelievably addicting in overcoming constant adversity and slowly but surely becoming confident enough to toy around with enemies like a cat toys around with a mouse.

Nioh 2 PC screenshot of the Yatsu snake boss

The snake boss is the first big skill-check, and it's a real rough one for newcomers!

Another aspect of Nioh 2 that I greatly enjoyed was the level design. Even though the main route is usually fairly linear and obvious, there are tons of side-areas and hidden passageways all over the place that hide all sorts of secrets. Some of these will lead you to mini-bosses or straight into an ambush, others will reward you with heaps of treasure, while even the most mundane ones will at least give you an advantageous position in an upcoming fight. Because of this I ended up exploring every single map in its entirety, and I must admit I found it to be a very gratifying experience.

Much like the rest of the Souls-like genre, the most rewarding thing about exploration in Nioh 2 is finding all of the different shortcuts that link up to previous areas. Sure, adding a couple of extra checkpoints throughout the level would serve the same function, but there is just something truly special about spending 30 minutes roaming through unknown territory, only to eventually knock down a ladder and realize you're right back at the very start! These types of shortcuts put the whole adventure into context and make the world feel like a living, breathing place. So as someone that loves exploring and poking around in the strangest of places in search of secrets, Nioh 2 has been a real treat!

The one complaint I do have is directly related to the loot you can find running around. In games like Dark Souls super-secret areas often contain unique weapons and armor that you simply cannot get anywhere else, while in Nioh 2 they often have a couple of pieces of randomized loot. Quality loot, mind you, but still randomized loot and as such often of dubious value.

I would've preferred if these were curated items and slightly more interesting than the usual stuff, because as it stands chasing down every single hidden piece of loot feels a bit pointless given that the items are not guaranteed to even be usable by you. Still, the act of exploration and venturing into the unknown is its own reward, so while I do hope the eventual Nioh 3 improves upon this, it's certainly not a deal-breaker for Nioh 2.

Nioh 2 screenshot of the various loot pieces

The items are fun, but hard to get excited about when you get so many

Besides loot, at the end of every single campaign level there is another nice little present to unwrap - a fairly tough boss that will likely grind you into the dirt the first few times you face them! However, while they may be brutally difficult on occasion, just about every single boss embodies that "challenging but fair" principle I mentioned earlier. Once you learn their patterns, when to press the attack and when to play defensive, the whole battle becomes an elegant dance where every single move matters. If you're skilled and patient enough, it's entirely possible to not only defeat bosses without taking even a single hit, but to do so in such a dominating fashion that it makes even the most difficult ones look like a complete joke.

The reason this is the case is because bosses follow the same rules as you do. They have a Ki (stamina) meter that you can deplete by wailing on them, and once they're out of Ki you can basically stunlock them while dishing out insane amounts of damage. As long as you time it well you can also use the newly added Burst Counter ability to parry the most powerful attacks thrown at you, after which the boss will take a sizable chunk of Ki damage and will be left wide open for you to further push the aggression.

Naturally, the bosses aren't helpless throughout all of this. Once you've done a certain amount of damage to them they will get rather irritated with you, plunge the entire arena into the Yaokai realm, significantly replenish their Ki and attack you with even greater ferocity. This is usually where the tables are flipped and you're forced on the defensive, though if you dare to brush shoulders with death, it's also possible to push the boss back into their more docile mode by relentlessly attacking them and draining their Ki. A tricky proposition to be sure, but a risk that is well worth taking once you're comfortable dealing with the boss.

As as result every single boss fight feels like a proper duel between equals, and is thus a joy to master. You will frequently die, and there is no shame in that, but with every attempt you will learn more and more about the boss, until finally you become good enough to completely annihilate them. It's exactly that exhilarating feeling of overcoming what I previously thought was an unfair challenge that I love to see from my action RPGs, and Nioh 2 delivers it in droves!

The only exception here are some of the human bosses as what they lack in sheer strength, they more than make up for by relentlessly spamming attacks. Because of this certain fights can be downright annoying as it's less about countering and responding to what the boss does, and more about slamming into them as quickly as possible in order to prevent them from doing ridiculous things. Thankfully, the truly infuriating fights were few and far between, so this is merely a small blemish on Nioh 2's otherwise highly entertaining bosses.

Nioh 2 screenshot of a really close call on the Kamaitachi boss

Now that's a close call!

Closing Thoughts

As a massive fan of Souls-like games and challenging RPGs in general, I'm incredibly pleased to say that Nioh 2 is among the best of them. With plenty of content on offer, diverse and interesting maps to explore, as well as a plethora of entertaining bosses to duel against, Nioh 2 has been a captivating experience from beginning to end. It did occasionally made me want to tear my hair out due to the difficulty spikes, but that certainly didn't stop me from living and breathing Nioh 2 until I was fully finished!

So if you're wondering whether I would recommend Nioh 2 to someone interested in the genre, the answer would be absolutely yes if you're planning to play it with a controller. The mouse and keyboard support, while functional, is currently objectively inferior and will simply frustrate you while you're already struggling to learn the ropes and cope with the challenging enemies.

That said, once the developers do deploy a fix I'll make sure to let you know if it's finally safe to dive in with a mouse and keyboard. Until then, a little bit of a patience (or a controller) is probably the better option.