By Joe Delaney
Nioh 2 is a bold experiment to determine how much you can copy off another video game without getting sued. Much like its 2017 predecessor, it borrows so many ideas from the Dark Souls series, I wouldn’t blame you for thinking it was developed by From Software themselves.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing though. The Souls series is one of the greatest and most influential new IPs of the last decade, even spawning its own sub genre: the Soulslike (or Souls clone? Souls-esque?). And Nioh 2 may just be the best one yet.. maybe even better than the real thing.
With this series of articles, I’ll be comparing two games, one being what started a trend, and the other being a game that followed that trend, possibly perfecting it. I know that Demon’s Souls is the true originator, but it was 2011’s Dark Souls that really caught the world’s attention, so that’s the one I’ll be pitting Nioh 2 against. It’s innovator vs imitator. Name brand vs knockoff. This is Clone Wars.
Each matchup contains five rounds, each one a category examining an aspect of game design important to the titles I’m examining. The five rounds this time around will be Combat, Level Design, Story/Lore, Challenge, and Boss Design.
Round 1: Combat
One of the greatest aspects of the Souls series is its intricate and precise melee combat system (unless you’re being a little bitch and playing as a magic user). The gameplay in a Souls game requires both quick reflexes and careful planning, making every encounter in the game feel consequential. It’s perhaps the thing most other games have appropriated from the Souls series. You can see traces of Souls in that new Star Wars game, to the God of War reboot, to other From Soft games like Bloodborne and Sekiro. And of course, it’s in Nioh 2.
To determine the game with the better combat system game, I just imagined my player characters from both games duking it out. My avatar from Dark Souls, Seph, is holding his claymore with both hands and is nearly butt-ass naked because fat rolling is for suckers. And my girl from Nioh 2, Hide is decked out in her Shinobi garb, while holding her Kusarigama in the high stance.
Seph rolls and swings his claymore at Hide, but she evades to the right. Hide throws one end of her weapon at Seph, and drags him in closer before getting a few blows in. Seph rolls and swings his claymore at Hide, but she evades, this time to the left.
Tired of his bullshit, Hide unleashes the spirit of a giant serpent at Seph that leaves him poisoned. Then, she transforms into a demon herself and unleashes a flurry of fiery attacks on Seph, leaving him on the brink of death. Finally, she delivers the final blow by grabbing him and slitting his throat. As the “You Died” screen pops up, Seph screams out in agony when he realizes he forgot to pick up the 32,000 souls he lost earlier.
Sorry Dark Souls, I love your combat, but Nioh 2 offers a more dynamic system with more ways to approach each battle.
Dark Souls: 0
Nioh 2: 1
Round 2: Level Design
There’s no doubt that Nioh has fantastic gameplay, but does it have great levels to play around in? We already know that Dark Souls features some of the smartest and most satisfying level design in modern gaming, so Nioh 2 has a lot to live up too. So does it live up to Dark Souls in this regard?
No. This one’s a blowout. The level design in Dark Souls beats Nioh 2 in pretty much every way. First off, Nioh 2 has a mission based structure, so each one of its areas is disconnected from the others, and one of the coolest things about Dark Souls was the way the world was connected. Also, you’d think that with its disparate areas, Nioh 2 would at least have a nice variety of levels, but Dark Souls takes the cake here, too.
In Dark Souls, you have awe-inspiring cities of gold, a snow-covered city in a painting, a swamp where frame rates go to die, and so much more. But most of the levels in Nioh 2 are just Japanese village after Japanese village. Sure, they have the shortcuts, the hidden alcoves filled with treasure, but they’re missing the creativity that made the areas in Dark Souls so special.
Dark Souls: 1
Nioh 2: 1
Round 3: Story & Lore
“But Joe, there is no story in Dark Souls,” I hear you saying. “The only story in the game is hidden away in cryptic item descriptions and dialogue from weird NPCs,”
And to that, I say yes, the story in Dark Souls is pretty esoteric. It’s also one of the best stories ever written for a game.
Every area, every boss fight, every item has a story behind it in Dark Souls, and it’s all right there for people to experience IF they want to. That’s what makes the storytelling of Dark Souls so fascinating, the fact that it’s up to the player if they want to take the time to understand it.
On the other hand, Nioh 2 has a decent enough plot featuring Japanese warlords and demons, but it’s never made me spend hours looking up its lore the way Dark Souls does.
Dark Souls: 2
Nioh 2: 1
Round 4: Challenge
Even if you’ve never played a Souls game before, you probably know these games are hard. It’s basically the one aspect that all of its imitators have seemed to adopt, and Nioh 2 is no exception. Dark Souls and Nioh 2 both make players “git gud” but which one makes you git gudder?
The problem with comparing and contrasting difficulty is that the challenges players face are relative. Both games have fair challenges, like boss fights with patterns you can learn, but both of them also feature quite a bit of what I, an intellectual, call “fucking bullshit.”
I love Souls games and their clones, but they all feature a lot of artificial difficulty, like bosses who can just teleport when you’ve gained the upper hand, to traps that are only obvious once they’ve already killed you. Dark Souls and Nioh 2 are both guilty of overusing “ganks,” where the challenge comes from the player having to fight several enemies at a time.
You’re not bad at the game if you get killed because you were swarmed by a dozen enemies. Even a Navy Seal might lose a fight against 20 drunken hillbillies if one of them shanks him from behind with a broken beer bottle.
Bullshit aside, Nioh 2 provides the greater challenge of the two games. Not only is it the harder of the two games, but it also gives the player more options to approach difficult situations than Dark Souls does. One of the first enemies you find in Nioh 2 had me fighting him for nearly an hour, and the game doesn’t let up from there.
Dark Souls: 2
Nioh 2: 2
Final Round: Boss Design
Going into Nioh 2, I had played the original game quite a bit, putting at least 50 hours into it when it came out. I remember enjoying it quite a bit, but for the life of me, one thing I just could not remember was literally any of the boss fights. I’m happy to say that Nioh 2’s boss fights are definitely an improvement over the original, but that’s not saying all that much.
Nearly every boss fight in Nioh 2 follows the same pattern: dodge some regular attacks, burst counter their heavy attacks, demon realm phase, repeat. And even though the actual look of the bosses is better here than it was in Nioh 1, I’m already starting to forget some of them.
Dark Souls, on the other hand, has some of the most iconic boss fights in gaming history. Ornstein and Smough, Knight Artorias, Gwyn, Bed of Chaos… okay not that last one. But even the shitty fights in Dark Souls are at least memorable. Sorry Nioh 2, but this choice is easy.
Dark Souls: 3
Nioh 2: 2
Despite having the superior combat system and being the harder game, it wasn’t enough to beat Dark Souls overall.
Regardless, Nioh 2 is a phenomenal game, and it actually does a lot of smaller things way better than Dark Souls, like its character creator and customization options. Maybe that’s more important to you, and that’s cool. Leave a comment and let everyone know what your favorite Soulslike game is.