90% of the discussion surrounding this game concerns a single subject, so I’ll just get it out of the way: NIDHOGG 2 is ugly. The actual artwork is masterful, but the visuals are absolutely repulsive. To be fair, that is the entire point, as it reflects the concept: two combatants kill for the honor of being devoured by a massive worm. This premise is so hideous that it could only be portrayed in such vulgar strokes. It is the ultimate in senseless slaughter, and even though the original NIDHOGG’s minimalist design was aesthetic perfection, perhaps the hideous Jim Henson rejects of the sequel are more topical. NIDHOGG 2 is DON’T HUG ME I’M SCARED with fencing, and the result of that fusion is even more hilarious and horrific than you’d think.
For the neophytes out there, NIDHOGG 2 mostly follows the same rules of engagement as the first game. Players begin the match in the center of the stage, and the first person to score a kill gains the “advantage.” They then have to run through several rooms to reach their finish line, while the defender does everything in their power to kill them and steal the advantage for themselves. It’s a vicious tug-of-war that is liable to change tides at any second. In addition to the classic rapier that each player starts with, NIDHOGG 2 introduces a dagger, broadsword, and bow for a greater variety of choices in manslaughter, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Which tool is the “best” boils down to personal preference (a lot of people are saying that the bow is trash; I prefer to think of it as a high-skill option), but the wider range of armaments undeniably adds additional strategy to NIDHOGG 2’s mad fracas.
Never bring a knife to a bowfight
While the new arsenal shakes things up, the biggest change of all is how unarmed characters handle. Empty hands equates to significantly faster movement speed, and it doesn’t hurt that melee attacks have been vastly improved, either. Most notable is the added ability to kick blades out of your opponent’s hands and swat projectiles out of the air. Kicks are also delivered faster than any weapon can strike, so while sword beat fist every time in the original, it’s not uncommon for weapon-wielders in NIDHOGG 2 to be overwhelmed by their “defenseless” quarry. Given that the whole point of arming yourself is to become dangerous, it is somewhat problematic that not arming yourself makes you even more so.
As far as anal-retentive nitpicks go, this one is fairly benign, since kicking a weapon out of your opponent’s hands will open you up to their own feet of fury. I could go on discussing similar minutia, such as how divekicks and legsweeps have been nerfed in favor of enhanced swordplay, or how holding the high ground is no longer the sole deciding factor in a fight, but that would merit an entire essay on its own. As made clear by the new look, NIDHOGG 2 aims to be a completely different game. Though the end goal is untouched, everything involved in reaching it has been redrawn from the ground up. To hold a magnifying glass to the mechanics would be to ignore the bigger picture. This isn’t simply the latest iteration of a fighter or FPS where the roster has been fiddled with or a gun has been tweaked; NIDHOGG 2 is a thematic evolution in the series.
The theme of living in a slaughterhouse is still intact, though
Once more, the source of this shift in theme lies in the new art style. The revamped duelist avatars have unique animations for each of their limbs, as well as faces that can actually express emotion (mostly pain). This makes NIDHOGG 2 far more expressive than NIDHOGG, but with the quantum leap in complexity comes an inability to match the whip-fast animation speed of the first game’s characters. NIDHOGG 2 is more deliberate because of this, and in conjunction with the greater tactical elements afforded by the expanded armory, it is more of a mind game than anything else.
Not unlike OVERCOOKED or RAINBOW SIX: SIEGE, NIDHOGG 2 rewards situational awareness and a heaping of foresight as much as, if not more than, reflexes or precision. It was no coincidence that friends who struggled to master the rapid fire ripostes in the first game proved more than capable adversaries in this one, while skilled veterans are frequently able to keep matches going well into sudden death, an occurrence almost unheard of before. Everyone wins when a game is designed so holistically, and it is only thanks to this synergy of concepts that NIDHOGG 2 is able to do the unimaginable and surpass its forerunner.
It’s not quite rainbows and unicorns, but it’s pretty damn close
I have never discussed a game’s graphics as much as I have here, but then again, it’s rare for a game’s presentation to have such radical influence over the way it plays. When this is the the case, it is almost always for the worse, so NIDHOGG 2 is doubly charmed for owing its success to a fresh coat of paint. If I had to point out any flaw with NIDHOGG 2, it would be its limited scope: with unreliable peer-to-peer matchmaking and a barebones singleplayer trial, there’s little occasion to play it outside of living room gatherings with friends. The same could be said for SUPER SMASH BROS, and that is neither a slight nor a comparison I make lightly. Simply put, NIDHOGG 2 might just be the most fun you can have on a couch with your pals and still be safe for work.
Reviewed on PlayStation 4