Nidhogg 2 Review
Bigger and bolder, but not necessarily better
Developer Messhof’s Nidhogg was one of my favorite releases back in 2014. The simple swordplay of the title proved to be addicting to my friends and I, and it has remained a multiplayer staple for us in the years since. So, when Nidhogg 2 was first announced, I was obviously excited about the news. I didn’t quite know how the studio would expand the formula from the original, but I was intrigued by the possibilities.
The goal of Nidhogg 2 is simple to explain, but somehow still completely crazy. Two fighters square off with some type of sharp weapon, and the goal is to murder the other. After killing your opponent, you have to run to the next screen, where your revived opponent will be waiting to do the dance of death over again. The first one to reach the end of the map, and get gobbled up by a giant worm, is declared the winner. Simple enough, especially considering the fact that the end involves giant worm swooping down from the heavens for a meal.
What makes the series so addicting is how simple it is to learn. On offense, you only have a limited amount of attacks. Your stabs can only be aimed in three areas: head, chest, and slightly below the chest. You can also choose to throw your weapon if you wish, but if you miss, you’ll leave yourself open. Defensively, you can block attacks based on where you are aiming. If your opponent tries to stab you in the head, but you already have your weapon there, it will be blocked. You can also jump or slide around them, which can either lead to you gaining a great position or being stabbed due to an errant movement.
For the sequel, Messhof decided to tweak this formula in a major way. Instead of giving players just a single sword to use, Nidhogg 2 offers four different weapons: fencing sword, broadsword, dagger and bow and arrow. The broadsword leaves you open down the middle, but can be used to smack away your opponent’s weapon. A dagger has limited range, but makes up for it in speed. And the bow and arrow has the longest range, but is both slow and easily reversible.
I can understand the idea behind introducing all of these weapons, which is to add depth to the straight-forward gameplay of the original. In that sense, I suppose you can say it’s a success. The new weapons all feel pretty different from the other, and I can see hardcore players figuring out the best way to use each of them. However, I have to say I’m not a huge fan of these additions. The broadsword feels like it may be too overpowered in its current state, even with the middle gap. Likewise, the speed advantage of the dagger isn’t quite good enough to compensate for the greatly reduced range. And don’t even get me started on the bow and arrow, which is a weapon I had more success throwing away than actually shooting.
My main problem with the additional weapons of Nidhogg 2 is that it dilutes the formula of the original. Nidhogg worked because both players were on a level playing field at all times. It felt like a fencing match, with both competitors jockeying for position and looking for the perfect time to land their shot. In contrast, the sequel feels less like a chess match and more of a wild brawl. It no longer felt like a wholly unique experience, and instead felt like any other competitive brawler out there. It feels much more reliant on luck, which is disappointing.
Nidhogg 2 offers up a variety of modes for players to choose from, although some of the issues from the first one rear their ugly head again. The single-player Arcade mode should only be played just so you can understand how the combat works. It’s a dull experience otherwise, with lackluster AI and no goal outside of finishing it quickly. I wasn’t expecting a story or anything from this, but a challenge would have been nice.
Online play remains a frustrating experience for the sequel. The net code here is terrible, at least on the PlayStation 4. Matches were frequently being ended early due to someone being dropped from the server, and the ones that did go on were hit with lag throughout. I also worry about just how big the player base for the title currently is. I tried a few different times to find someone to play with, and typically had to wait a few minutes just to be matched up. I know that’s not the studio’s fault, but I do hope things improve over the coming months.
That’s why, like the original, Nidhogg 2 is best played locally. You don’t have to worry about your game ending early, unless your friend is a sore loser, and there’s just something more enjoyable about the game when played with a group of friends. Both the hilarity and intense, back-and-forth action are amplified in a group setting. The new Tournament mode also offers up a fun way of getting multiple people involved. Competition is always better with friends, and the battle to become king of the gruesome world of the game is a competition worth killing your friends over.
Thankfully, Nidhogg 2 does offer some customization options, so you can tailor the experience as you see fit. Weapon drops can be limited, or even turned off completely. This still doesn’t fix my issues with the additional weapons, but it’s nice that these options are included. More pertinent to an idiot like me, though, is the character customization options that are featured. You can create some real goofy looking monstrosities, or if you are lazy, just hit the randomization button for something equally silly. It’s a benefit of the new art style the title has.
I suppose we should finally get into the completely different look the sequel sports. The original Nidhogg had a simple, classic visual style that still managed to look completely striking in motion. For the sequel, Messhof moved from the 8-bit era to the slightly more modern 16/32-bit era. And gone is the minimalist look, replaced by something that is truly grotesque. I mean that in the best way possible, but the game looks absolutely disgusting at times. The characters are ugly, and the levels are seemingly covered in guts and other gross bodily fluids. I know the visual overhaul scared fans off when it was first unveiled, but the game really does look great.
Despite my reservations about the new weapons, I still think Nidhogg 2 is a blast to play. When it is firing on all cylinders, nothing matches the genuinely intense tug of war battles it can produce. And the new visual style adds a unique griminess to the game that will be hard to replicate. But with the additional weapons mucking up the fine formula of the original, I’m not sure it will stick with me like the first one did. A sequel is supposed to add new things and switch up existing features. I’m just not sure if these variations on the blueprint were the best ones.