Nidhogg 2 Review – Running Towards Death (PS4)
There are few local multiplayer experiences that are better than Nidhogg, Mark Essen’s excellent fencing game. Despite looking like it was an Intellivision game, the 2014 release featured an incredible amount of depth as players battled for control and attempted to run off the edge of the stage to meet their death at the hands of the legendary Norse serpent Níðhöggr. I had a few complaints about the game (the online play was largely trash), but it has been one of my go-to multiplayer games for the past few years. Now a sequel, appropriately called Nidhogg 2, is out, and it’s a very different game despite being in the same framework (as I noted in my PSX preview).
The biggest change that players will notice right off the bat is the aesthetic overhaul. The clean sprites of the original are gone for some truly rancid looking art that looks disgusting. That isn’t a knock on the art, by the way, as that’s the look the game is going for. Nidhogg 2 looks gross, and it totally owns its style. The stages (my favorite of which is a nightclub) all look great as well, and I’d consider the new art a major success.
The other change comes in the form of new weapons. It’s no longer exclusively about using a sword to stab opponents, as there are now ranged weapons, short knives, and two-handed swords. Each of these add a new dimension to the gameplay with weakness and strengths (the two-handed sword can’t easily defend against mid-strikes, for example). The divisive point is that players are randomly assigned a new weapon when they spawn. This means this isn’t purely a game of skill like the original. There’s an element of luck now, and weapon matchups can determine if a player makes it to the next part of a level or not.
Play Your Way
Other than those sizable changes, Nidhogg 2 is pretty much identical to the original game. Players still attempt to run past their opponents and into the mouth of the flying Níðhöggr, and a lot of the same strategies of the 2014 release apply here. It’s still smarter to run off-screen and die instead of chasing an opponent, and positioning is still key if the player is to find success. I wasn’t even really bothered by the random elements, as I liked the idea of forcing players to adapt, and not always be comfortable with the hand they were dealt.
If players don’t dig the new additions, they’ll be happy to know that Nidhogg 2 is even more customizable than the original. Players can limit what weapons can pop up during matches (so if you want your sword on sword battles, you can make it happen), and some classic options like skeleton swords even return. Furthermore, the player can even customize what their character looks like before a match, although there’s sadly no way to save designs. I ended up just hitting the randomize button before matches, and using whatever atrocity the game came up with. It’s fun either way.
There’s also a really solid tournament mode that ends up being the star of local play. Players can end up doing a double elimination tournament, and it allows all sorts of drama to unfold. Nidhogg is a fun game to watch, and this just adds even more to the competitive spirit.
Despite some fresh changes, Nidhogg 2 falters in the same exact areas as 2014 release. The single-player arcade mode is a complete throwaway experience. The player does a single match in each of the environments against a largely brain dead computer-controlled opponent, they then see how long it took them to beat it before they’re kicked back to the main menu. There’s no difficulty, or any real reason to play besides a few trophies being tied to the mode. It’s a complete disappointment and adds absolutely nothing to the overall package.
Even more inexcusable is the online play. Once again, the online is a lacking mess. The vast majority of the matches I got into ended exactly one second into the match, as I was told my opponent had disconnected. This happened over a dozen times as I invited my friend to play a match with me, and we never once got to test our skills. When I was able to actually play against random players, the matches were filled with lag. I never had a single decent online match online, and that’s unacceptable for a multiplayer game.
As someone who played way too much of the original, Nidhogg 2 is a let-down. Like the original, it’s still a lot of fun to play locally, but it fails to really excel in the areas where Nidhogg faltered before. The online play currently ranges from bad to broken, and that’s a huge hit for a game that’s built around playing with friends. The single-player arcade mode isn’t enjoyable to play, and feels thrown in order to fulfill a checklist. It’s simply lacking in areas that’d make it a more appealing party game than the original. There are still flashes of brilliance that remind me why I loved Nidhogg, but the sequel never clicked for me in the same way. Hopefully some patches will add this into my online rotation, but right now I’m left underwhelmed.
Nidhogg 2 review code provided by publisher. Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy.