I didn’t want to write the teaser headline attached to this review. It hurts to write it, but it has to be said.
Stealth gaming has been hit pretty hard over the years with the pretty much de facto death of Splinter Cell, Metal Gear Solid and Assassin’s Creed.
Then we got Aragami, which felt like a casual blend between Splinter Cell and fantasy ninja fun. It wasn’t anything spectacular, but it was a nice, short stop-gap to keep the stealth genre from disappearing in the tall grass.
When Aragami 2 was announced, it was exciting. When they noted that it would include coop, it was.. Hesitantly exciting.
Now that it’s out, however, I’m not excited. In fact, I’m generally disappointed.
Aragami 2, as in “Too Many Changes”
At first, everything feels fine. You get a story here that I have no doubt most people will ignore because, honestly, we don’t play it for the story.
Once you start learning how to use your fancy shadow abilities, however, things start to go downhill.
The original Aragami had a nice “blink”-like (if you haven’t yet, check out Dishonored) ability that was fantastic. You could blink across a map, blink through gates, and more.
Aragami 2 changes this to a “teleport to only certain ledges, which you’ll hang on instead of automatically be on top of”. In some ways, this works: shadow leap to a ledge below an enemy and retain your stealth. Where it fails, however, is the fact that many places you’d WANT to leap to just aren’t an option. Natural ledges? Nope. A ledge below you? Nope, you’ve got to jump down to it.
Oh, and then some rope paths you can traverse? Be careful, because if you jump to them and try to mantle up, you’ll instead.. Leap over it to the ground, which is a great way to ruin a stealthy approach to an objective by landing on the ground around a group of enemies.
Of course, this is an RPG, which means gaining XP and new skills to play with. There are plenty to choose from for a variety of playstyles, but they don’t always work as well as you’d expect. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve used invisibility (which a number of skills provide) to evade pursuing foes (after failing to mantle a rope path) and ended up being perfectly visible to them, apparently. I’d combine invisibility with the tall grass and it wouldn’t matter: They knew exactly where I was and started swinging immediately.
Of course, when stealth fails, you’ve got the fancy Sekiro-lite combat with parry, dodge and stamina to deal with.
Know what’s fun? When the target lock engages automatically and then forces the camera to be on the other side of a wall, so you can’t see what your enemy is doing at all.. which happens a lot when backed into a corner.
Getting discovered is really no big deal as long as you can get to a good spot to retreat to: Thanks to double jump, dash and shadow leap you can get away easily, and cooldowns don’t take long before they go back to their usual spot (with just an extra bit of awareness). This takes out a bit of the challenge, except for the aforementioned rope mantling gripe that caused me to restart one mission so many times I almost said “Alright, that’s enough of this game for a review”.
It’s not all bad, however. Your shadow vision is basically like Sam’s night vision in Splinter Cell, and is something you’ll swear by. Other abilities, both passive and active powers, enhance the experience and do make you feel like a pretty sweet ghost-ninja.
Now, I do want to touch on one thing briefly: Coop.
I didn’t try it.
I had a friend who was possibly going to pick it up so we could try coop, but after playing through it, I can already get a good idea of how it works.
Use one person as a distraction while the other moves to an objective.
Occasionally take down 2 guards at the same time.
Rush toward objectives to finish a mission quicker.
Coop is absolutely not required because the game just plain isn’t that hard to do solo.. Which is good, because there are no difficulty options here.
I may give it a shot further down the road with someone after a few patches come out, but for now, know that coop just isn’t as important as they made it sound.
The world of Aragami 2 is a small one indeed
Aragami 2 utilizes a hub-world style system for getting around.
There’s all sorts of people to interact with, but don’t expect Skyrim-level of dialog. No “I used to be an adventurer like you..” here. In fact, it’s not just specific types of NPCs that share dialog, but ALL NPCs sharing dialog.
You’ll pick up equipment, gain new skills and get missions in this hub world. Exploring it is pretty much useless; there’s only a few things to see, and even fewer things to do.
Speaking of missions, you’ll hit up a mission board (yes, a literal board) to get your missions and decide what to do next.. On this map.
You may be thinking it looks a little small, and you’re right: It is. What it lacks in size it makes up for – well, not really makes up for – in having missions take you back to other regions regularly.
In fact, the longer you play, the more you realize.. Wow, there have been a lot of shortcuts taken here when it comes to gameplay and worldbuilding. Missions are just essentially a mix of various objectives that could almost be chosen at random like a Skyrim radiant quest. There isn’t really much excitement here.
Outside of the gameplay, though, we come to two of the first issues I noticed with Aragami 2:
Number one? The graphics are awful.
I’m not criticizing the art direction of Aragami 2: It worked in the first, and I expected it to carry over here. The problem is, they tried to add more texture detail, and really, really failed. Most ground textures, and even character textures when done, have the look of something low-res that’s been upscaled in an older version of Photoshop.
I had everything cranked to max and had no performance problems; instead, it’s just awful textures after awful textures. It honestly looks like the game came out 10 years ago, rather than having a charming art direction that, at this point, I can’t even guess at.
Number two? Sound design.
There are only 2 good aspects to the audio in Aragami 2: The rustling of cloth and the music.
Everything else just sounds like it was recorded with a budget mic and poorly mastered. There is a scene in the intro where there is screaming and crashing of objects, and the quality was so bad I couldn’t hear anything BUT that.
I get that the pandemic has really impacted studios when it comes to audio work, especially smaller ones, but this was just.. bad. I can’t imagine how nobody in the audio team caught this issue, unless they were working with budget equipment at home instead of decent audio gear. Even then, I can’t fathom an audio engineer working from home who didn’t have something decent to at least monitor on. Good studio cans can be had cheap now.
Final thoughts on Aragami 2
I really, really wanted to like it.
In fact, at first, I had fun despite the graphics, audio, and changes to mechanics.
The more I played, however, the more I felt like there just wasn’t anything else to experience. I kept encountering the same objectives. Seeing the same maps (and even the other maps all look and feel the same). Killing the same people, the same way, over, and over and over again..
You can approach things how you like, which is great.
As you go, however, you just feel like the game isn’t going anywhere. Each new level feels like there isn’t anything truly “special”.
This isn’t Splinter Cell, nor Dishonored. This is.. Well, a poor imitation that tried and fell flat.
In fact, the more I think about it, the more I think this is basically a more stealth-focused imitation of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. Shadow Leap? Functions almost exactly like the hook. Combat? Critical kills after breaking someone’s stance (or, in this case, stamina). Tall grass, shurikens and more. Seriously, this game cribs HEAVILY from Sekiro.
If you liked the first Aragami, you may have preordered this on sale. That’s good; I feel like I got decent gameplay for what I paid with my preorder (which yes, I paid for it rather than getting a review copy).
If you’re waiting to purchase, however.. Keep waiting. See what Lince Works response will be to the many critical reviews and see if they patch things up. Otherwise, wait until it’s on sale, because even at it’s indie price, I think it’s still too much for what you get.