Aragami 2 is a third-person stealth 'em up where you take control of an assassin with mystical powers. As a member of Kakurega Village, it's your responsibility to take on jobs that largely involve assassinating folk to keep the community thriving. Based on an early preview build of the game, however, there's a lot more that needs doing besides stabbing up your long list of targets. Supply crates need checking, land needs surveying, and shady contacts need your details.
Tick off these tasks, and you'll gradually grow stronger and gain access to tougher ones. It's the kind of stuff you imagine Ninja Gaiden's Ryu Hayabusa would probably get one of his underlings to do while he's off painting the town red, but Aragami 2's restrained checklist approach could be just the thing for those after a more methodical type of shadow-based murdering.
The jobs come thick and fast in Aragami 2, and you'll take them on from your village that serves as the game's main hub. You'll also become very familiar with the local blacksmith here, who'll sell you useful items like lethal shurikens and needles that'll put enemies to sleep. For a hefty sum, you can also buy new swords and armour pieces from them too, although as far as I can tell, these are purely cosmetic and have no discernible benefits other than looking very, very cool.
Once you've got your ninja look on point, Aragami 2 falls into a familiar pattern: take on a job, step through a portal, do some assassinating, return to the portal from whence you came, and trade in your spoils for upgrades back in the village. I like its simplicity, as I could dive straight into the action without faffing around. The self-contained missions keep the momentum ticking over, and the upgrades pour in at a satisfying rate. It's not long before you're spending skill points on abilities that will really help you bamboozle your enemies.
Some of these abilities are really fun to use. My favourite one let me take advantage of blue lamps scattered around certain missions. If I clicked my fingers, they'd produce these pools of steam which would blind and disorient enemies. Plus, I could use them as cover to cross gaps unseen. After upgrading this skill further, it turned the steam into a concussive cloud, knocking out those in its radius instantly.
Inevitably, there will be times when you'll fumble a ninja move that looked impressive in your head, but actually turned out to be as subtle as three speakers in a shinobi cloak. Unlike the first Aragami where you had no option but to flee if you were spotted, Aragami 2 lets you face off against those you've alerted in a tense clash of steel. The aim here is to whittle down your opponent's stamina bar with well-timed blocks and slashes. One or two hits is all it takes for you to hit the dirt, so patience is crucial to success. These duels aren't easy by any means, and I found them a hair-raising contrast to all that measured slinking you'll be doing.
Combine this with Aragami 2's fluid movement and it makes for some genuinely brilliant stealth moments punctuated by thrilling combat duels. The game's at its best when you're slinging abilities, jumping off ledges and executing enemies in a carefully orchestrated attack. However, these bursts of joy weren't quite as frequent as I'd like, and were often followed by long stretches that bordered on feeling repetitive - a pitfall the first Aragami game often fell into as well.
This may be a consequence of Aragami 2's new job structure, which sees you constantly darting back and forth from its village hub world. Taking a leaf from Monster Hunter: World's playbook, the game's early missions will see you revisiting some of the same areas multiple times over the first few hours, which, while very pretty in their presentation, don't allow for a lot of creative or interesting ways to stick it to your enemies. If it's deviously spiking cups of sake you're after, then you'll be better off flexing your stealth brain in something like IO Interactive's trilogy of Hitman games.
Equally, Aragami 2 could just be a bit of a slow burner. In the latter stages of my preview build, I was pleased when my list of jobs finally started to deviate from the trad "Eliminate 4 targets" or "Check these 4 boxes" type affairs, and one of my favourite jobs ended up being finding and rescuing a damsel in distress. I was forced to carry her on my shoulders as I skulked through narrow corridors and hid in bushes, which offered an interesting challenge compared to the jobs that came before it. The same goes for an even later mission where I'd outright fail if I was detected. Sure, they're not the most revolutionary ideas on the ninja curriculum, but I'm hopeful that there are tricksier delights lying in wait further in.
For the most part, though, the opening hours of Aragami 2 feel like they could do with a good stretch, loosening up its slightly stiff stealth muscles and just generally letting the player have a bit more fun with its supernatural protagonist. Predominantly, you'll duck and weave around maps littered with guards and their criss-crossing lines of sight. Occasionally you'll dive into some tall grass and wait for foes to turn their backs. Sometimes you might hide a body to avoid detection. These are all things you've probably experienced before if you're an experienced stealth fan, and it's only by using your abilities that you're able to inject some life and character into your to-do list.
That said, I reckon Aragami 2's going to be a lot more fun when you're playing with friends in online co-op. Sadly I couldn't test out this feature in my preview build, but I do know that you'll be able to stealth through the entire campaign with up to two of your mates come its full release on Steam on September 17th. I can genuinely envision co-ordinating kills with friends being a right hoot, and perhaps this will prove to be the way to play the game instead. I just hope it's not too finicky to get in a lobby with each other in any way. In the meantime, I'll be keeping a watchful eye on it from the shadows, hoping those hints of ninja greatness don't end up disappearing into a puff of smoke in the final game.