Nier: Automata Review

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Totally dependent upon how you view it, I’ve either spent an impressive amount of time with this game- which released roughly a month ago, or I’ve dedicated far too much to an oddly compelling yet confusing adventure. Nier: Automata is stylized as a successor/sequel to 2010’s Nier, which was just as oddly compelling and yet quite confusing from a convoluted plot standpoint- something which did not impact the cult following it has obviously procured. Without spoiling too much in terms of either games’ story and pacing- whereas the first title takes a humanistic approach to things, Automata drives things the other way and focuses not only on non-human playable characters but the failure of humanity and threat of extinction as a whole.

Or at least that’s somewhat the simple gist of it, if it’s even remotely possible to boil down the extensive and surprisingly in-depth lore of the series thus far and of the expansion this game represents as well. I’ll admit, a lot of the coverage and footage I saw for and of the game didn’t exactly blow me away- I was never really impressed by the expansive yet empty world that I saw or the often repetitive encounters with too-similar enemies. While some of these issues remain to a degree, Automata also provides enough base content that it never made me feel that any one element was too overdone or too much of the focus. To a certain degree this means Automata is quite the jack of all trades and genres, however it also fails ultimately to master any one segment because of this.

There is certainly a predilection towards combat- as Nier is at its base a hack and slash adventure game with role-playing elements and other unique gimmicks littered somewhere in between. However I was actually blown away by the fact that certain parts of the game which I would not have immediately expected to be as important or to have such an impact drew me in more so than the solid combat mechanics and exciting locomotion maneuvers themselves. Whereas I thought the environments looked lifeless and bare upon first glance, I completely understand how this ties into the plot and lore and why that’s actually the exact direction the game should’ve and could’ve gone. Couple this desolation and loneliness with an equally melancholy musical score and you have a truly moving work of art.

A lot of this expansiveness adds to the ability for players to take time to think alongside their android character, reflecting on the calamities leading to the ultimate destruction of the human race and life on earth. Although every character you will encounter is in some way machine-related, not all of them will be killer robots or robot clowns and quite a few emulate historical context and interesting caricatures in ways that would put even Fallout’s founding father bots to shame. Such pensive moments as I experienced within many of the quests and plot lines of Automata were a complete contrast to my expectations and honestly raised the bar that much higher for me when it came to the bleak story being told. Somehow, against all odds I became that much more invested in the characters and the universe that I’d previously seen as two-dimensional on paper.

To delve into other aspects of the game and push off from the story and some of the periphery of the game and its moments, as this is a Platinum Games title it boasts an impressive array of combat features and upgrades. There are definite ties to the first Nier title to be found if you know where to look, yet this game serves as an easy stepping on point for newcomers looking for a thrilling and contemplative adventure as well. Combat is kept simple and precise and yet still offers the complexity of some other flashy Platinum Games titles as well- affording players the opportunity to utilize several classes of weaponry suited best to their style of play, while also keeping upgrades and additional unlocks to a minimum so as to keep things comprehensible. There are light role-playing elements here and there, but I’d say they’re few and far between.

One of the most intriguing aspects of gameplay at least stylistically stems from the change in perspective that litters some portions of the game. Typically you play in an over-the-shoulder third-person format, yet on occasion the game shifts to on the rails and top down perspectives for intense firefights utilizing your full android arsenal and party. While ultimately even the bullet-hell segments of the game boil down to eliminating your enemies and clearing the area in search of any interesting lore or story progression, I still found combat and the nice pace of breaking things up a suitable way to keep the monotony of most hack and slash titles to a minimum. The combat is solid enough that there honestly doesn’t need to be too much done with it that is flashy or gaudy and the enemy encounters and boss fights are memorable enough and frenetic and entertaining as is.

The few complaints that I would have do touch a bit on what repetition there is actually present within the game and that comes largely as a narrative and strategic thing. Your character will be afforded the opportunity to deck themselves out in the occasional rare bonus here and there, plugging in a special upgrade chip that boosts stats in certain areas and are hard to come by. Ultimately this adds some strategy to the game, however there isn’t much diversity outside of a health or damage boost and so it isn’t as interesting as it could be in terms of use. Another case I would like to make is that Automata falls heavily into the Dragon Age II camp of adventure titles- meaning there is plenty of lore and content there and it isn’t a bad game at all, however you’re likely to retread many of the same or all-too similar areas for the duration of the campaign and throughout your quests. Although encounters will be varied and narrative progression unhindered, it’s a sort of lazy game design flaw that bugs any and everyone.

The world and lore is entirely too intriguing for it to be limited in some of the ways it is- perhaps not literally as it is quite expansive, but in terms of scope and use as a character in and of itself. All things considered, if you played the previous installment then you’ll probably agree that Automata is certainly a leg up on the original in nearly every single way possible. The combat encounters are fun if not always diverse, the lore is handled quite well and manages to promote some intriguing plot lines, and the gameplay mechanics are quite solid and rarely offer any hiccups to halt the fluidity of the game. If you’re looking for an experience that has the ability to be a comprehensive one but doesn’t force you to explore it as deeply as you could, then Nier: Automata is for you.

Concept: Guide your android comrades in the eternal war against the machines. Quite literally, rage against the machine.

Graphics: While you will see ultimately a lot of the same, what is there is rendered quite well and there aren’t too many muddy textures involved.

Sound: The melancholy mood that permeates the soundtrack and the narrative itself lends to the experience overall and is a strong selling point.

Playability: While it has some quirky features and abrupt changes in perspective at times, the gameplay handles excellently and fluidly throughout your adventure.

Entertainment: There are often hidden depths to be found but the main draw lies in the fact that the experience is totally what you make of it and there are many interesting facets to the characters and the world and conflict themselves.

Replay Value: Moderate.

Overall Score: 8.5

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