by Matthew Thompson
In Nier: Automata, you’ll play as several different androids as they wage war against robotic foes. You fight on behalf of the humans. The robots, for alien invaders. This is the jumping off point for a moving narrative with a philosophical bent. While the story focuses on beings of artificial intelligence, it really utilizes them to explore various topics related to human nature. Love, the meaning of life, the concept of family and the fear of death are just some of the weighty subjects Automata tackles. The result is a journey that is often touching, occasionally uncomfortable and always thought-provoking.
The core gameplay revolves around a deep combat system that feels ripped straight out of a pure action game. And there is a very good reason for that: action game stalwart Platinum Games was the primary developer. Those that have played Platinum’s Bayonetta series will surely notice the similarities – and being similar to one of best character action series of all-time in the combat department is not a bad thing at all. The stylish combos, the dodge mechanic, and the blend of melee and shooting will all feel familiar to Bayo fans. Even some of the special pod attacks recalled Bayonetta’s hair-based maneuvers (I was partial to the hammer move in Nier which felt reminiscent of a giant heel of hair stomping down on enemies). But Automata still has plenty of its own flavor with depth added through its role-playing elements. Numerous weapons can be earned and bought from swords to spears to gauntlets. Different types of pods allow you try new styles of the aforementioned specials as well as various ranged attacks including rapid machine gun-like fire, lock-on missiles and charged lasers. Finally, chips can be equipped to augment your android. Through this you can gain access to counter moves, healing abilities and even HUD elements.
Nier: Automata also deftly mixes in classic arcade gameplay to spice up the action. While this can be a risky endeavor, I loved the way these segments played here. The game flits between on-foot melee encounters, 1942-style vertical flying levels, and Robotron-esque twin-stick shooting seamlessly producing some truly exhilarating combat sequences. While this all comes together to make the average fight a fun time, it is during the boss battles where they take things to a whole other level. These confrontations were the clear highlight of Nier: Automata for me.
Automata’s biggest failures are due to its structure. It takes place in a rather bland open-world setting. The game is typically at its best when it is sending you to explore new areas for the first time during the main questline. This is where the best missions, wildest scripted action sequences, and top-notch boss fights take place. Exploring the open-world doesn’t offer much. And from a gameplay perspective, the same can be said of side missions – way too many boring fetch quests here – though they often have little stories or colorful NPC characters that make it worth soldering through them.
The game’s campaign structure is problematic as well. You may have heard that you need to get several endings to truly complete Nier: Automata. It’s true you will see the credits roll multiple times before you really finish it, but I’m not sure I’d call the first two times you see them endings. The real issue is to get to the second half of the game you need to play the first half twice. You basically end up seeing that section from two different characters’ perspectives. When those segments differ, it feels worthwhile and the new story insights are welcome, but the parts that play out almost identically can be a chore. The fact that I didn’t enjoy how the second character played as much as the first didn’t help either. It is well worth dragging yourself through these repetitive bits to get to the excellent latter half of the game, but I wish they had expedited the section you have to redo. The way it is handled here is likely to test players’ patience. I know it tested mine.
Nier creator Yoko Taro and Platinum Games have come together to create a unique action role-playing experience in Nier: Automata. Despite its structural shortcomings, Automata is an impressive genre-bending game that combines affecting storytelling with thoughtful philosophical leanings, slick combat featuring both melee and ranged attacks, and top-down arcade shooter action, all inside the format of an open-world RPG. Whether looking for quality combat or powerful storytelling, gamers would do well to check out Nier: Automata.
Many more things:
- Favorite Part: There is a multi-stage boss fight before the game’s final decision and it is absolutely incredible. It does the whole switching gameplay styles thing that I described above in a way that manages to top some of the already great sequences that preceded it. The high point of the game for me and one of the best moments in gaming this year so far.
- I have never played the original Nier or Drakengard, so any connections there are lost on me. And as most know, I’m not a big RPG player either. So I definitely think for the right audience, this will be an even better experience.
- I’m not sure who I preferred between 2B and A2, but I preferred both their styles of combat to 9S’s. I just liked having the traditional heavy attack option. 9S’s hacking style worked better as a change of pace in the back and forth setup of the latter half of the game though as opposed to the split up first half.
- I liked all three playable characters’ personalities and there were quite a few humorous moments particularly during 2B and 9S’s interactions. The game has some cool NPCs too. Pascal in particular was awesome.
- Because I don’t play a lot of games like this I suppose, I haven’t heard a lot of soundtracks like this, but the music was really beautiful.
- On top of being kind of an empty and dull open-world, it is very bland visually. Some of the character designs are great, but the actual world save a few levels wasn’t really much to look at.
- This game was a bit of a roller coaster ride in regards to how much I was enjoying it. Partly due to the structure and whether I liked the mission I was on I guess. But regardless I kept wanting to play more and put quite a few hours in over the few weeks I played it. That certainly says something about it I think especially when I have shelved games with similar issues in the past.