Friday, July 6, 2018

NieR: Automata Become As Gods Edition Review (XONE)

NieR: Automata is a great example of how to make a sequel to a cult hit game. It retains the cool and unique things that made the original NieR special while fixing many of the things that weren’t so hot. This means that the story and characters are wonderful, the soundtrack is amazing, and the multiple playthrough storytelling style are just as good as before while the gameplay and quest design got a much-needed overhaul for Automata. The result is a game that is still very distinctly “NieR" for existing fans to appreciate while the more polished gameplay and other improvements ensure the game will appeal to a much wider audience than the original ever could. Continue reading our full NieR: Automata Xbox One review for all of the details.

Game Details

  • Publisher: Square Enix
  • Developer: Platinum Games
  • ESRB Rating: “M” for Mature
  • Genre: Action RPG
  • Pros: Amazing music; satisfying gameplay; solid story; easy mode; 2B
  • Cons: A little predictable; first 2/3rds is basically a prologue; small relatively bland world
  • MSRP: $50

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NieR: Automata’s story takes place hundreds of years after the events of the original NieR, though the actual plot connections are tenuous enough that you don’t really need to play the original, or the Drakengard series that is also part of this timeline, to understand the story. There are certainly some “Oh, I know that character” reveals and a few bigger goosebump-y moments in NieR: Automata for players familiar with the lore, but new players can definitely jump in without missing too much.

The gist of the story in NieR: Automata is that the world was invaded by aliens at some point, which caused the surviving humans to retreat to the moon. Now, alien-created machines control the world while human-created androids fight them in the hope that the humans can someday return to Earth. There are, of course, plot twists and revelations along the way, though I found it to mostly be pretty predictable, particularly the "big” reveal. I watch a lot of anime, though, so I’m used to crazy plots like this.

You play much of the game as androids 2B and 9S, though there are some other playable characters as well. Similar to the original NieR you actually have to play through the game multiple times in order to get the full story. Route A focuses on 2B while Route B has you playing through the same events again from 9S' perspective. There are enough differences in what you do and what you see between the two that it definitely isn't "doing the same thing twice" like some folks claim. Your XP and upgrades and quests all carry over from one playthrough to the next, so it isn't as if you have to literally do everything again.

Then you start the game a third time for Route C and everything is totally different, however, as it turns out the first two playthroughs were more like a 16-hour prologue and then the real game and actual meat of the story starts. I'm not sure that I'm a fan of this, to be honest. During the first two routes I was genuinely kind of disappointed because the game never really hit a satisfying climax story or gameplay-wise. Route C kicks everything into overdrive and more than makes up for it, thankfully, but I think it's asking a heck of a lot to expect players to grind through the first two relatively ho-hum routes for 15 hours just to get to the good stuff. I'm not saying the first two routes aren't fun or enjoyable, but you keep waiting for things to ramp up and it never quite does until Route C.

The gameplay is always fun and enjoyable, at least, and Platinum Games' expertise in character action games really shines through. The game is a third-person action game with some light platforming thrown in now and then. Clever use of camera angles cause some sequences to switch to a 2D side-scroller perspective, just like in the first NieR, which is a nice touch. Combat generally consists of light and heavy attacks, dodging enemy strikes, and liberal use of your companion Pod unit's projectile function. As you'd expect, different button combos in different situations result in unique combos and different enemy types require different tactics to beat, so the gameplay has a surprising amount of depth. You can also find and upgrade a number of different weapons, each with unique moves, as well as upgrade your character and Pod with unique chips to create custom play styles to suit however you want to play.

There are also sequences where you control flight units (basically sick ass giant robot frames) and the gameplay changes to what are essentially shoot-em-up-style levels that are fun and unique enough I'd kind of like to see a real Platinum-developed shmup sometime.

In a very interesting move, particularly from a developer like Platinum Games that is generally regarded as pretty "hardcore", NieR: Automata actually has an easy gameplay mode that essentially plays itself for players that just want to experience the story and not bother with combat. You can choose what the game will do for you - automatically dodging or shooting or weapon switching or combos, among other things - so you can customize the experience so you can still do the things you enjoy and are comfortable with while letting the game handle other stuff. You still earn achievements and make progress just like if you were playing normally. I LOVE this. Not every player is a hardcore character action game fan, and the game definitely has some challenging boss fights and sequences, so making the game as accessible as possible to as many people as possible is absolutely brilliant. There are still, of course, more challenging difficulty levels for players that want those as well.

One other thing I want to mention is how, while being quite different mechanically, NieR: Automata also still manages to really feel like a continuation of the things the first NieR brought to the table eight years ago. It "feels" like NieR, just with better gameplay and better quest designs (definitely do all of the side quests), but with the same quality of character writing that made us fall in love with the series in the first place. One not so great thing that carried over, however, was the relatively small world to play in. Wildly different biomes are inexplicably plopped right next to each other and you can literally run across the entire map in ten minutes or less. The world overall is just cramped and bland, but that's exactly how the first NieR was too so it was undoubtedly intentional. Part of me likes that, though, because it is another thing that contributes to NieR being unique among most games.

The presentation in NieR: Automata is a little inconsistent, but overall quite good. The visuals range from stunning in certain environments to borderline ugly in others but the lighting is pretty fantastic everywhere. The character models, for the main playable characters at least, are quite stunning. I also gotta say, I absolutely love 2B and think she's one of the sexiest characters ever. She's like a Gothic fashion model with one of the greatest walking animations around. 

Just like the first game, NieR: Automata really shines in the sound department with excellent voice work all around and one of the best soundtracks of the generation. Seriously, the music is freaking amazing in these games and plays a big role in why they are so memorable.

Ultimately, NieR: Automata is a worthy successor to the original cult-hit NieR that makes some wise decisions to reach a wider audience while not abandoning the things that made the first game special. New fans will love it while longtime fans will have an even deeper appreciation for it. If you're impatient and the thought of an extended prologue puts you off, maybe it won't be for you, but for anyone else that enjoys a good story, great characters, and amazing music, NieR: Automata is highly, highly recommended for a purchase. 
Disclosure: A review code was provided by the publisher.