Nier’s second installment is a flawed gem – perhaps an intentional one.
Genre: Violent, Action, RPG
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: 17 Mar, 2017
Nier: Automata is a game that a lot of people didn’t think was ever going to be created. It’s the pseudo-sequel to Nier, an Action RPG for the PS3 and 360 that was released by Cavia and published by Square Enix during the last generation. It was their last game before closing shop, and actually lived up to the quality you’d expect from a final game, thanks to the genuinely good story written by the director, Yoko Taro.
You really had to totally finish the game to fully appreciate it, though, and as a result most reviewers gave it middling scores, since until you do the story doesn’t seem like anything special even if the characters and writing were good (which they were), and the gameplay that connected the story was only okay. Bringing in Platinum seems like a way of maybe holding people’s attention for the whole game, and maybe drawing in people who didn’t play the first Nier. You probably should, though, or at least experience it some way for yourself. I don’t want to talk about that game the whole time, so I’ll get on with it.
Automata starts a long while after the events of the first Nier, where the problem in that game has been resolved. Unfortunately, now Earth has been invaded by aliens using an army of bloodthirsty, dopey-looking robots. Pretty much all of humanity down there has been wiped out, leaving only a colony of people living on the moon. They’ve decided to fight fire with fire by deploying goth androids to deal with this menace. The story features around androids 2B and 9S, and their efforts to do just that.
Now, Automata’s combat was developed by Platinum, and I should note first off that this is certainly not a Platinum game, just one with combat from it. So there are combos, dodges and counters, but no combo counter and you aren’t ever graded. On the flip side though, it’s a full RPG, meaning you’re not paying sixty dollars for a game that ends in six to eight hours. If you’re a combo-fiend you may be disappointed, but if you just want some fun, dynamic combat as you experience the story you’re in luck. The enemies you fight are interesting, there’s some good boss fights, and a lot of different weapons and upgrades. It changes things up quite a bit, too, with segments in a fully 2D perspective, or switching to shoot-em-up gameplay when the androids get into flight suits.
Ultimately though it’s here to make moving between story beats fun, and Automata does have a good story. Like the first Nier it’s in a weird spot between idealism and cynicism, the main-characters are well-voiced and feel fleshed out, and Automata specifically does a lot of interesting things with its focus on machines. All of the characters I’ve met in the story so far who look human are really Androids, but they act perfectly human, although showing so overtly is considered a bit of a faux-pas. But even though they’re machines as well, there’s an understanding among them that the robots on the surface are just nuts and bolts who all need to be dismantled, even though you might find many robots with their own wants and desires. In an early part of the game, you chase one through an abandoned city, with it visibly terrified of the two black-clad, heavy-armed killers who just tore apart its friends. That’s another thing Taro examines a lot: who’s really the bad guy here?
Not everything is sunshine and roses in Automata, though. Yoko Taro has a history of being a bit eccentric – you may have seen some of the videos of him wearing a creepy skeleton mask when he has to appear on-camera – and going against the grain when it comes to design. In particular he has a dislike for completionists in gaming, and tends to make his games more annoying for that type of gamer. Drakengard, his first well-known game, required a bunch of strange, un-intuitive actions if you wanted to get certain endings (not to mention playing the game in general, which wasn’t very fun), and the endings themselves actually got progressively worse as you went on, with the first one being the most happy. The first Nier had some of that too with the achievements, as there were ones for completing all the quests, some of which were complete pains in the ass, and upgrading all your weapons to maximum, which required items that were very hard to find.
I haven’t found anything of that sort in Automata yet, but it does have a bunch of little things put in that don’t seem to do anything but make the game a bit more annoying to play. The biggest, as many early players of it on Steam discovered, is that the game has no autosave. Ordinarily that’s no big deal as areas to save manually are plentiful, but in the intro section of the game there are none – die, and you have to do it all again, and it takes at least a half hour to get through.
You can just set the difficulty to easy (and keep it there if you want, there are no achievements for higher difficulties), and the game does give you some better gear for that section, but it is still a nuisance. If you happen to die in the main game, you’ll go back to the last save point, and also leave behind a body, Dark Souls style. If you die again or wait too long, you’ll lose the Chips you had equipped. It makes sense in the story, as the androids are sent down in another body whenever they’re blown up, and you get new chips pretty frequently, but it can still be annoying if you dislike that sort of mechanic.
Even just walking from point A to point B can be a bit frustrating, as while 2B runs pretty fast, there are numerous obstacles that will make her slow back to walking speed if she moves through them. There’s a fast travel system between save points, but sometimes you won’t be able to transport to one because it’s under attack by robots, requiring you to run there on-foot and kill them to access it again. The game is still a lot more fun to play than Taro’s others. While it would be ridiculous to type for any other title it does feel like this stuff was put in to keep it from becoming too fun; he’s that kind of guy.
Really good all-around. The areas you travel through, such as an abandoned city overgrown by nature, or a jungle that doesn’t look like it’s ever had anyone living in it, really give off the feeling of a world recovering from disaster, as much or more so than the most recent Fallout games. In combat, enemies are all designed so that you can identify them from afar and what they’re doing. A lot of enemies have projectile attacks, and they’re all bright-red, meaning if you’re looking anywhere at the enemy you can’t miss them. Only bad thing I have to say about them is one aspect they kept from the first Nier: bloom is absolutely everywhere.
The original game pretty much knocked it out of the park when it came to this; even some lower parts of it were carried by the great music, which set the mood perfectly. Automata lives up to this reputation easily. One early area I was happy to go back to for side quests, no matter what I was doing, just because that meant I could hear the music for it again. Two situations in the game have very similar music for them, while both succeeded in making me uncomfortable for very different reasons.
As for the Steam port, it’s a functional one. I had some issues at first with it using the wrong graphics card on my computer; it’s the only game I’ve had to manually set to use a particular card. There’s a decent amount of graphics options, and for some people with weaker cards a semi-official mod has been stickied on the Steam forums allowing you to fine tune it a bit, including turning down the game’s general illumination – it doesn’t make the game look very different, but it does even out the framerate a lot. Also, some people are reporting crashes or white screens, so you may not want to buy it from a third party website.
Overall, for Automata I would say that bringing in Platinum did produce a very good game that’s fun to play, but it has enough issues that I’d still say it isn’t for everyone, at least not at full price.