As I reached the end of my first playthrough, Route A, about 20 or so hours in, I erroneously came away with the assumption that my journey was at it’s end. If I had ignored the ending credits and decided to end my time with this game at that point, I honestly would’ve considered this game to be a tad bit underwhelming. But after taking the time to sink in more hours to get the other true endings, (and some joke endings as well) my thoughts on this game took a complete 180.
NieR: Automata serves as a sequel to one of Yoko Taro’s previous titles, Nier, but if you haven’t played that game you don’t have to worry since the story here can still be understood even without prior knowledge. The world of NieR: Automata takes place within a post-apocalyptic setting where hostile machines freely roam the Earth. The humans that still remain now take refuge on the moon with the dream that the machines will one day be vanquished by an android faction that goes by the name of YoRHA. It’s pretty much a proxy war since none of the opposing sides are directly fighting each other.
The first protagonist you get to play as is an android named 2B, who is accompanied by her trusty sidekick 9S. They are given orders to explore the dilapidated landscapes of Earth to gain further knowledge regarding the mysterious machine inhabitants. At first glance the machines come off as just emotionless entities, so I mowed them down with reckless abandon without a shadow of a doubt. But later on in the game, I did begin to question whether what I was doing was morally or ethically justifiable. Throughout the game, you also get to gauge a better understanding of the bond between 2B and 9S. The situation that they are embroiled in (which is further explained in Endings B through E) really drove home the idea that they are caught up in an endless cycle of deceit and conflict; which really made me reevaluate how I felt about the first ending. Their are very few games that elicit those kind of feelings of introspection within me.
I haven’t played any of the Drakengard games, so I can’t really share my thoughts on those titles. But, In terms of fighting mechanics, I do think that NieR: Automata is a vast improvement over Nier. Since Platinum Games was integral to the development of this game, the close-quarters melee combat this time around feels incredibly slick and intuitive; it’s welcoming for both hardcore fans of this development team and newcomers at the same time. Another plus is that this gives players a wide array of choices with regards to customization to tailor to their own playing style. If you feel that the armament that you currently have equipped isn’t working out the way you thought it would, you can always make adjustments on the fly.
One of the noteworthy qualities regarding this game is how it unabashedly meshes a cornucopia of genres without coming off as forced or gimmicky. The foundation of NieR: Automata is a third-person hack & slash, but you also do have a bit of areal bullet-hell shooting and side scrolling portions lumped in together to add an element of surprise. While the complexity of the gameplay might sound daunting, I thought it was cool because even after 50ish hours of playing this game, I was still being treated to surprises and moments that encouraged me to experiment how I went about handling certain situations.
Usually the allure and euphoria of exploring the world within any game goes away for me after about 5 to 6 hours. But the varied environments in this game are brimming with charisma, even though it is mostly desolate and bare. Some things that did annoy me though is that this game does have quite a bit of invisible walls. Some areas that give off the impression of being easily traversable actually aren’t, and the map within the options button isn’t very detailed or clear at times (though I think that was intentional). Despite these minor foibles, the world in this game is ingeniously crafted and one that will perpetually leave you in a state of wanderlust.
All in all, I thought that NieR: Automata was an amazing experience and definitely a potential Game of the Year candidate for me personally. Even after numerous playthroughs, (which is paramount in order to fully experience the story) the game still continued to feel groundbreaking and wittingly inventive in both the narrative and gameplay departments. NieR: Automata could’ve just settled for being good enough or mildly adequate, but I feel that everyone involved in making this game went the extra mile to curate an experience that will be fondly remembered for years to come.