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NieR: Automata (PlayStation 4) artwork

NieR: Automata (PlayStation 4) review

"2B or not 2B. "

Nier: Automata continues Yoko Taro's quest to create games that possess more originality and deeper storytelling than the average Japanese RPG-ish epic. Only this time, he came up with something that's as fun to play as its story is to experience!

The first Nier was an improvement over the near-mindless hack-n-slash action of his prior Drakengard games, but didn't hit that sweet spot where I feel legitimately satisfied. There was a fair amount of repetition and some of those touches that made it stand out from the pack such as one quest being handled in pure text adventure form didn't exactly align with my personal tastes.

Automata might not be perfect, but I found it to be a huge improvement. By the time I'd accessed its five main endings (and a few others), I wasn't completely ready to be done and highly doubt I'd have complained if another story arc magically appeared at the conclusion of the last. After all, there are a few high-level optional battles in this game and those experience levels you'll need to stand a chance against them aren't going to grind themselves!

The game takes place in the future after the first Nier. By now, the final vestiges of humanity are supposedly on a moon base waiting for Earth to be cleansed of hostile robots. Getting to do that work are androids the most elite of whom are referred to as YoRHa. At the beginning of the game, you'll control 2B, a fighter-class capable of dual-wielding swords and mowing down robots with impunity. She'll spend her time working with 9S, a male model who is capable on the battlefield, but more useful when using his ability to hack into machines. Via doing so, he can both destroy robots and even commandeer them to provide additional firepower.

NieR: Automata (PlayStation 4) image

After playing through the game as 2B, you'll then re-do it all again, only as 9S. If you're familiar with the first game, this might elicit a groan because of how many times you covered the same ground in order to access all of its endings. Never fear, though! Thanks to his hacking abilities, 9S won't be doing the exact same things as 2B and, besides, the two androids do get separated from time to time, leading to certain parts of the game playing out quite differently.

Get through both of those stories and you'll move forward in time. Due to the great victories won by 2B and 9S, YoRHa plans to launch an offensive to get rid of those pesky robots once and for all. Except things don't work out as planned, leading to our heroes sharing screen time with rogue android A2, who had previously been encountered by the two as one of those adversaries who pops in, has a boss fight and then runs away after delivering a vague and cryptic warning.

That was nice. Instead of playing through the entire game once and then its second half three more times in order to get all its endings, I had something with a bit more variety. Play half of it once, do that half again with a different character and then play through a separate second half that wrapped everything up. Even the fact that three of the game's main endings are tied to that second half isn't a hassle after getting one of them, you can choose to pick things up from any part of the game at any time, so if you want, you can simply fight the final boss a couple more times in order to make different choices to get different endings. Or you can hit up early-game chapters in order to polish off side quests you didn't complete the first time around. This game goes out of its way to make it possible to accomplish anything you might want to get done without wasting a lot of time.

NieR: Automata (PlayStation 4) image

And it typically is a lot of fun to do those things. Right from the beginning, Automata illustrates it's going to be one hell of a roller coaster ride even if that intro does have one annoying flaw. The game opens with 2B storming a robot factory along with a number of additional YoRHa units which all happen to be destroyed en route to the place. Upon reaching her destination, she tackles a mini-boss, meets 9S, travels through a large building while fighting robots the entire way and finally tackles the area's boss machine. The action starts as a vertically-scrolling shooter, transforms into a twin-stick version of that genre and then winds up as what one expects from an action-RPG with your android chopping through robots with her swords while collecting items and exploring.

The one flaw: There's no way to save your progress while doing any of this. If, like me, you get killed by the boss fight, you'll simply have to start the game from scratch and make your way back to that point. Let's just say I had very mixed feelings about this game for the first hour or two I spent with it, as one lousy death wound up marring my feelings about how cool an experience it was to get to that point.

But I got through that little issue and found myself mostly having a grand time. Regardless of which android you're controlling, you'll spend most of your time in a fairly small world containing several self-contained zones: A ruined city, a desert and an amusement park among them. You'll meet the local resistance camp and wind up doing all sorts of quests for them, as well as for a number of robots who aren't as hostile as you're led to expect. You'll collect new weapons and the means to enhance them. Androids also come with a pod that has a weak ranged attack and, via a cooldown meter, can also emit a more powerful assault. Your explorations can net a couple additional pods and all sorts of programs to enhance their their usefulness. For example, while most programs are various attacks, one allows you to scan for hidden treasures. By using it, I was able to acquire an additional weapon or two.

NieR: Automata (PlayStation 4) image

You'll also collect tons of chips that can be programmed into your androids to beef them up. You can improve their ranged and melee attack and defense, move more quickly, collect more items from enemy drops and finagle things so that virtually anything you do will cause you to heal damage. At least, as long as you can keep them. Automata takes one thing from the Souls games death potentially having horrible side effects.

Since your characters are androids, they're mass-produced in the YoRHa bunker. Therefore, when you die, your consciousness is uploaded to a new body that isn't equipped with all the chips the old was using. So, you'll have to go to the spot where you fell to regain them and, if you die again before doing so, that stuff is lost forever. That can be a bummer, as obtaining chips and combining them into improved versions to make your android the powerhouse it was before that setback can take a little while, especially if you were in the habit of selling unused chips to buy other stuff.

But that issue, like any others Automata possesses, are of the minor sort that didn't really effect my enjoyment beyond temporary angst. As with the first Nier, there is a lot of enjoyable storytelling here; however, the gameplay itself is greatly improved. Having entire areas play like a space shooter was a nice touch and the way the third part of the game seemed to hit me with one punch to the gut after another was very reminiscent of some of the stuff the first game did to my poor heartstrings. When we're talking about a game where the playable characters are androids that don't even have real names, that is a huge compliment to the writing and makes it worth playing. Add in the excellent action and that makes it near-essential, if not all the way so.

overdrive's avatar
Community review by overdrive (January 13, 2023)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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