In my first few hours of NieR: Automata I was amused by the variety of gameplay. The game started with a space-invaders-like 2-D shoot-‘em-up in a futuristic machine, then shifted me to a top-down stick-shooter, then dropped me from my Zoid and allowed me to play the third-person slasher mode that I would spend most of the game in. Even after that, though, the game would often shift to 2-D side-scroller or top-down modes, and that was all in the linear, 45-minute prologue. The prologue showed off the gameplay but only teased a surface-level of the story which only got deeper and evoked more questions as I progressed.
The music was superb from the start and only got better as the game progressed. The visuals were fantastic at first, the characters and combat looked crisp, but I grew tired of the greys and browns of the dull background and the uninspired enemy model designs.
I unfortunately ran into a bug that forced me to play the prologue twice, but soon after that I was let free into the open world controlling the (first) protagonist 2B. My initial impressions from the first few hours were mixed, I saw a game with beautiful character models and a flat environment, with exciting gameplay and some questionable mechanics.
The gameplay, as stated, is varied. Although most of the game will be played in a typical third-person slasher mode. The primary weapons in the game are swords attached to the X and Y buttons, for light and heavy strikes, and a companion robot that shoots an endless stream of bullets with RB or a powerful laser with LB that is timed to recharge. These controls remain even when the camera changes, but after the prologue some 2-D sections of the game felt more like an annoyance than a breath of fresh air.
The movement is fluid in the game, with jumping and dodging feeling great to navigate the open world and maneuver around enemies in combat.
The combat mechanics seem flawed, though, as holding down RB literally at all times is the optimal strategy, and dodging feels overpowered as it sometimes feels like I cannot be hit even in a large group of enemies. I hoped it would be more interesting or challenging at higher difficulties, but I don’t think that is the case. Against stronger, higher-level enemies instead of having to be more precise in combat, I would just stand back and dodge more while allowing my ranged attack to do the work, which just took longer with no additional skill and was not nearly as fun.
Enemies also tended to be quite bland, all playing out very similarly. I wish there were more variety in enemy types that forced me to think about combat differently.
The protagonist (2B) is always joined by her co-star (9S) which makes sense for story reasons but often makes combat situations too messy to know what is going on and I’ve lost track of which character I am controlling.
The progression system in this game left something to be desired, with leveling with leveling up not feeling meaningful, but further on I understood that there were multiple other systems in place. 2B’s swords and robot companion can all be upgraded and changed, with different weapons offering slightly different slashing experiences in combat, and different companion abilities giving different ranged attack or special LB options. The most rewarding RPG-like system in this game, though, are the chips. By upgrading and equipping different chips I found myself making decisions like whether to increase my dodge range in favor of showing more HUD options.
I thought these were cool ideas, but I wish they affected combat more. With the options given by the game I felt like I could customize my experience slightly, but when it comes back to being in combat none of my possible “builds” felt drastically different than others, which made me wish the RPG elements of the game went just a touch deeper. This would have given more of a reason to explore and loot looking for better chips and items to upgrade my weapons.
The main story starts out intriguing, and I found myself only wanting to follow main missions initially and had to force myself to do the side missions which were mainly fetch quests, which felt lazy. However, the side missions did add a lot to the story, and it is a shame so much of it is hidden behind skippable side-quests.
The side quests became more bearable about 7 hours in, however, once I had access to fast travel. Before that point in the story I would recommend not wasting time on any side missions, which felt more like chores.
Other than travelling from mission to mission there is almost no reason to explore the open world. Early in the game I would wander off on my own in attempts to find secrets, but for the most part it was useless as I was only supposed to go to that location later in the story. I would recommend only travelling where the missions point toward, as the open world is not rewarding.
I did not know any of the lore or the world from previous NieR and Drakengard games, but the story was still immediately interesting to me. As a pair of YoRHa androids 2B and 9S are tasked with aiding the android resistance by fighting through machine life forms that were created by aliens that forced humans to retreat to the moon. It gets immensely more complicated and mysterious and is even deeper and more interesting when researched more of the backstory on my own.
However, even early on I was forced to fight characters that I did not wish to in order to move the linear story forward. I was mad at times at the actions I was forced to take, but the story was still so interesting that it was motivation enough to go forward in order to find out what happens.
It is unique the way that the story of game plays out, having to reach multiple endings before truly finishing the game. This is a cool idea but involves playing through the initial campaign again as 9S instead of 2B. I don’t know yet if I will come back to experience more of the story or not. As much as it interests me I do not know if it is worth it to play through the entire game again in order to get there.
Playing NieR: Automata I had fun slashing and dashing around the world but was unchallenged by mashing dodge and shoot to easily get through enemies. More than the this, though, I will remember NieR for the robots that I did not want to kill and for the beautiful horror of seeing robots growing as a civilization, experiencing human emotions, and finding their religion.
This is truly a special story and world wrapped around a fun and exciting game that just left me wanting a little more from its unbalanced combat, repetitive side missions, and bland enemies. Still, this game is highly polished, has smooth movement, an engaging story, and great music. All of this adds up to a top-tier action RPG.
Interesting and deep story
Fun and fluid movement
Unrewarding combat mechanics
Flat open world
RPG elements that don’t go deep enough