I’ve been catching up on 2017’s PS4 releases, amongst them NieR: Automata. I’ve completed endings A, B, C, D, and E, as well as some of the other minor endings. Apparently there’s 26 endings in total, but it seems as though A-E are the main endings required to understand the story.
It’s certainly an odd game. But an enjoyable one, for the most part. There is a fair bit repetition in the game, and at first this made me critical of it. I’m not a fan of artificially extending the main quest with repetition; that’s what side quests are for. But after completing the main endings, I’ve become a bit more forgiving of the game’s repetitive elements, as it’s thematically and narratively in tune with what NieR: Automata represents. It’s a game that you have to stick with through multiple playthroughs before you can understand many of it’s the design choices, both visually and mechanically. Still, buyer beware: you’ll be playing this game for around 40 hours and it doesn’t always feel fresh.
However, repetition aside, it’s a very smooth flowing action game. What I particularly like about NieR: Automata is the seemless shifting between gameplay modes. For the most part, it’s a third person hack and slash (with the ability to shoot also), but some sections are a bullet hell shooter, and 2D hack and slash platformer, and a hacking mini game that plays similar to Geometry Wars. What’s great about all these modes is how seemless the transition between them is–similar buttons are used for evading/shooting, and you’re faced with the same orb machine attacks in all modes–so much so that it really feels like one and the same experience, rather than the secondary modes being tacked on in the name of variety. Other games could definitely learn from how NieR: Automata implements this.
As others have noted, the world and especially the music are top quality. I often found myself just wandering around the desolate world listening to the immersive soundtrack; even encountering small squadrons of machines, the soundtrack doesn’t change, making these encounters feel calm, almost relaxing, part of a continual flow. As @Draikin mentioned earlier, the tone of the game is inconsistent and a bit too wacky at times, which can break the immersion. It’s a bit like some of the later Star Wars films (after Empire) in that regard. The characters are a bit all over the place in their motivations, and in some cases feel one dimensional (villains with maniacal laughter, etc). And it’s definitely a dark and depressing story, for better or worse. Still, I found the story to be thought provoking (a story that isn’t spoon fed, the exploration of existentialist themes, etc) and engaging enough to keep me playing through all of the primary endings.
It’s been reported that this game sold better than expected, so it’s likely we’ll be seeing further games in the series. This is a good thing, because NieR: Automata certainly brought something that is missing from a lot of modern games back to the table: imagination. I haven’t played any of the previous Drakengard or NieR games, but based on what I’ve read and watched online it seems that these aren’t directly related to the story and setting of NieR: Automata, and weren’t highly regarded when it came to their gameplay. I’ll probably give these and miss (perhaps settling for a Let’s Play), but feel free to try to convince me otherwise if you enjoyed those older games. It can be hard to go back to games with older mechanics when we’ve been spoiled by smooth flowing action games like Automata.