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Nier: Automata Review

Nier: Automata makes me feel so small, in the best of ways.

Review by Caty McCarthy, .

Nier: Automata makes me feel so small. The first boss I encounter in its opening hours is a “goliath,” a catch-all term for “very big monster machine thing” that is slapped onto anything that makes you feel like an ant. This particular goliath towers higher than a skyscraper, and it resembles Big Shell from Metal Gear Solid 2. You battle the monstrous, location-sized being; first on foot, later hopping into your trusty, also pint-sized mecha. It’s an outrageous, contentious battle to the death that sets the tone for the rest of my initial playthrough: this game is badass, and it knows it.

The best bosses in games are the ones that make us feel impossibly strong in the face of adversity. Whether it's the leagues of colossi in Shadow of the Colossus, or any big baddie you face in a Final Fantasy game, bosses may make us feel small, but they also make us feel like we can do the impossible: destroy them, in spite of our size.

There’s a poetic semblance to the chaotic bosses of Nier: Automata. You always feel miniscule: whether your boss is Big Shell-sized, or akin to yourself. Every boss has their quirks; their challenges; their weaknesses—and no two battles require the same strategy. 2B, the silver-haired, absurdly short-skirted android you control at the start, is always kept on her toes: but she has her trusty swords and bullet-projecting pod to survive by. Sometimes in battles, in the non-boss variety as well, 2B lunges forward, slicing and dicing the perpetually-beige machines in her path. Sometimes a curtain of red orbs clouds her view, and the game evolves into something I can only describe as a bullet ballet: as entrancing bounds to avoid certain death become priority.

Nier: Automata combines bullethell chaos and the beauty of Platinum-specialized swordplay, and intertwines those with the occasional arcade-like 2D platformer-shooter. There’s no time for Nier: Automata to rest in the ideas it artfully marries and executes, and over the course of the campaign, it bends and twists its ideas to new strengths. Where every battle is a new test of coming to grips with dodging, having the ideal pod equipped (for myself, I bounced between a missile projecting pod and a more typical, incessantly firing one—which is handy when those deadly red orbs fly your way), and, of course, being agile and strategic like the android you are.

Nier: Automata is “open-world” in the emptiest sense of the definition. There’s a large hub for you to explore with varied areas (a desolate city, a forest, a desert, etc.)... and it’s open. There are some villages (though very few), a lot of robots in the wild to battle, and a scattershot of side missions. But unlike most open world games, its side missions aren't essential, or even baited as necessary. There’s no level spikes in the main story that urge you to seek them out to prove your worth and feel prepared in the strength sense. They solely exist if, hey, you just want more things to do (or want new gear). But Nier: Automata isn’t a game that revels in empty escort missions or monotonous combat against the same, tired enemies. It flourishes in its main quest line: whether you’re pulled along by its bizarre story and characters, or the incredible boss fights that couch every chapter.

Though, in spite of its open world blunders, style outweighs its actual graphical prowess. Its sometimes muddy textures and bland environments don't detract from what is visually compelling in the game: its fluid battles, its character design, and its more unique locales. Like when 2B leaps into action, her frenetic sword animates quicker than the eye can follow (even if the camera is a little stubborn at times). And whether you stroll through familiar post-apocalyptic sights—like buildings overtaken by grass—or slightly unfamiliar ones—like an abandoned theme park kept alive by machines—Nier: Automata is a game that leverages its world design above its technical shortcomings.

Leveling up in Nier: Automata is an easy task, whether you slog through side missions to make yourself overpowered, or just mainline the primary story. You grow stronger, in addition to slowly accumulating "Chips" of extra abilities (such as auto-healing or upping your chances of critical hits) that you can install into your pod. Chips are a mixture of defensive, offensive, and HUD elements; meaning you can even strip your screen bare of any indicators in favor of cramming in other abilities, if you so wish. It's a sort of skill tree that, at least aesthetically, fits perfectly into the game's android-centric, futuristic narrative. The menus and the game's abhorrent world map (seriously, it's virtually unnavigatable) even resemble a computer's interface, or at least, the YoRHa's version of what that its user interface would be.

The story that threads the game is outlandish, to put it mildly. At the start, you’re positioned as 2B, a YoRHa unit forever battling machines on Earth, long after humanity’s fled to the Moon for sanctuary. You’re accompanied by 9S, an overtly-friendly android, also with silver hair. The two androids form a bond over their long journey, despite 2B's anti-emotions conditioning as an android. And then things get wild.

Nier: Automata, like its cult classic predecessor (that unfortunately has always eluded me and I have never played), encourages multiple playthroughs. A second playthrough wields a new perspective and a stark gameplay change. A third is almost an entirely fresh experience for the player. It’s a game where if you only beat it once, you’ll feel wildly unfulfilled. There are dozens of faux-endings, some of the joke variety (like dying during the first boss), others of genuine mishaps. But at its core, it doesn’t tell its whole story with the first go-around, and only grows more interesting as it progresses.

I’m drawn back to the idea of feeling small; not in the open world way or the boss battle way, but small in a human sense. 2B and 9S may be androids, but the bond they eventually share is a quiet and personal one. Even when stuffed with every sci-fi oddity you can cram into a plot (Humans are on the moon! Some robots are nice for some unknown reason! There are rogue YoRHa units around!), at the end of the day, Nier: Automata dares to center its tale on something more sentimental: two androids wrestling with their small connection to humanity, and what that means for them.

NieR: Automata is the Platinum Game You're Looking For

Feeling wary of Scalebound? Keep NieR on your radar.

But unfortunately, Nier: Automata couldn’t have come out at a worse time for me. With it arriving right before the Game Developer’s Conference last week (which I covered alongside Kat and Jaz), I wasn’t able to put sufficient time shortly before, during, or after the week-long conference. As such, I’ll be pouring a lot more time into the game this week through my multiple playthroughs (which I’m estimating is another 15 or so hours); working to see all the wild endings the game has to offer in order to give a proper review (score and all). But at the time of writing this, in spite of its flaws, I’m enjoying my time with the highly capable 2B and 9S. Stay tuned. Edit: You can find my final thoughts on Nier: Automata below!

Final Thoughts

When I wrote my impressions over the weekend, I was enjoying Nier: Automata. It was flawed around the edges—no doubt about that—but it was also refreshingly different and engaging. Here was a tale about two androids within a wonderfully imaginative backdrop, with wildly fun and efficient combat to spare and a dynamic score that swelled just as its emotional peaks did. Little did I know, by the end of my second playthrough, that the real game was only just beginning.

Nier: Automata is extremely brash. Your first two playthroughs give you two separate but often together characters to play as, seeing the same story unfold from different perspectives. There’s gameplay changes too, in addition to a few different scenarios and environments to uncover. But when I progressed through my third playthrough where the game’s final three endings culminate (which, though in the same open world, is entirely new content), I felt a rush of excitement. Everything I worked towards in my first playthroughs paled in comparison to this: a third act that felt like an incessant climax; like a sequel in and of itself, as if its first two playthroughs were just the prologue, mere child’s play.

It was this playthrough that cemented Nier: Automata for me. It’s a game that continuously subverts itself, from constantly reiterating how you play it (as it bounces from top-down shooter to swordplay at the blink of an eye), having a shopkeeper that sells you trophies (yes, trophies) to a mysterious NPC explaining to me just why those world maps were so damn bad (poor reception from satellites, it turns out, and androids like me just have to “deal with it”). Nier: Automata knows it’s a game, and it plays with that expectation in befitting ways.

Because of that, Nier: Automata is incredibly meta. It’s a game that challenges how we engage with games. We grind out trophies to get that platinum, or but in Nier: Automata, you can just buy your way to them. You can complain about badly designed world maps in games and bemoan their existence, or there can be a logical in-game reason to contextualize their poor quality. You can can play a game once and think you’ve seen it all, but really there’s about four more layers of plot and endings that you’re missing out on. Sure, I’m still a player. And Nier: Automata is still just a game. But in the end, as DJ Khaled might say, the game might just might end up playing you.

The Nitty Gritty

  • Interface: Keeping in line with the android-centric narrative, Nier: Automata has a lot of unique little UI quirks. Your HUD can be minimized in the same space as your abilities, and the game's menu is aestheticized like an old computer's.
  • Lasting appeal: While I don't see myself returning to Nier: Automata anytime soon, its narrative, world-building, astounding bosses, frenetic action, and cheeky sense of humor was more than enough to keep me engaged over my 40-hour playthrough to see its five main endings.
  • Sound: Keiichi Okabe and Keigo Hoashi have composed an epic, beautiful (and even dynamic) score that still has me humming some of its tunes.
  • Visuals: While not a graphical powerhouse by any means, the game's style rises above all else.

We don't get games like Nier: Automata too often. And by that I mean games that simultaneously weave a deeply harrowing existentialist narrative, in addition to playing with our expectations on how we play games. There's nothing else around like Nier: Automata (except for maybe its predecessor). And in an industry that sometimes leans too heavily on sameness, it's wholly refreshing.

5 /5

Nier: Automata Review Caty McCarthy Nier: Automata makes me feel so small, in the best of ways. 2017-03-10T21:50:00-05:00 5 5

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Comments 36

  • Avatar for kidgorilla #1 kidgorilla 6 months ago
    I am weirdly psyched for this game, and what I've just read makes me that much more interested
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  • Avatar for cldmstrsn #2 cldmstrsn 6 months ago
    Glad you are enjoying it Caty. This past week has been a whirlwind. Horizon blew me away and then just a couple days later Zelda is giving me stress dreams cause I just dont want to stop playing and then I got my email last night from amazon that this is shipping! What a quarter for video games!
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  • Avatar for TheWildCard #3 TheWildCard 6 months ago
    This is the best time for video games.
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  • Avatar for Vaporeon #4 Vaporeon 6 months ago
    @cldmstrsn I hear you on Zelda! I have at least three immediate in-game priorities right when I get home from work - all of which will likely be forgotten as soon as I spot something interesting in the distance. And Persona 5 on April 4! Gah!
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  • Avatar for SIGGYZtar #5 SIGGYZtar 6 months ago
    Take your time Caty! It'll be quite a while before I can play Automata. I still haven't played the original Nier, and I had to sell my Xbox copy to pay for the PS4.
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #6 VotesForCows 6 months ago
    Echoing the others, its an amazing few months for games.

    On Nier - Caty, any thoughts on the combat with respect to previous Platinum titles - how does it stack up?

    Living in the UK, we've to wait until Friday for this. Cannot wait!
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  • Avatar for catymcc #7 catymcc 6 months ago
    @VotesForCows I would say it's maybe a little better than Metal Gear Rising Revengeance... but it's no Bayonetta (but what else is, really?). Regardless, I'd still situate it among those two as Platinum's greats, definitely a return to form for Platinum.
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  • Avatar for pausoriano71 #8 pausoriano71 6 months ago
    Deleted September 4000 by Unknown
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  • Avatar for Jaegermeist3r #9 Jaegermeist3r 6 months ago
    @catymcc are you doing an article about the soundtrack ? I would love to hear some thoughts. although i cant play the game right now i'm listening to the soundtrack and some tracks really make me shiver especially the shifts from the quiet to the dynamic theme.Edited March 2017 by Jaegermeist3r
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  • Avatar for brionfoulke91 #10 brionfoulke91 6 months ago
    One of the most exciting games of the year right here, and that's saying something! Platinum continues to be one of the strongest developers, and this game looks as if it could be one of their best! And that's saying a lot!
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  • Avatar for camchow #11 camchow 6 months ago
    So uh, any chance of alternative costumes? Cause man... yikes. Other than that I loved the demo.
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  • Avatar for Jaegermeist3r #12 Jaegermeist3r 6 months ago
    @brionfoulke91 i finished both bayonetta 1 + 2 just recently and enjoyed the hell out of them (finished both them within two weeks). While the gameplay of Nier looks certainly "platinume gamesish" i hope this gameplay does not get lost in the whole open world.
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #13 VotesForCows 6 months ago
    @catymcc Wow, that's great to hear! Looking forward to it even more now. Thanks!
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  • Avatar for docexe #14 docexe 6 months ago
    Good to know Cathy is the one reviewer who hates Open World tropes (I kid, I kid... mostly).

    I probably won’t play it in another couple of years or so, butI’m really interested in this game, despite the fact I never played the first Nier or any of the prior Drakengard games. But what can I say? It’s just great to see Platinum in top form again.
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  • Avatar for link6616 #15 link6616 6 months ago
    I'm really glad it seems to be doing both NieR and Platinum some justice.

    I'm also not surprised the open world of NieR is a hollow trick. The openness of the first game and it's sidequests were effectively the same as well.

    But man this past 6 months has been just an embarrassment for fans of Japanese games. Last Guardian, FFXV, World of FF, NieR, Gravity Rush 2, Breath of the Wild. And soon Persona 5!

    I think I need to to get violently ill enough to not be able to work, but to be able to game...
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  • Avatar for richei-tesdey #16 richei-tesdey 6 months ago
    Leaving conspiracy theories aside and focusing on gameplay, we can note the brilliant work of PlatinumGames by bringing an agile, challenging, and very refined combat system. Enemies are not passive. You can not just crush buttons or probably end up being "smashed". In addition, something that draws attention is the camera change what time the view is behind the back of the character, seen from above and 2.5D on the side. This left the game somewhat more dynamic and with superior gameplay to all four of its predecessors.Edited July 2017 by richei-tesdey
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  • Avatar for MyNameIsMe #17 MyNameIsMe 6 months ago
    Ugh! There are literally 5 amazing and time consuming games that are out this month. I really don't know what to do. I might end up shelving some games for the summer. I was going to just skip this game, but now everyone is raving about it...
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  • Avatar for chaoticBeat #18 chaoticBeat 6 months ago
    I had to pick this up today to show Platinum some love on launch. Out of the bountiful season of games we are in right now, this is one I could see getting lost. Looks sick as hell too!!! I've got to try to find a way to explore this game and keep making steady progress in Zelda, which has flew way up as a top gaming priority.
    @camchow I agree and I was not a fan of the short skirt costume in the demo. I am hoping we get access to some of the more interesting designs that I have peeked from later in the story.
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  • Avatar for themblan #19 themblan 6 months ago
    Adam Sessler's voice: "A five... out of five."
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  • Avatar for riderkicker #20 riderkicker 6 months ago
    So that give up your save file option. Crazy.
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  • Avatar for link6616 #21 link6616 6 months ago
    @TheWildCard This is certainly the year this generation goes from existing to great I feel.
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  • Avatar for Dr-Lame #22 Dr-Lame 6 months ago
    I've never played a Nier or Drakengard game before, but after reading up on Yoko Taro and watching some let's play videos, I gained an appreciation for how creative this series is. Then all of the positive reviews of Nier: Automata hit, and buying this game became a no-brainer. I've already ordered it, and now I just have to wait for it to arrive.

    I usually wait for games to get cheaper before I pull the trigger, but I'm too excited for this game, and I want to support it. Can't wait for it to show up!

    Thanks for another insightful review!
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  • Avatar for tenaciousck #23 tenaciousck 6 months ago
    Can't wait to pick horizon and this game up once in done with Zelda
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #24 VotesForCows 6 months ago
    Sounds even more awesome than I expected! I've taken a half day from work tomorrow so I can get this first thing in the morning and get home early to get started.
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  • Avatar for Kadrom #25 Kadrom 6 months ago
    I was a loud fan of the original. Finally started this one last night and am delighted at how many times I've already been punked by Yoko Taro. "There are no autosaves. Figure out how to save on your own." I started on hard and died during that opening mission like 4 times before I bowed my head and lowered the difficulty. Given how the multiple endings of the original Nier turned the game on its head, I'm excited at the twists that lie ahead.
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  • Avatar for Lonecow #26 Lonecow 6 months ago
    I wish I could have seen the look on that lunatic Horizon fan's face when he saw you gave Nier a perfect score.
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  • Avatar for Lizardking89 #27 Lizardking89 6 months ago
    So you give this game a 5 and Horizon a 2.5? Not saying this is a bad game because it's not but your reviews are very skewed and don't make much sense.
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  • Avatar for Kat.Bailey #28 Kat.Bailey 6 months ago
    Deleted March 2017 by Kat.Bailey
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  • Avatar for Kadrom #29 Kadrom 6 months ago
    yeah@catymcc, how can you like Orange if you disliked Apple?
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  • Avatar for Lord-Bob-Bree #30 Lord-Bob-Bree 6 months ago
    I'm continuously surprised that the person responsible for Drakengard somehow managed to pull Nier out of somewhere
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  • Avatar for MonkeyDSomething #31 MonkeyDSomething 6 months ago
    @diegodelrío15 holy christ you jerks have a hard time understanding how opinions work
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  • Avatar for MonkeyDSomething #32 MonkeyDSomething 6 months ago
    @diegodelrío15. Holy christ do you guys have a really hard time understanding how opinions work.
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  • Avatar for tvsadam #33 tvsadam 6 months ago
    I'm a huge fan of Nier and after a couple hours Automata so far feels exactly like I hoped it would: like Nier, if Platinum got their hands on it. My hopes are high.

    That said, a quick thought about the map quality issue mentioned in the review: I feel like narrative justification for a bad map is a really poor substitute for a good map that requires no justification.

    It always bothers me when a game comments on its own lacking features - or worse, tries to offer a meta-style comment on bad game design by actively incorporating that approach. Winking at the player while presenting them with something unpleasant does nothing to alter the fact that you have presented them with something unpleasant.
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  • Avatar for Zenbojay #34 Zenbojay 6 months ago
    This review is bang on, one of the best and most unique games i've played in years.
    Want to play another game like none other? Try Vagrant Story for the PS1.
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  • Avatar for Taylorshaw151 #36 Taylorshaw151 A month ago
    I really like the game very much it’s really is a pretty addictive game. It is undoubtedly one of the best action RPG game developed with insane texture and detailing. While playing a game if you have a better idea of the story then the game play becomes more interesting and enjoyable. Pacific die casting products
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  • Avatar for hideaway #38 hideaway A month ago
    wow thats out of this universe theme environment.. for that kind of tropical paradise take a dive
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