Platforms: Xbox One (Base game available on PC and PS4)
Release Date: June 26th, 2018 (Xbox One)
Reviewed On: Xbox One X
Publisher: Square Enix
NieR: Automata is the sequel to NieR: Gestalt and NieR: Replicant (alternate versions of the game), while the NieR games themselves are actually a spinoff of the Drakengard series. While NieR: Automata has been out on PlayStation 4 and PC for over a year now, it finally released this year on Xbox One as NieR: Automata Become as Gods Edition, which bundles in previously-released DLC. With several friends and colleagues recommending I check it out, I decided to play it. Quite a bit of time later, having attained 100% completion and explored every last thing it had to offer, I’m ready to offer my thoughts.
First off, I’m very happy to say that you don’t need to have played the previous NieR or the Drakengard games to understand what is happening.
NieR: Automata opens in the year 11945 AD, where the Earth has been invaded by aliens, who are using machine lifeforms as a proxy fighting force. Reduced to a remnant of what they once were, humanity has taken refuge on the moon while androids remain to fight the machine lifeforms. Fighting in humanity’s stead are the androids of YoRHa: androids specifically designed to fulfill certain roles according to their designations.
The story follows two androids in particular. The first, 2B, is a combat android who seems stoic, calm and collected. Skilled with a variety of weapons, she’s mission-focused and always annoyed at the slightest distractions. 9S, a scanner model, is 2B’s assigned partner. He’s by far more emotional and is never-endingly curious about everything and everyone.
As you progress through the game, tackling main missions and side quests alike, you’ll see the world unfold before you. From shocking secrets to relics of daily life, watching alongside 2B and 9S as they learn more about what has happened to the world is incredibly endearing. The more they learn, the more they ask questions of the world and the world asks questions of the player. Seeing their struggles and understanding their pain is one of biggest pulls of the game, as the story unfolds in completely unexpected ways.
While much has been made of needing to replay NieR: Automata multiple times to get all the endings, it’s not really that complicated. At certain points throughout the story, you’ll get different endings however, the next playthroughs will build on the previous ones and it’s just the different sections of the story separated into chunks.
NieR: Automata Become as Gods Edition runs at 60 frames-per-second and all throughout my playthrough, I never noticed any major dips or screen tearing. The smooth framerate aids in making combat extremely enjoyable and supplements a very clean, high-quality image, at least on the Xbox One X.
It is worth noting the game uses a limited, often basic color palette. By using more toned-down colors throughout the majority of the game, it makes any instances of extreme color or stand out more. This is an interesting design choice and while this does make for a handful of more captivating scenes, overall it lends a muted tone to large chunks of the game. I appreciate the use of making color stand out however, there’s no denying it’s to the detriment of other scenes.
The sound design is nothing short of fantastic. As you roam throughout the world, different ambient tracks from a beautiful soundtrack will play and practically every track has multiple alternate forms. Quieter tunes, versions with and without vocals, there’s a ton of variety that keeps things fresh even late into the game. For example, when hacking different machines or computer systems, whatever track is playing will seamlessly transition into an 8-bit version.
The beautiful work put into the soundtrack doesn’t stop there. From energetic, exciting tracks for combat to haunting moments of a powerful orchestra, it can’t be overstated that the soundtrack is always perfectly suited to the moment at hand. Call-backs during story reveals or even different side quests are often connected through similar or identical audio beats.
At its core, the combat is based around a melee combat, with an impressive variety of weapons, additional ranged attacks and combos to work with. At every point, feels smooth, weapon types truly feel distinct and can be chained together, with attack chains sometimes using two weapons used at a time.
If you want to design your build to do more melee damage and run faster, just swap in the necessary chips. Interested in taking less damage and increased ranged power? Swap them out again. To make things easier depending on the situation, you can create three customized sets of chips to swap between at any time.
The sense of progression feels rewarding, with experience points earned from killing enemies and completing different quests. It never felt grindy as long as you do some of the side quests and the path along the main story never took ridiculous leaps in difficulty.
At certain points throughout the game, you’ll also be prompted to hack different machines or systems. Hacking plays very differently from anything else in the game, taking on the form of a twin-stick shooter. As a result, when it first happens, it’ll likely take you by surprise and you’ll need to practice this mode a lot. Otherwise, you’re going to have difficulty progressing at certain points later in the story.
NieR: Automata Become as Gods Edition is an incredibly game. It’s a journey and an experience It’s extremely difficult to explain how I feel without spoiling the many twists that this game has in store. This is an emotional journey, focused on characters for whom emotions are supposed to be prohibited. It questions androids with what it means to be human while lulling the player into a somewhat false sense of security before continually revealing new elements that change everything within the game.
In its approach to storytelling, this game is nothing short of phenomenal. The combat works well and can be customized to fit different playstyles. At the same time, I have to acknowledge that the lack of distinct environments weighs on the presentation, especially when you look at other gorgeous open-world games.
NieR: Automata Become as Gods Edition is well worth taking a look at. I’d encourage any Xbox One owners who are still skeptical to jump on this. Even if you aren’t usually a fan of JRPGs, you’re in for something truly special.