I went into NieR: Automata Game of the YoRHa Edition blind. I had never played the original release; in fact, I had never so much as read a review. Sure, I had heard great things from the gaming community – but I had also heard a fair bit of bad. The gaming community seemed rather at odds about the game, with some calling NieR: Automata a masterpiece while others just – seemed to not understand the hype. So when I was given my review copy I decided to approach the game with as little info as possible in hopes of avoiding any bias – good or bad – that reviews or other gamers opinions may have instilled in me.
That said, NieR: Automata is a fascinating beast of a game. It is at once a third person action game, an RPG, a top down shooter, a twin stick shooter, a 2D side-scroller and eventually, and there’s even a hint of a fighting game nestled in there. Is this too much to force into one game? Possibly. But NieR: Automata somehow manages to make these transitions seamless while constantly finding creative and thought-provoking ways to implement these contradicting styles. One look at our gallery of in game stills (listed at the bottom of this review) taken during my play through will you show the sheer variety of gameplay on display.
Let’s break the game down and discuss its various features, as it’s one of the most unique games I’ve ever played, and a simple review would not do it justice.
In the future there is a war between the humans and the robots. The robots, created and sent to Earth by aliens, proved to be unstoppable and in a last ditch effort to save mankind humans admitted defeat and took what they could to the Moon where they established an outpost. Here they developed specialized androids, the YoRHa, capable of continuing the fight on Earth. There are various YoRHa units, each designed for specific skills such as fighting and information gathering. All YoRHa have the focus of protecting what is left of mankind, while also defeating the robots on Earth and gathering information on the aliens who created them.
While the story is rather generic when read as a basic outline, the way it plays out is far from what you’d expect. The androids and the robots prove to be highly complex characters and watching their story unfold through no less than three separate playthroughs (we’ll get to that in a minute) was nothing short of fascinating. This is the bread and butter of the game, this is the reason for the rave reviews and what keeps players coming back. Not the gameplay, not the graphics – just the amazing and unpredictable story.
That’s not to say the gameplay is bad – it isn’t – but it can get repetitive after nearly 30 hours.
At its heart, NieR: Automata is a hack and slash action game with a light emphasis on RPG elements. You level up as you defeat enemies, which increases your strength, defense and health, but you can also customize your pod and your chipsets.
Your chipset basically works as your skills tree; you can increase your attack, health, defense, ranged weapons and even gain health from defeated enemies. There is a wide variety of add-ons and it’s up to you to play around with the various chips to discover what combination compliments your specific play style. The catch is that there is only so much room in each chipset and every chip you equip takes up a certain amount of space, so you will need to juggle the various skills you want to diversify your character. As the game progresses you will be able to buy more room, but there is a cap. The option to fuse chips to lower their requirements helps tremendously and becomes available early on.
There are three different chipsets available to customize, which allows players to set up various playstyles which can be quickly switched between, removing any worry that players may have about inventory management. If you have no idea where to start, you can have the chipsets automatically set to attack or defense based, or even a combination of both. There is also an NPC who will help explain in detail how chipsets and set you up for your preferred style of play if asked.
Pods are helpers which fly beside you throughout the game and can fire lasers, missiles and various other projectiles. They all have a secondary special weapon which you can change based on preferences, including a large laser blast, blades which spin around your character, shields which create a barrier or spears which emerge from the Earth. You can level up pods, but don’t expect parts needed to come lightly – in my 32 hours of playtime I never did upgrade my pod, but I did play around with the various secondary attacks.
There’s a surprising amount of variety to be had if you take the time to learn the ins and outs of the system, but in the end, I stuck almost completely to Attack Up and HP Up chip sets and ignored the multitude of other chips available. If you take the time to complete a few side quests and level up your weapons as you progress, I don’t see anybody having much of a time struggling with the game. In fact, there is an option when on Easy mode to insert chips which will handle all the fighting for you while you sit back and watch. Still, the option to customize your character is present for those who wish to take advantage of it. .
The story and the structure of the game are what makes NieR: Automata stand out. I’ll try my best to explain the story’s structure without giving away spoilers, but it is quite hard. I feel it is necessary to explain how the game is set up due to, what I’ve learned since beating the game, many believing that the game was over long before it was and thereby missing out on quite a few huge plot points and tons of hours of gameplay.
That being said, if you want to go into the game blind – stop reading here and skip to the next section:
The game is structured in episodes, although they are never called that. There are no less than 26 endings, although only five (A, B, C, D, and E) are legit with the other 21 being essentially gag endings, although they are sometimes hilarious and can occur when you least expect it. It is possible to get all 26 endings on one save file, if you make the right choices and learn how to progress through the game. I’d recommend a guide if you want to achieve this – and really, I’d recommend a guide if you want to know what to do after completing endings A, B, C and D but before making some very important choices during E.
If this is all confusing, don’t worry – it will make more sense once you’re playing the game.
Anyway – you start the game as 2B as she works her way through an abandoned factory. Her team is wiped out but eventually she runs into 9S, who joins her on her mission. You spend the game as a team and after 15 to 20 hours, you will see the credits roll. This is Route A/Ending A. You wouldn’t fault someone for believing that this is the ending proper – considering the story seems to wrap up and the credits roll. At the end of the credits there will be a message stating that a new route has opened and you are then allowed to save your game.
If you continue the game from the save file you made after completing Route A, the game will begin again but this time you will be playing at 9S, but starting again at the abandoned factory. This is where many stopped – assuming the second playthrough would be just be a retread of the main story but seen through another character’s eyes. While this is mainly true, that line of thinking will cause you to miss out on tons of new information, new scenes and ultimately, Route C which is far more significant. 9S also has a different playstyle than 2B, most notably his ability to hack and take over machines. Granted, Route B does go back through the game, filling in the gaps as to what 9S was doing during the times that he was not by your side but it also gives players important back stories on enemies and bosses after you defeat them. It is here that NieR: Automata begins slowly unveiling to the player what has happened since the fall of mankind.
Those only wanting the new story bits can skip side quests and run straight through Route B, possibly in as little as 4 hours. Upon completion you will again see the ending from Route A and see the credits roll, but this time a new segment will play during the credits alongside a new cutscene, letting you know that Route C is open. Save again, and then continue the game from that save.
Ah, Route C – this is where all the gameplay before becomes worth it. Route C takes up right where Route A and B ended and consists of all new gameplay, cutscenes, and areas. You will play as three different characters and will alternate between the three as the whole story begins to come into view and you learn about the humans, aliens, robots and the YoRHa. This section will last around 5 to 10 hours depending on whether you decide to tackle the new side quests or not and is a fascinating departure from everything you have been through previously. In fact, it has its own title screen with beginning credits almost as if it were a sequel and it’s amazing to me to think how many missed this wonderful section due to the rather odd game structure.
Before you reach the end of Route C, you are given a choice between two people – one choice gives you ending C, the other Ending D. Choose one, finish the game and save. You then unlock a chapter select which will allow you to complete the chapter again and choose the other ending. Now that you have endings A, B, C and D you can go for E.
E is where you need to be cautious. Again, play through the last scene – but this time whatever choice you make doesn’t matter. When the ending starts you are given quite a few choices, check out a guide before picking something because the wrong choices will erase all your game data. No, I’m not lying. It will literally delete your saved games and start you back at square one. So, tread lightly. Once you have endings A, B, C, D and E then you can use the chapter select to gather the other 21 endings if you feel like it.
This unique story structure is what sets NieR: Automata apart from other, similar, games. The story is engrossing, the slow release of information is fascinating, and the sheer amount of different sections is almost mind-blowing.
The graphics are where NieR: Automata tends to stumble. They are serviceable, and sometimes great – but mostly the world is full of dull browns and greys, with little variety between various objects and locations.
There are multiple open-world sections: A crumbling city, a desert, a flooded city, an amusement park and a forest being the main points of interest. Each section, while full of little surprises, is mainly just there to give the player a virtual playground to run around and search for hidden objects in. The crumbling builds all look the same, with broken windows and ledges and little to no furniture or anything which would help the player believe that they were once inhabited– even a vast apartment complex you eventually stumble onto is full of nothing but empty rooms.
The world is full of invisible fences, sometimes covering up large gaps in buildings which you would assume you could enter, which makes for a frustrating experience. The desert consists of nothing but sand, pipeline and rocks and the forest is mainly brown paths and trees.
That’s not to say that there isn’t beauty amongst the dullness; the vibrant amusement park complete with fireworks, a castle overrun by vegetation, and a city in the trees all stand out to provide some much needed visual stimuli.
While the environments suffer, the characters do not. Character animations are smooth and highly detailed with every move precise and the frame never stuttering despite the frantic pace of combat. You can tell the developers painstakingly crafted each character and their move set. Each weapon has its own fighting style and your character can seamlessly switch between multiple weapons and fighting styles on the fly even during large scale battles.
The cutscenes also tend to look good as they are mainly focused on main characters and not environments.
The enemies are hit and miss, as some are rather generic (robots, by default, are not usually very diverse) but the game does try to switch things up with some robots taking on features related to their specific habitats. The bosses, on the other hand, are a thing of beauty. Large, imposing, and crafted with impressive scale – these fights truly show the discrepancy between the small YoRHa forces and the overwhelming numbers of the robots.
Game of the YoRHa Edition:
NieR: Automata Game of the YoRHa Edition is just a collection of all the DLC released to date along with multiple player icons and themes. Those new to the game will be asked to download 25 separate items. The original game is included, as well as the DLC titled 3C3C1D119440927, which is essentially just three fighting arenas of various difficulty and a hidden boss fight with video game representations of two of the game developers. Each arena has multiple tiers with the rules for each fight changing between tiers. You may have to avoid dodging in one fight, to stay off the ground in another, or to not use your pods in another. There is a variety but unfortunately many of the tiers are so high leveled that even after completing the game you will be nowhere near ready to accept their challenges, thereby removing the driving factor that typically causes players to grind through arenas.
Still, the arenas are fun, the player icons and themes are a nice addition, and if you complete all the arenas you do unlock some new outfits for your characters.
NieR: Automata is unlike any game I’ve played. At first, I didn’t get what the fuss was about; sure, it was fun, and I enjoyed mindlessly mashing buttons but didn’t understand why the game was considered any better than several dozen other games just like it. Then, slowly, NieR: Automata unveiled itself to me. The sub-par graphics took a backseat to the explosion of information the game began to divulge, and I became hopelessly invested in the characters and their struggles.
I spent hours decided what to upgrade, what chipsets to use, speaking to NPCs and searching for chests in hopes of unlocking new story details. Upon learning about the different endings and routes, I couldn’t put the game down.
I fell in love with the game’s insistence on changing perspective and looked forward to scenes where I could play on a 2D field, such as the incredible assault on an old abandoned castle. Growing up playing games like Smash TV, I was also fond of the twin stick flying sections. The different perspectives helped to break up the repetitive nature of the game and gave a welcome sense of urgency to the gameplay.
I was torn during my playthrough by the need to finish the game to write this review and my urge to be a completionist. Ultimately, I settled on completing about half of the side quests before beginning to ignore them and focusing on the main story. I am now going back through the game using the chapter select to finish up the things I missed during my initial playthrough.
NieR: Automata is at once beautiful and ugly, fascinating and repetitive. Its almost a contradiction in itself; to complete the game properly you must repeat sections multiple times but, in the end, the payoff is worth it and unlocks hours of new content. The story comes full circle and the character arcs are all completed and satisfying. The combat, once mastered, is lightning fast and helped by the sheer number of customizable features. The only real shame is that the graphics take a backseat to everything else. Minor gripes aside, I found myself squeezing time in to play whenever possible and that is my ultimate definition of a great game.
Pick up a copy of NieR: Automata and approach the game without preconceived notions of how it should play out. Begin the story with an open mind as to the oddly eccentric design choices and embrace the weird; you won’t regret it. It is easily one of the best games I have played in the past year.
View my full gameplay gallery below (these are all stills that I took during my playthrough using the PS4 capture option):
NieR: Automata was originally released on March 7th, 2017 in the US, while its DLC was released on May 2nd, 2017. The Game of the YoRHa Edition was released on February 26th, 2019 for the PS4, Xbox One and PC. MSRP is $39.99.
A PS4 review code of NieR: Automata Game of the YoRHa Edition was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
Richard Allen is a freelance writer and contributing editor for various publications. When he’s not writing about video games on FanFest.com you can find him on Broadway World or in Graffiti Magazine. He can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. You can visit his website at facebook.com/richardallenwrites