I thought for sure that the largely overlooked Drakengard 3 would be the last game we’d ever see, but here we are with a brand new, current-gen Nier sequel that seems to be doing pretty well for itself.
Combat in the Drakengard/Nier series has always been decent, I thought, but has typically been pretty simplistic and repetitive. This time director Tako Yaro and friends have teamed up with Platinum Games to give the game a much needed boost in the combat department, and it works out quite nicely. The combat is a lot more energetic and fast paced and feels a bit like Metal Gear Solid: Revengeance.
The level of customization offered by the chip system along with the various pods and pod programs allows for much more flexible and enjoyable gameplay. Huge improvement over the word system in the original Nier, where you’d pretty much just pick 2 and never touch them again, feeling more like an afterthought than any kind of useful customization.
The gameplay has also been tightened up a bit in terms of the grueling grinding of side quests and weapon materials that plagued the previous game. There’s still quite a bit of backtracking going on in this one (though the new and improved fast travel system removes most of the tedium here), but it’s nowhere near as sadistic in giving you the run-around on quests and the rare crafting materials are MUCH easier to find now. You’ll still almost certainly need to consult a guide to find everything, but you won’t have to spend hours killing the same rare enemy over and over again, hoping to get 3 items with a 1% drop rate and etc.
Anyway, as nice as that all is, this isn’t really a series anyone follows for the amazing gameplay (though the improvements are greatly appreciated), it’s a game you get for the absolutely insane and compelling stories, and it doesn’t disappoint in that area either. Set on the same world as the original Nier, but thousands of years later, Automata deals with a strange war between the machines and the androids, both of whom are fighting for their leaders, the humans and the aliens, neither of which seem to actually be present or directly involved in this war fought in their names. Right away you’ll notice how odd it is that these machines and androids are both essentially the same thing, but each side insists that the other is evil and/or not truly alive.
Ironically, these robots’ desperate attempts to emulate humanity result in both sides becoming more alive than either realize, which leads to them repeating the same old mistakes the humans made. You quickly come to realize that these machines, who have learned to hate another group of machines that are basically the same inside and really just want the same things, all in the name of an absentee god-figure who laid down some rules thousands of years ago…they’re us. They’re just as human as us, with all the same wants, needs, and flaws and seem to be headed down the same pointlessly self-destructive path that led them to inherit the Earth in the first place. This is, of course, an oversimplification of the allegories at work here, but it’s a good general overview without getting too much into specific plot details and all the other various parallels and themes.
Personally, I didn’t find that the characters, plot, or music resonated quite as much with me as the previous game, but only marginally so. This was still an extremely fun and memorable experience, with many truly emotion-punching, thought-provoking moments. Absolutely a worthy sequel to Nier and if you happen to play it yourself, make sure you keep pushing through those multiple endings, because there is still A LOT more story after the first ending and without spoiling anything, the real final ending is a really unique and fascinating experience that should not be missed.