Meta-Game of the Year
*I'm reviewing the PC version.
Nier: Automata on a fundamental level is a good action game that has solid foundation of heavy and light combat system with some shooting mechanics. The adversary one faces is numerous in types and attacking patterns, scales well to your level and experience, and there are a plenty of customization options to improve your experience and tailor it to many preferences.
The plot is about a couple of special combat androids fighting the robots that aliens used to invade the earth and chased away the humans to a moon colony. I found the characters dull, creepy, and little in the way of redeeming qualities overall. The story is laid thick with depressive overtones but is actually interesting and adopts an iterative process of playing the game again after the first story ends in order to get the full experience. There are times however when the action gets repetitive and a lot of recycled materials slow down the experience somewhat. Another egregious part of the game is how the narrative takes the control away from you and plunges into this indulgent meta-game aspect at the whim of game design. At first, this interjects some fresh perspective on the somewhat minimalist presentation and is appreciated. But after yet another story sequence of angst-ridden pseudo-philosophical discourse it quickly gets cringe worthy and breaks immersion. I find it also clashes with the systematic way it opted to explain away some of the technical options in the menu screen as integrated into the game character and world design. Overall, I consider this plot reveals and existential musings as reward enough for hours invested, and appreciate the effort gone into communicating to players who parted with their hard earned cash to enter into this relationship with the game willingly.
Another very significant part of combat is the hacking mini-game, which takes shape of a fairly standard dual joystick shooter that allows one to burrow into robotic adversaries and, if successful, destroy them. In large portions of the game, hacking naturally becomes the primary method of attack as it is much easier to hack your way through throngs of enemies rather than hack-and-slash. Not all sessions are the same, with evolving attack patterns aspiring to a bullet hell type shooter and varied layout of the arena. But they become a tiresome chore long before they start repeating. Moreover, the mini-game always begins with a fade to white transition and becomes uncomfortably blinding to your eyes as you try to focus and react to the incoming projectiles.
The world is open and is divided into gated sections that one can't access until reaching a specific point in the plot. Overall the world is fairly dull, cordoned off with invisible walls, and graphics overall are not that impressive for what is required to get a smooth playing experience out of the game. It features some reactivity, but your interaction with the open world is primarily fighting and doing boring fetch and escort quests. Exploration aspect is somewhat lacking but is incentivized by secret stashes of weapons and other non-essential perks. The music does much to lend some air of mysteriousness and poignancy to the world but some pieces feature high pitched raspy vocals and get quite overbearing after a while.
There are a slew of technical problems on the PC version, and users are expected to scramble for a custom fix by themselves to play the game without stuttering or crashing. The keyboard binding is left wanting and belies the game's console roots and mouse is plagued with acceleration problems. The pre-rendered cutscenes are horrible 900p and 30 fps and take up half of the game's installation weighing at a whopping 24GB. Square Enix has not yet released one patch to fix these numerous problems but instead released an overpriced DLC in the meantime.
Truly the technical problems could have been shoehorned into augmenting this meta-game aspect and I might be satisfied with the premise given this game's inherent strengths. A four star game and a recommendation, let down by technical issues.