Cast your mind back to E3, amongst all the glitz and glamour, amongst all the new games and amazing trailers, there was a little announcement that filled me with joy. It was for a game that had previously released to great acclaim on PS4, with players and critics alike applauding the gameplay and story. That game was Nier Autonama.
I'll obviously try and avoid story spoilers, but this much becomes apparent early on. Nier tells the story of 2B (at least first time around but we'll get to that later). She's a member of YoRHa, an organisation made-up of androids specifically designed to wage war. Their enemies are a gigantic horde of machines who were created and are controlled by an alien species. An alien species that invaded Earth, attacked Humanity and forced the survivors to flee to the moon. There they stay secluded, sending messages to guide the war effort from a hidden base, somewhere on the Lunar surface.
Graphically the game looks good, environments are varied and well styled, we aren't talking photo-realism or anything here but they do look decent. You'll fight in a ruined city being reclaimed by nature, you'll explore wrecked and crumbling factories, walk through wild forests and (one of my highlights), visit an abandoned amusement park run by clown bots. All are well designed and have nooks and crannies everywhere, concealing treasures of all types. A minor gripe would be that fast travel isn't available till later in the story, this meant I spent a lot of time going back and forth between areas. Killing the same enemy types, in the same places while traveling past, gets frustrating quickly but it's a minor problem, one that's fixed about halfway into playthrough 1. Luckily, once the feature is allowed, it will be (mostly) available for the rest of the game.
You also have a ranged weapon in the form of your POD, a little floating cuboid helper that peppers your targets with bullets, fries them with lasers, or blows them up with homing missiles, depending on the POD of course. You begin with one, the Gatling type, but exploration will reveal the other two.
Death is handled a little differently in Neir, you'll regularly come across the bodies of dead players, you'll be able to harvest these for resources or you can resurrect them, bringing a computer-controlled NPC into your game temporarily, one who will fight on your side.
When YOU die though, not only will your avatar appear in other people's games, it will result in a "Dark Souls" situation for you. Racing to the location of your death, you'll be able to reclaim any chips and items left on your body. You must get there quickly however, because taking too long, or dying again, will result in losing all the cracking gear you probably had equipped at the time. Another handy little feature is that your body is marked on the map after death too, so finding it again is relatively easy. The levels aren't open world but more like a series of interconnected areas, some will be locked off till the story progresses but, once open, you can return to and re-explore these areas at your leisure. A small quibble would be that it isn't always obvious how to get to certain areas, at least when studying the map, which, unfortunately isn't that accurate or detailed. You'll find it fills in as you explore and unlock the various save points but it will never be that great. Keep an eye on it though, side quests are easy to miss and it is possible to lock them out entirely by furthering the main story. Watching for little red circles (important events) and for little red squares (side quests) before heading to any of the primary quests will serve you well, especially if you don't want to miss anything. If you do however, you'll get another chance at them on subsequent playthroughs, or by using the chapter select you'll get when you ultimately complete all the main stories.
Overall: My only criticisms are small, on top of the minor quibbles stated earlier, the only relatively major-ish complaint is with the pacing of certain quests. It isn't explained that you'll have multiple playthroughs and a chance to go back and do everything. This meant I found myself spending a lot of time grinding and farming, trying to become powerful enough to win fights that I now know are supposed to be completed much later. It also meant I was overpowered when it came to normal story missions and could fight through some with very little challenge. Despite this, I feel it's well worth the time and money. The story evolves as you go and has many twists and turns. The main quest will leave you thinking about questions fundamental to existence. What makes something human? Can a machine ever be considered alive? The side quests have some great stories too, many with dark and tragic twists, showing the horrors of war but also how goodness can flourish, even on a battlefield. Not many games have impressed me this much and I'm glad I played it. I'd recommend that every Xbox owner give it a try, especially those who like their fast-paced combat to be paired with a decent story and interesting characters. Pick it up, if you get a chance. I did and I wasn't disappointed.
Review by Jon Harvey
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