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Just to show you a different side of the coin

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    StefanBilly
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    NieR: Automata

    Rating: 3.0 – Fair

    Just to show you a different side of the coin

    In the past, I’ve played a lot of games that disappointed me on so many levels, and usually, I couldn’t understand how most reviewers were completely blind to flaws, which eventually ruined the experience for me. I guess, some people can deal with certain types of flaws, while other types, I for example am very tolerant off, are taboo for them.

    This is also, why this review is centered around criticising the game. You have tons of praising reviews out there, so if you want a positive opinion, go ahead and read them. I am one of many persons on this planet, so don’t let me crush your dreams, accept that my opinion might differ from yours, have fun with the game, and pity me for not having fun, in silence.

    Or count 1 and 1 together, read other reviews, while keeping my critique in mind, and decide for yourself, weather or not this is the right game for you.

    These are my points:

    CAMERA:

    I am baffled how this remains unmentioned. I am possibly one of the most tolerant people when it comes to cameras. I’ve been through the PSX and N64 era of gaming, so I can handle frustrating camera work. In Nier:Automata, I can’t. Let me give you a few examples, because N:A pretty much covers every type of bad camera work I could think off:

    Fixed camera: We have many side-view and up-view areas in this game, some people don’t like this, I don’t mind at all. But what bugs me is, when a camera is fixed in position for absolutely no reason.Yet, this happens in some parts, and makes things much more challenging. However, I think I know why the developers put it there. But more on this later…

    In areas, where you can use the camera, your POD (the small flying thing that can shoot) can lock-on a target. More often than not, it messes up your perspective. You see, the main aspect of the game’s challenge is, to dodge, and to counter-attack ("perfect dodge"). Now add to this, that you wont see the attacking enemy, or enemies, in many cases. Especially when being swarmed. Usually in those situations, I literally run away from the camera, to fix and align it, before attacking again. This should not happen, you are not supposed to get hit or killed because you don’t see what happens. Yet, for some reason, there are tons of encounters in small areas, where this problem really becomes notable.

    But they were able to mess up in big areas as well. The 3rd boss is a perfect example, because after a while, it starts summoning minions, and you will start dodging attacks you can’t see coming from everywhere. And the most frustrating part is, you won’t just get hit, you get "punished" with a small, annoying mini-game, which appears for every single hit you take.

    Now, to add on top of that, your comrade – 9S – looks, especially when the camera fixes to a certain distance, so similar to 2B (your character), that you probably will confuse them with each other in many occasions.

    So, thinking about it now, I guess some of those side-scrolling and bird-view areas, are just a sloppy solution for the otherwise, terrible camera that you’d experience instead. And you can dodge endlessly if you want. Yet, this seems again, like a sloppy solution to being unable to see what’s going on.

    And then of course, there is the platforming – camera. Not to mention that the controls aren’t really made for platforming, I remember a certain chest in a castle, which was so hard to get, just because every time you reached the platform it stands on, the camera turned 90 degree around, and by doing so, pushed you off the edge. This also is because of a different issue, which I will talk about next:

    ENVIRONMENT:

    Again, I don’t know why nobody mentioned this yet – Invisible Walls. This pretty much summarizes the entire problem. I wont start comparing this game to others, but let me say just this: In so many places, I just thought, "this would be so much more interesting to navigate through in X-game". This is also because areas usually are rather empty and lack interesting discovery options, but especially because there are invisible walls everywhere. Usually when you encounter complex surfaces, developers slapped invisible walls in front of it. But it doesn’t stop there.

    You see, most small openings are, instead, invisible walls. Which means, after a while, you stop bothering trying to enter. And yep, miss out on the very rare occasion it lets you pass through. And actually, many openings that are smaller than those you encounter invisible walls in, are secret path. So in other words, the game is aware of its flaw, and uses it to hide secrets. It’s not even a "secret path". You can see the path, you just assume it’s an invisible wall again, and stop bothering. But still, far from where it stops:

    The next problem that comes with this issue, is the mini-map. First, you wont even see a useful map until you’ve unlocked certain parts of it. And even then, it looks messy and convoluted. Most path it shows are either not working, or not aligned with the map’s position. You have to learn the environment if you want to travel fast. Which is also hard, because the environment constantly changes. And no, it doesn’t stop here.

    Especially the 2d areas, where you are forced into certain directions, are literally teasing you with areas you can’t access. At some point, you need to kill enemies in the foreground with ranged attacks because you are trapped on a different layer. You can see them 3 feet ahead, but can’t go to front or back. This also happens in the first NPC filled place, with tons of stuff going on in the background – but you can’t access it. And then, there are enemies who can go there, even dropping their stuff behind invisible walls. And no, you can’t pick it up.

    And then, there are environments where you need to climb. But where you can jump to, is depending on the game’s restrictive invisible walls. Only issue, this is hard to visually interpret by the player. You probably have to find out by trying.

    Now, considering the great reviews, I assume that people don’t care about this stuff, or at least, not anymore. If you had this in an N64 or PSX game, it would be okay, because of the smaller possible size of the maps. And even back then, invisible walls had a bad reputation for being uninspired solutions that will only tease you. So why this game is so proud of spamming them everywhere, even presenting them to you as if they were awesome, is beyond me. I am not exaggerating, and at least for me, this is a total dealbreaker.

    GAMEPLAY:

    First and foremost, I recognize quality when I see a good tutorial. And by that, I mean – in the best case possible – an invisible tutorial (unlike an invisible wall). Like for example, in Super Metroid. You learn by doing, but not by being thrown into cold water. The worst case scenario would be a written tutorial – with pages of text, explaining everything at once. You don’t want to read that stuff, you want to play, right? Not to mention, you wont remember it anways. But then, the game starts by throwing you into situations that require this knowledge, immediately. In Nier:Automata, it’s somewhere in-between.

    The game starts with a mission, and you – playing for the first time – probably wont, and actually shouldn’t try too hard to win. You should experience around, try to find out what works, how it works, and hope the game is forgiving enough to let you do so. Now, I felt a bit stupid when I died at the end of the mission, and had to start over from the beginning.

    Yes, you can’t save, and the mission took about 1 hour or more. If you mess around, you will eventually waste all your health items and die, and keep in mind, as easy as this might be later on when knowing the game, this mission is the first thing you do, you start playing the game in a scenario that punishes you for not knowing how to play, by possibly wasting the first hour, or more time of your progress.

    Now, it didn’t help that "dodging" was set to a trigger, and dodging is the most vital thing in combat, that’s the main challenge, that’s how you avoid taking damage. And my new, PS4 Pro controller, with perfect working buttons, couldn’t pull off dodging on a trigger very well. So why was it set there in the first place? I made a custom alignment WAY later, and only realized then, that you can dodge endlessly. And my brain had to re-wire for the new button combinations I had to create in order to prevent handicaps.

    Okay, so, eventually, there is a way around, and a bad/missing tutorial isn’t the end of the world. We now enter the "open world" of Nier:Automata. Now we can go where we want, save, grind, do quests and well, after a while, I actually got really bored. There isn’t much variety. I have no idea why you can ride animals, or go fishing, other than showing it off as a feature at E3. There aren’t many secrets or any feeling of exploration, because you wont be driven by the need to explore, other than unlocking the map and collect loot. I hope this doesn’t sound too unfair. After all, there is no reason for this stuff to be in a game, if it’s not the main focus of the game.

    But then again, analyzing the combat, there wasn’t much to it as well. All you do is attacking with 2 buttons, while also trying to dodge attacks. And it wont change. And considering this the core of gameplay, it’s not even refined that well. I know, button mashers can be fun. But only if it’s not carrying the game by itself. Like, there needs to be stuff, that it is worth doing the repetitive button mashing for.

    CONCLUSION

    So, what keeps you motivated? At least for me, it’s not the side-quests, they are only there to extend your playing time, like so many times before. Unfortunately, some of them are given to you with a level you can’t, or shouldn’t solve them in. And given the fact you can’t save everywhere, this is more punishing than just dying.

    What’s next? Character building? The main interest here is probably messing with your POD. This can be fun, but is far from being something new, and hardly changes your behaviour during combat. It stays the same, old, uninspired button mashing for attacking and dodging.

    What’s left? Story and atmosphere. This is one of the better sides to N:A. The characters look gorgeous, the enemies are adorable and the story is deep and interesting. Since I’ve already stated, I’m here to critique, all I can add now is, to keep in mind, the story and characters are very "Japanese", and very taste-depending. So, if you’re not an alien to Anime, and the phrase "Philosophical Anime-Plot" makes you roll your eyes, because you know what that is, don’t expect that you’ll be super amazed, just because everyone else tells you to be.

    Now, to sum it all up, I think what I’m missing in this game is a certain level of quality and refinement, in at least some aspect. Yes, 2B looks awesome in combat, and I’m aware that she looks awesome in different ways as well, but I highly doubt developers spent 9/10 of their time to create the perfect butt and some cool looking fighting animations, other than that, I don’t see any aspect that stands out a lot, that excuses those big flaws for me.

    I think, this game could have become so much more, if more love and thought was put into the development process. Maybe it doesn’t fail at the writing of Yoko Taro, maybe not at the people who created the characters and their animations, but pretty much everyone else who probably ended up on the lower end of the budged. Right now, I see a lot of wasted potential. But again, many people seem to really love this game, which makes them oversee those issues. If you can feel this certain appeal, you probably will have fun.

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