Nier: Automata Review – This Is The End

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Developer: Platinum Games
Publisher: Square Enix
Format: PC, PS4 (reviewed)
Released: March 7, 2017
Copy provided by publisher

Nier: Automata is a piece of art that could only effectively exist as a videogame.

Like previous installments in the shared Nier and Drakengard series, Automata meddles with genre and utilizes the unique interactivity of videogames as a medium to craft an expanding story that cannot be appreciated or fully comprehended upon merely concluding the campaign.

In fact, to “beat” Nier: Automata once is to merely begin it.

There are 26 endings, five of which are mandatory when grasping the full scope of the story. If that sounds like a lot of time spent replaying a game, you’d be wrong – Automata goes beyond simply repeating itself with extra features. Subsequent playthroughs of Automata change things in ways I simply wouldn’t want to describe for fear of ruination.

As android 2B and her allies battle the machine lifeforms that have driven humanity to the Moon, players will uncover a dense plot full of twists and conspiracies, a world with thousands of years of considered history, and characters whose suffering is beyond heartbreaking.

Digging underneath some hammy dialog and awkward fanservice reveals a surprisingly sensitive production, a provocative piece of existentialist storytelling that does more than simply ask questions about life’s meaning and the nature of humanity.

Rather than simply spouting Nietzsche to look clever (though it does that too), Automata digs into the dark implications of self-awareness in a universe categorically proven to hold no meaning for those both fortunate and tragic enough to gain sapience. Many games play at examining “the human condition” but Nier does the legwork required to turn that examination into a meaningful, heartfelt endeavor.

Automata doesn’t just ask the questions and act smug in the afterglow of philosophical posturing. It puts on the gloves and goes elbow deep into the uncomfortable answers.

True to the prior work of director Yoko Taro, this is a sorrowful experience, a game concerned with pain and trauma that has no intention of letting its players look away from the horror. Nevertheless, it’s a witty little beast as well, using humor and ingenuous breaks of the fourth wall to temper an otherwise overwhelming despair with bittersweet comedy and a cast of adorable characters.

Like its predecessor, Nier: Automata is an action-RPG with a sprawling hub map and branching dungeons akin to most classic Zelda games. However, while the first Nier (or should that be Niers?) featured a sluggish combat system that frustrated its otherwise intriguing narrative, Platinum Games has stepped in to craft a fast, fluid, intensely overdramatic approach to battle.

2B glides around the arena, utilizing two sets of dual weapons that can be mix-and-matched to create visually stunning combos. From swords to spears to gauntlets and more, there are many weapons to uncover and equipping them in different pairs can significantly change the attacks 2B is capable of.

Her enemies come in all shapes and sizes, though the machine lifeforms almost always resemble disarmingly cute wind-up toys that risk stealing the show from any of the main protagonists. Even the smallest, clunkiest little robot is an utter darling to the point where killing them in the hundreds feels increasingly cruel – and this is a Yoko Taro game, so you know it is… for reasons that will subvert your expectations regardless.

As has become standard for Platinum, battles are heavily focused on dodging enemy attacks and answering with quick strikes. The machines telegraph their moves quite clearly, though the speed with which they swipe can still take an unprepared player by surprise. Perfect dodges allow for brutal counterattacks, and evasion is quite forgiving, so rarely will one not feel exhilarated in the swift and brutal fights on offer.

Also, being a Nier game, prepare for bullet-hell sequences. Lots of ones. Lots of ones that are thrilling as hell.

Death is an inconvenient thing for an android, but it’s not the end of the world. Dying in Automata will see the player spawn at the nearest unlocked terminal (essentially save points and later, blessedly, fast-travel locations) albeit without any of their upgrades. Fortunately, Nier is one of the many games to have riffed on Dark Souls‘ death mechanics, leaving the player’s previous body in place so those important upgrade chips can be recovered.

Upgrading is, itself, an experience the player can lose a lot of time to.

As well as leveling up traditionally through battle, 2B can be enhanced with plug-in chips that offer a range of benefits. From damage boosters to HP extensions, fairly obligatory upgrades are joined by some powerful alternative skills – chances to reflect damage taken back on the enemy, regenerating health, and even one upgrade that simply lets robots scream in pain after dying a certain way.

Almost all of these chips can be fused with identical ones, increasing their level and making them more powerful. Investing money in fusing chips can create Godlike results but it’s all gone if the player dies and fails to recover the body. Recovery isn’t difficult – I’ve never lost a corpse yet – but it can be annoying the find the charred, hard-to-spot body on the ground even with a map marker helping.

Equipping chips is a further challenge. Even if players buy enough equipment slots to max out their storage (which doesn’t take long), there won’t be enough space to hold all the upgrades you want. Being physical chips, they get bigger as they’re fused together, meaning that if you desire the upgrade granting a 50% heal for every enemy defeated, you’ll be giving up massive real estate that could be used for other abilities.

In that case though, it’s really quite worth it, and Nier thankfully offers multiple loadout slots so you can experiment with alternative setups and switch them on the fly. I do wish switching loadouts was more convenient than dicking around in the menus though, for reasons that wouldn’t be obvious unless you’re on your third play.

Oh, and things like the mini-map, the experience meter, and other HUD elements? They’re plug-in chips too, and can be taken out if you like. You can also take out your OS chip… the thing keeping you alive. Because Nier.

Nier loves to fiddle around with genres and will often change perspectives throughout the course of a dungeon, adding top-down combat sequences and sidescrolling platforming to the typical third-person action. Additionally, minor text-based scenes harking back to the original Nier are present while an entire hacking minigame that becomes a crucial part of the experience is represented as its own full-fledged twin-stick shooter.

Drawing inspiration from the likes of Metal Gear Solid, there are many times when the interface will be screwed with, or gameplay interrupted entirely for unexpected surprises. This becomes more evident as Automata expands and is used to great effect in keeping multiple playthroughs fresh.

Like other games in the series, Automata does have a bit of a problem with not knowing when to let a thing go. The hacking schtick grows tedious over time, especially some of the more involved, maze-like segments seen in later stages, while a number of smart ideas are reused to the point of not being all that smart anymore.

Furthermore, the story has its slow points and some inconsistent characterization that detracts from the overall writing. 2B and her partner 9S have interchanging attitudes about the machine lifeforms they’re designed to kill, especially the ones that seem to have broken their programming and are less interested in fighting. Sometimes 2B sympathizes with them, sometimes 9S does, and both of them are prone to feeling nothing but contempt and disregard for the same characters they’re simultaneously aiding or consoling.

A handful of these inconsistencies are addressed later, and some confusion can be handwaved away by the very nature of the characters and their erratic sense of self-awareness. However, a significant portion of the characterization is just plain muddled, and the constant theme of “machines are unfeeling… or ARE THEY?” becomes too heavy a sledgehammer to take seriously before the ultimate conclusion.

These missteps stop Nier‘s story from being all it could be, but it remains a remarkable accomplishment regardless. From the denizens of Pascal’s robot village to the jerkass cynicism of the defecting android A2, there are so many characters to love and pity in equal measure, so many genuinely shocking moments, so much angst that actually works instead of just being mopey garbage, that it’s hard not to be in love with the whole bittersweet tale.

Automata‘s world is not hugely open, but it becomes progressively packed with sidequests and secrets as the game ends and the adventure continues. In truth, players may get sick of seeing the same old environments, and some of the most stunning areas lose their effect after being visited so many times, but the conservative use of space breeds a familiarity that Nier knows how to disrupt for maximum shock value.

Like Resident Evil or Beneath a Steel Sky, the weakness in reusing relatively restricted space is also a strength. It’s hard to forget Nier‘s world because one spends so much time in certain locations they begin to feel almost like home in a desolate, apocalyptic way.

However, sending players back to the amusement park time and again was a massive mistake. Discovering it for the first time was incredible for both its visual weirdness and jawdropping music – each subsequent revisit diluted the effect until it became just another gameplay area.

You can ride boars and mooses in this game, by the way. Just wanted to make sure it was clear that’s a thing this game lets you do.

Nier lets you do a lot, including ending your game in a variety of undignified and funny ways. Those endings in addition to the five core ones are almost all jokes, unconventional “game over” states that are often triggered in unexpected ways and come with their own sped-up credit sequences. Abandoning missions, playing around with an android’s built-in self-destruct program, there are many ways to screw up, and the game accounts for them with a pithy epilogue.

Those less lighthearted routes through the game, however, showcase some of the best game design to come out of Japan. As I said, this could only work as a videogame – the ways in which audience expectations are defied through interactive sequences and the very concept of the popular “New Game Plus” feature are nothing short of astounding.

And the music, good God in Heaven the music. As far as soundtracks go, there are few as integral to the tone of a game than this. Each piece of music is beautiful and regularly insinuated into gameplay itself to make it just important to the experience as everything else. Visually, the game suffers from the same washed out colors that plague this series, but character design is fantastic and trumps the fact it’s less graphically polished than many other recently released titles.

If you are so inclined to play Automata, I urge you to at least play it three times. It’s a shame one has to invariably spoil a portion of the surprise when describing just how clever Automata is, but it’s important one does so. The game itself doesn’t do the best job in convincing its audience to play again – I was compelled by word-of-mouth, and I have to pay that word forward.

You need to know how important it is to play Nier more than once.

Nier itself is important. It is, as far as I’m concerned, historically significant in terms of its design and the way in which it uses the framework of a videogame to tell an evolving story. If I had my way, every budding game developer would play this game to the point of acquiring endings A, B, C, D, and E before acquiescing to its final and alarmingly direct request.

Few games are able to showcase the power of the medium like Nier: Automata.

If history forgets this game, then fuck history.

9/10
Superb

SilentPony
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SilentPony
Anton
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Anton

Oh man, that is the best review comment GIF.

SilentPony
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SilentPony

It’s going to be seeing a lot of use

InfamousDS
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InfamousDS

If only we could time-travel, it would have been golden during the height of the backlash.

Gorantharon
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Gorantharon

During the height the site was mostly down anyway.

InfamousDS
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InfamousDS

I don’t consider the height to be the media coverage and the wave of new faces that accompanied it. I consider it the day the review went live, as that was when it was at its largest impact for regulars.

Well over 2400 comments on the review in 1 day, whereas only about 2000 combined for several days were posted after the site went live again.

Jamesworkshop
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Jamesworkshop
Leah
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Leah

It frankly disgusts me that Jim refuses to accept the will of the people, who clearly want him to transition fully to porn parody reviews.

Zippydsmlee
Guest

Also better than BOTW(sorry its obligatory, the only way I can stand MO/OB degradation is to mod it and make things last more than 5 minutes, would have liked a deeper degradation system than everything is a stick that breaks if you look at it long enough)

Jamesworkshop
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Jamesworkshop

OMG guys! it’s 5.3% worse than HZD!

cue meltdown

GMBigKev
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Sounds great. I shall purchase it soon. Anyone try the PC version yet and know if it’s optimized correctly?

Daniel Rubel
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Daniel Rubel

Totalbiscuit did a port-report check it out.

Rohaq
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Rohaq

There have been a bunch of people complaining on reddit about the latest NVIDIA driver not fixing issues, but I haven’t heard of any specific issues.

Anton
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Anton

General impression is, its visuals don’t really justify how much GFX power it needs to run at a locked 60 (also, the game does not allow you to go above 60fps). The scalability isn’t quite where it should be, so if your hardware is not powerful enough, lowering settings will not get you as far as it should. Also a few bugs for a small group of people, like the game rendering in sub-native resolution when in fullscreen.

Basically, be wary if you have weak-to-midrange hardware, but all is fine if you have a powerful rig.

Sapphire Crook
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Sapphire Crook

This game is better than Zelda *AND* Uncharted 4?
Jim, good sir, how much did Atari pay you to shill to their console?

Jinx 01
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Jinx 01

Pac-Man 10/10 GOTY

jayjay
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jayjay

Great review
I can’t wait for jim’s game of the year list. It’s going to be crazy.

Mister Sterling
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Mister Sterling

Bravo! Another great game in the the first quarter of 2017.

professorrev
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professorrev

Urghhh, my bank account is throbbing but I might have to get this. Quick question though, how long did it take to get all of the endings? I’m trying to work out if I can fit it in between now and Persona 5

Nathan Aldana
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Nathan Aldana

seems to depend on how many suidequests you wanna do. its taken me only as weekend personally to get to the ending c route.

RoanarTheFruitiful
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RoanarTheFruitiful

Judging by how many stellar and varied games have released this year so far it’s hard to determine what GOTY will be IMO.

Or especially in certain categories.

I’m just glad that there are so many games worth purchasing

HeavenAndHell
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HeavenAndHell

Best new IP: Horizon: Zero Dawn
Best Action-Adventure game: BoTW
Best RPG: Persona 5
Best Action-RPG: Nier: Automata
Most disappointing RPG: Mass Effect: Andromeda
There! I answered your question XD!

Jamesworkshop
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Jamesworkshop

I have to say, i’m quite surprised, I’d written this off in my head as being a mindless DMC type affair. Playing the PS4 demo really wasn’t a good sell.

Dave Dogge
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Dave Dogge

The Templar Knights of Zelda are mounting their horses, they have their lances at the ready….. wait a minute they’re off to Game Stop to buy this game..

Jamesworkshop
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Jamesworkshop
Fallen Prime
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Fallen Prime

WE win. Because we got to bear witness.

InfamousDS
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InfamousDS

For we are both shiny and chrome.

Sam Geuvenen
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Sam Geuvenen

Platinum doing fantastic again, huh? Teaming them up with Yoko Taro was a brilliant idea, and I’m glad to see that turned out well

Jake Wilson
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Jake Wilson

For some reason you added an extra word in that sentence…”again.”

Fallen Prime
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Fallen Prime

I dunno, after Transformers Devastation and the Bayonetta games (at minimum), I think it’s earned the “again.”

Sam Geuvenen
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Sam Geuvenen

Their track record includes Madworld, Metal Gear Rising, Anarchy Reigns, and Bayonetta. It’s pretty damn consistent as high quality, albeit with a trio of weaker licensed titles lately.

Jake Wilson
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Jake Wilson

Metal Gear Rising was awful, Bayonetta was boring, the music was hideous and it was also their first and foremost attempt at ripping off DMC which they have been doubling down on lately. Vanquish is perhaps the most over-rated game of all time. Mad World and Anarchy Reigns I have not played, they do look great…but of the games I have played I would say Platinum is of a consistently low quality, especially when it comes to story and I have no idea why they are so renowned.

Sam Geuvenen
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Sam Geuvenen
I would strongly disagree with your diagnosis of Metal Gear Rising, it was among the most satisfying sword-based action games I’ve ever played due to the visual feedback and inclusion of features like Blade Mode. Bayonetta ripped off Devil May Cry? It’s not like they have the same creator or anything. Oh wait… Considering how Hideki Kamiya also directed the likes of Okami, it would seem like this is his general style. I have mixed opinions on Vanquish, but I think it’s at least decent. Aside from being one of the most aesthetically brilliant games ever, Madworld was a stellar… Read more »
Jake Wilson
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Jake Wilson
Kamiya was butthurt that he wasn’t asked back to direct DMC2 so has seemingly been trying to create the next DMC ever since. Vanquish is not decent, it’s short, has clunky animations that don’t connect well with the environments (pretty important for a cover shooter.) It has one of those cheesy Japanese game stories that seem cool on the surface but when you try and figure out what is actually going on it just makes zero sense. It is so insanely flawed yet lauded as one of the best action games of all time…because Platinum. MGRising ruins the character of… Read more »
Sam Geuvenen
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Sam Geuvenen
The deal with Kamiya is that this seems to be what he’s good at, better to focus on what you can do well than experiment with what you can’t. I personally thought Vanquish was okay, nothing to really write home about. Metal Gear Rising is an interesting case, especially from a story perspective. It had its highlights (Senator Armstrong in particular was fantastic) and its problems (I have mixed feelings about the whole “Jack the Ripper” thing), so I feel like it ultimately ought to take a backseat to the gameplay. In that case, I found Blade Mode a good… Read more »
Robert Johnson
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Robert Johnson

To many video games to play, maybe this weekend I will finally play Nier, or at least take it out of the wrapper. I can’t remember the last time I had such a large back log of games I need to play in a long time.

anime suki
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anime suki

That feel when you’ve been a Drakengard/Nier fan for almost a decade and when your favourite director and series finally starts getting the love and respect they deserve.
Manly tears.

For once, I’m actually happy that Square Enix recognized the talent they had not based on fucking sales numbers and gave Yoko Taro an actual fucking chance to showcase his skill alongside Platinum.

NateDizzy
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NateDizzy

Seriously. How the fuck did Automata get a green light? Yoko Taro must have some influential friends at Squeenix, because after Drakengard 3, I was pretty sure that was going to be the last time I played one of his games.

HowlJenkins
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HowlJenkins

If I understand correctly, apparently Yosuke Saito (an exec producer for Dragon Quest) pretty much told Square that he refused to work on any more Dragon Quest until they gave him another chance to work on an original Yoko Taro title.

Of course, that isn’t the only thing that lead to its development, but it sounds pretty important to its overall timeline.

Cameron Ward
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Cameron Ward

I REALLY loved Nier Automata…like man I loved it

Nikita Kress
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Nikita Kress

I thought I will enjoy it at best. I didn’t know that it will be so good, that it will become my favorite game of all time.

SirAngry
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SirAngry

Better than Zelda????

No way, must be paid for review… grrrr… angry rant using all of my impotent rage!!!

I actually really quite enjoyed Nier, a very, very pleasant surprise.

Ciaran
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Ciaran

This is the first game in years that has made me cry. I really loved it.

Edjosthe
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Edjosthe

This.

irfanf (IrfanF)
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irfanf (IrfanF)

Did you “help others”?

Jim Sterling
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I did.

anime suki
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anime suki

Good guy Jim. But how many times did you die though?

I liked how Square Enix was literally the biggest bullshit ‘boss’ of the sequence.

peotraxanas
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peotraxanas

“S*** Square Enix” is making a lot more sense now

jomb234
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jomb234

I have to ask, is it at all important to play the first Nier game to understand this one, or is this a story that completely stands on its own?

DarknessTear
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DarknessTear

You don’t have to play Nier. It may add a tiny bit to seeing some familiar characters but that’s about it.

jomb234
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jomb234

awesome, thanks, might pick this up sometime between now and whenever I get my hands on a Switch.

Jim Sterling
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I’ve forgotten almost everything about Nier in the years since it came out. Aside from some old characters and references, there’s not much though. The story stands alone, being set thousands of years away from anything in Nier or Drakengard.

DarknessTear
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DarknessTear

This game left an impression on me, just like the first. Yoko Taro got to make the game he wanted with an amazing studio. I hope we get more someday. Automata has haunted me for days after completing the true ending. I really want to go back, hoping the DLC brings something interesting to the table.

Chuster M. Merino
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Chuster M. Merino

Ok, now I gotta get Papa NieR first, then play trough Plati NieR later… thanks for letting know the world this game is worth getting.

RoanarTheFruitiful
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RoanarTheFruitiful

I’m in a difficult situation. Do I buy this or Mass Effect first?!

Anton
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Anton

This. Mass Effect needs at least 3 months’ worth of bug fixes… if all the negative reviews don’t dissuade you first.

SirAngry
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SirAngry

yes, yes it does.

RoanarTheFruitiful
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RoanarTheFruitiful

Thanks for the advice! 🙂

Rachel McVeigh
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Rachel McVeigh

The reviews aren’t negative, they are good, just not 9’s. People seem to enjoy it, even if it does have some technical issues.

Unless you think Jim’s 7 for breath of the wild was negative, in which case carry on.

Anton
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Anton

I guess. Honestly I was more impacted by the written texts than the numbers, and the written texts seemed pretty negative to me.

Rachel McVeigh
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Rachel McVeigh

It’s weird how different people can pick up different things. I thought the text seemed mostly positive with caveats about some issues.

Anton
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Anton

Personal priorities, I guess. Also, I think I’m looking at it more cynically than many, because I am so incredibly sick of recent sequels that are clearly inferior to their predecessors, but still skating by on just being “good enough”; MGS5, Fallout 4, Halo 4&5, and Gears of War 4 all come to mind. MEA seems to be just like those games – not as good as the originals, but the shooting is fun, so why the fuck not?

Rachel McVeigh
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Rachel McVeigh
I get that, I was disappointed in Fallout 4, it really wanted you to build and look after settlements, which I wasn’t interested in and while it’s melee combat was great, it’s gun combat was not. (I didn’t play your other examples) MEA was always going to have issues though. We spent three games with the same characters & protagonist, MEA doesn’t have that same history. I thought ME1 was a decent game when I first played it, but not great, it was playing ME2 that made me appreciate the beginning that was ME1, seeing how my ME1 decisions were… Read more »
darksteel6
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darksteel6

the game was actually not developed by Bioware.

darksteel6
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darksteel6

I think those were all genuinely good games. I don’t think it’s “skating by” that makes no real sense

Chris Somethingson
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I bought this day one, as I knew that it’d be near impossible to acquire any other day. It’s on my pile of stuff I really want to play, but I need to finish Breath of the Wild and both write a review for it and finish my horizon Zero Dawn one, as well as loads of other stuff.
But, I feel almost like skipping Breath of the Wild and just going full deep into Automata and then getting ready for Persona 5.

ChangingFMH
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ChangingFMH

You know giving this a higher rating than Zelda will cause a shitshow, right?

Jim Sterling
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Doubtful. Most of those were drive-by idiots shitposting bussing in from subreddits and forums. I doubt they were ever actual readers.

This isn’t like other game blogs. Most of the audience is here for a specific reason and the shitshows are usually the result of outside brigadeers.

Gareth Andrew Case
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Gareth Andrew Case

Can attest. An older site i wrote for gave Killzone 2 on PS3 a 7/10 once. Massive outcry one day that was gone a week after the game launched.

I still find it hilarious how noone finds Killzone 2 to be a paragon of gaming virtue these days.

Anton
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Anton

I think it’s underappreciated. There’s a nice sense of weight to that game that’s not present in most shooters, and the combat is delightfully visceral.

Also, the Helghast are some of the coolest-designed enemies you will ever fight.

Watchmedance
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Watchmedance

I agree with you on the Helghast being great enemies, but while the series is good, it isn’t great.

Loved the first game though!

Anton
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Anton

That’s funny, I hated the first entry. I’m surprised I even got through it; although, back when I played it, I had a lot more free time and tended to finish every game on principle.

You’re right, though, the series never quite ascended to greatness, which is a shame.

Watchmedance
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Watchmedance

I think they tried too hard to portray it as a Halo-killer, but didn’t do much to set it apart from the other gritty shooters on the market.

darksteel6
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darksteel6

Yeah, then Free Radical tried to do the same thing with Haze.

darksteel6
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darksteel6

I have to finish games(by “finish” I mean get to the end credits, don’t always have to get 100%) myself, if I don’t it’s going to bug the crap out of me, the only times I won’t finish a game as it’s too bad or boring for me to justify playing through it anymore, so far that’s only happened with two games-Takedown Red Sabre and Hatred, the former was godawful, the latter was just really boring and repetitive.

Teh_Akod
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Teh_Akod

I played the first Killzone back in PS2 and didn’t find it that good. Did the games got better overtime?

Anton
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Anton

2 and 3 are a lot of fun. SF is pretty meh, despite being graphically gorgeous.

1 was a dumpster fire.

darksteel6
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darksteel6

1 was OK, I had a blast with Shadow Fall, though the ending could’ve been better

Gareth Andrew Case
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Gareth Andrew Case

The main reason that this happened was down to Killzone 2 being the answer to Halo 3 back in the day. PS3 fans seriously wanted a FPS juggernaut of their own. To the point of militancy.

darksteel6
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darksteel6

Yeah the games got better once Guerilla stopped being obsessed with making a “Halo-killer”(Which is what they called the first game).

InfamousDS
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InfamousDS

But if we are being perfectly honest, some of the drive-bys may not have been here to shit-post, but to see what the big deal was. And in that case they may have become readers since their default opinion wasn’t “Jim is a shithead because Zelda”.

Only one question comes to mind once the new theory is considered: CLICKBAIT??!!!
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.
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No, not at all.

DarknessTear
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DarknessTear

I don’t see why.

Chuster M. Merino
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Chuster M. Merino

So?

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