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3 weeks agoI recently picked up Nier: Automata after having it suggested to me from some people whose opinions I trust. I try not to pay full price for games at launch, but this one intrigued me. It's a character action RPG, that I can only describe as Dark Souls meets Ninja Gaiden with a bit of Gradius or Raiden Trad thrown in for good measure. Third person action combat, scrolling shooter segments, character progression through level, gear, and ability upgrades, this game seemingly has everything I like.
I decided, as I do with most games that I play, to start on the Hard difficulty setting to see what it was like. Very few games, in my opinion, do difficulty settings well, so I like to experience what the developer has in mind for players who enjoy a challenging game. For an overwhelming majority of games the hard difficulty is poorly balanced and intended for pure masochists rather than someone looking for a challenge, and the normal difficulty is so mind numbingly easy that there's barely any challenge at all. As an example, I also recently started playing Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth, and the first random encounter did so much damage and tanked so many hits that I used up half of my initial healing items just to clear it. After switching to normal, I could blindly spam the attack command for the next few hours without worry. But, this isn't a review for that game.
Upon starting Nier on hard you get introduced to your protagonist via an edgy monologue, and an interactive cutscene in which your team of androids is flying towards their objective and encounters some enemy resistance along the way. This sequence is quite long, and is intended to slowly introduce you to the controls as you wipe out some weak enemies while teaching you a few fundamental concepts, such as the colour of an enemy's projectile dictating whether it can be destroyed with your ranged or melee attacks. The real fun begins when you reach your objective however, and the third person action begins. Not only do you get access to the pause menu where you can use items, check your equipment, etc, but the challenge really ramps up. You quickly need to learn how to dodge enemy attacks or you will die very fast, as enemies deal large chunks of your health bar with every attack, often killing you in three to four hits. If you do die you are sent back to the beginning of the prologue, and have to redo the entire opening sequence which you cannot skip even after seeing it once already.
This is when I really began to get excited. I started to get that Dark Souls feel all over again. Combat really matters. Dodging enemy attacks is crucial. You have a limited number of healing supplies, and you need to budget them in order to progress or you'll find yourself shit out of luck against even stronger enemies with no way to heal. Each time you die you feel like you've learned something, and the next time you try you can get a bit further with more resources remaining. It feels like you're gaining ground inch by inch, being forced to adapt to the game rather than simply experiencing it. "This is what a game should be!" I said aloud, even though my sister had grown tired of watching me struggle against the same enemies over and over, and had gone to do something else.
Well, that elation I felt didn't last very long. The problem with Nier: Automata's hard difficulty setting quickly becomes very apparent, as there are no checkpoints in the prologue. None. No Dark Souls-esque bonfires, no save points, nothing. If you die, you're dead, and you have to start from the very beginning with all of the edgy monologues, unskippable cutscenes and all the rest. Whoever made this decision is a pure sadist, as I have watched that intro cutscene at least ten times and even began quoting the characters, word for word, in an attempt to mock them and vent some of my frustration. And it gets worse. The first miniboss you fight does somewhere around 80% of your health in one attack, so you need to be at full health at all times or run the risk of death from an attack you didn't quite dodge. It's punishing, but there is that room for error, and you have the opportunity of learning the boss's attack patterns, and it's actually quite easy once you do learn them.
The fun doesn't stop there though, because that was just the miniboss. The real pain comes when you face the actual boss. This thing actually just one-shots you. There is so little margin for error that if you make a single mistake, you are dead. Back to the opening cutscene you go. Slog your way back through all the cutscenes, the enemies, the miniboss, all the platforming sequences and the scrolling shooter segments. Then, when you finally make your way back to the boss, you ultimately make another mistake and die again. It's so difficult to learn the boss's attack patterns because you are so heavily punished for the smallest mistake, and the form of punishment is just wasting your time. Once you've learned how to progress through the stage there's no other reason to do it anymore, since the enemies always come in the same patterns, use the same attacks, and are dispatched in the same ways. By the time I had given up on defeating the prologue on hard, I had already put almost three hours into the game. 90% of that time was spent redoing the same content that I had already mastered, often getting back to the boss without taking any damage, only to be killed by an attack that I hadn't seen before so could not properly deal with.
This is bad design. If you're designing a game that requires the player to adapt to the game's difficulty in order to succeed, the punishment for failure can't be this grueling. The developer was trying to be cute by giving you an optional ending for dying in the prologue, but at the very least there could have been a checkpoint halfway through, or right before the boss, or at least something. Some way to skip the content that was no longer engaging. Note that I'm not complaining about the fight itself, it's fine. You can clear the fight with the right timing on your dodges, with memorization of attack patterns, by learning the fight, but without any kind of checkpoint it becomes a chore to do so. Games aren't supposed to be work. Even when you have to put in effort, it should still be fun.
Well, after wasting three hours on the prologue, I switched the difficulty to normal and cleared it on the first try. Instead of being one-shot you can take upwards of 8 hits before needing to heal. Needless to say, it was very disappointing. I was "experiencing" the game, rather than conquering it. All the initial excitement I had felt was gone, all the challenge was absent. One day when I've burned the muscle memory into my brain I may do a hard playthrough, because I did enjoy that exhilaration, but I have better things to do with my time than replay the prologue for hours.
I guess the tl;dr version of this review is that the bonfire mechanics of Dark Souls is genius, and I really wish Nier: Automata would have done something like that. In fact it does something very much like the bloodstain mechanics of Dark Souls once you get past the prologue, and it works quite well. The prologue on the other hand can die in a fire.
"The prologue... can die in a fire." -Stann, on Nier: Automata and design in difficulty.
28 January 2017 - 09:52 AMI remember some people asking about Archael's Solo Archer videos. They weren't deleted, just de-listed. Here's a playlist of them all: https://www.youtube....BC99DFCF99E3B81
12 January 2017 - 11:16 PMhttps://www.twitch.tv/finamenon
He's been streaming 1.3 for a while now, and is in Ch4 right now. Unlike most newcomers to the mod, he's not a stubborn asshat about the mod, and likes to hear advice and criticism of his playstyle and team composition (As long as you're not handholding or backseating too hard.)
It's a pretty chill stream with decent production quality, so stop by if you're interested.