This week after 50 hours of playing NieR: Automata on PS4, I finally beat the game in its entirety. After traveling through three heart-wrenching "playthroughs" and experiencing countless success and failure, I found myself staring at the credits screen listening to the beautiful The Weight of the World. I knew this was a game I would recall long into the future, rising above the dozens of other powerful games that have arrived during the past year.
NieR: Automata is a brilliant JRPG. Traditionally that means it has no business having a PC version. But with the rising growth of the PC platform, PlatinumGames and Square Enix were compelled to deliver the best and brightest of the Drakengard series to the JRPG-hungry PC gamers of the world. The question is, did it invest enough time into the port's development to do the game justice?
You can read James Kozanitis' full review of the PS4 version here. This review will briefly touch on what NieR: Automata is before focusing on what makes the PC version different.
It isn't often that a game like NieR: Automata comes to PC. While there are plenty of multiplayer games to be found on the platform that you can spend hundreds of hours investing time into, there aren't too many options when it comes to single-player. Although Square Enix's efforts to bring its Final Fantasy games over to Steam has helped tremendously in this regard, their arrival several years later makes them more difficult to appreciate.
There's a good chance that NieR: Automata will go down in history as one of the best RPGs ever made. Unlike many games in the genre, it doesn't rely on any single element to carry the weight of the game.
On the gameplay front, it plays like a simplified PlatinumGames title, something along the lines of a toned down Bayonetta. Attacks feel great no matter which of the game's dozens of weapons you're using, and you have a great degree of control over how you control and tune your character. Made better, the game regularly uses perspective shifts to transform the game from a 3D hack and slash title into a 2D side-scroller, or even a top-down fixed shooter like Galaga. These transitions become one of the game's greatest assets during the lengthy journey as they mix the gameplay up in a healthy way; this is an RPG you will likely actually complete.
As great as the gameplay is, it's the story that makes NieR: Automata as memorable as it is. Featuring multiple endings to work toward and outstanding story development, the narrative here is thought provoking and keeps you guessing about what will happen next. Director Yoko Taro's famous style is here in its full glory, presenting a machine-dominated world that is distinct in personality and unpredictable. You might come for the gameplay and progression, but you'll likely stay for the story long after you've completed your first playthrough.
There are a fair number of Settings to tinker with in the PC version of NieR: Automata, which is surprising given the limited experience of PlatinumGames on the platform. Included are sliders and toggles for texture filtering, blur, shadows, effects, and ambient occlusion. Each of these make a noticeable impact on the visual fidelity of the game, allowing it to scale downward for use on multi-year old GPUs (the GeForce GTX 770 is regarded as the minimum). Meanwhile, those with more powerful rigs can push it beyond what even the previously dominant PS4 Pro version is capable of.
Resolution support is the biggest win for PC fans, with 4K and ultrawide being available. Our testing was performed at 1440p with great results. The increased pixel count when compared to the console (900p on PS4 or 1080p on PS4 Pro) results in a clearer image that helps kill off many of the abrasive jaggies that appear through the game's environments. With less flickering and sharper edges on the vast number of projectiles that are flung in your direction, this is without a doubt the best version of the title provided you have the hardware to run it.
The biggest shortcoming here is the lack of support for anti-aliasing methods outside of MSAA. There isn't much to play around with in the settings, resulting in a small number of toggles to interact with if you find your performance straying from where you want it to be.. At the very least the multiplier can be scaled all the way up to 8x giving the PC version an edge over the PS4 Pro's delivery even when played at 1080p.
Graphics and Music
NieR: Automata has a lot of great qualities, but graphics aren't one of them. The game world features a drab tone that is the opposite of colorful, a drastic deviation from many other games released during the past few months. Instead, it is more akin to a post-apocalyptic world like Fallout 4 where the vibe is muted and at times plain-looking. You could argue that this is by design, as its narrative is cataclysmic in nature, but what's here isn't attractive in any sense of the term.
As with the PS4 version, there's a softness to the visual design. Textures can be mildly blurry, which is made up for the most part by the fast-pacing of the game and its beautiful character models. Maxing out the settings on PC does help to a minor degree, particularly when you play at a high resolution.
It is likely that mods and the employment of SweetFX will do great things for NieR: Automata's PC version over time. At present, nothing of this sort was available for testing. At the very least, there is potential here hidden behind a wall of bland textures.
Although the visual quality won't impress most players, making this a bad choice for PC gamers who prioritize graphics, the soundtrack has been delivered in the same form as with its PS4 version. Although audio isn't usually something that makes or breaks a game, in this case it could very well contribute to a positive experience, making it worth mentioning. The acoustic experience in NieR: Automata can contend with the best that gaming has ever had to offer. For many this will make up for the underwhelming graphics to a certain degree.
Performance and Controls
PlatinumGames has done a great job in regards to performance. On our test rig equipped with a stock i5 3570, 8GB of RAM, and a GTX 1080, the game was able to remain at 60 FPS through several hours of playing at 1440p resolution, even during high intensity sections with a large population of effects present.
On the PS4 version we experienced frame drops and pacing issues every now and again that were noticeable given the high intensity of the gameplay. This simply wasn't the case on the PC version.
As with the PS4 version, gameplay is capped at 60 FPS, although the pre-rendered cutscenes are locked at 30 FPS. Transitions between these two perspectives are often, and early on can be mildly jarring.
On a final note, NieR: Automata's gamepad support is great. We played using an Xbox One controller and it felt identical to playing on PS4. Though, we did try keyboard and mouse and it was a mess; make sure you have a controller handy if you decide to buy this game on PC.
PlatinumGames might most be known for its console exclusive titles, but when it chooses to port to PC it always does so in superb fashion. Just like Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance before it, NieR: Automata's PC version is well-executed with enough options to provide a moderate amount of scaling. Its inclusion of 1440p, 4K, and ultrawide support along with a 60 FPS lock and 8X MSAA makes this the definitive version of the game.
And what a game NieR: Automata is. This is one of the best single-player RPGs to ever embrace PC, delivering a long-lasting adventure that entertains with its exciting gameplay while piercing the senses with the story it has to tell. Arriving just days after its console version, it serves as an example that the PC platform hasn't been forgotten.