Final Fantasy XIV is, in many ways, the thinking person’s MMORPG. The closest most MMOs come to making a political statement is asking whether you want to play as the red ones or the blue ones. By contrast the most recent FFXIV expansion, Shadowbringers, presented an actually coherent metaphor for climate change, introducing a world where different communities reacted to impending disaster with a variety of very human reactions, from willful ignorance to frothing rage.
With that in mind, FFXIV is probably the best possible choice for a MMO crossover with Nier: Automata, a game which somehow satisfied both those looking for a compelling, deeply political, and well-told emotional narrative, and those looking for shameless anime cheesecake. Granted, the latter group often seemed to miss the finer points, but regardless: Nier: Automata was quite easily one of the finest gaming experiences of the last decade (don’t @ us. Actually, do, it’s good for engagement).
For this ambitious crossover of Square Enix properties, Nier series creatives Yoko Taro and Yosuke Saito acted as guest developers for the YorHa: Dark Apocalypse content, helping to create an all new four-boss raid, a variety of Nier-inspired gear sets, and a unique questline to introduce the content.
If you’re hoping for a story that furthers the themes and events of Nier: Automata itself, perhaps capturing some of that deep melancholic angst that made the game so compelling, you might be disappointed.
The content is almost entirely standalone, with only cursory narrative threads leading in and out to reduce the bizarre whiplash of encountering characters from a completely different game.
However, this isn’t to denigrate the actual content on offer here, because it’s wonderful. Given the restrictions and challenges of a crossover of this nature, it’s genuinely impressive how accurately the raid captures the gameplay feel and atmosphere of the original Nier: Automata. The environments have the same haunting, decrepit beauty, the music is a lovely mix of songs from Nier and remixes that make use of the lush orchestral theming of the FFXIV soundtrack, and the boss fights go a long way towards capturing the fast-paced, bullet hell-style combat from the original game.
The raid is the star of the show in this new content update. There’s a short questline that leads to it, but it’s more of an elaborate in-fiction justification. Once you’re in, you navigate a series of metal catwalks, descending deep into a factory full of machine lifeforms. The first boss, the Serial-Jointed Command Model, is something of an introduction to those aforementioned bullet-hell-esque mechanics that intensify as the raid continues. It calls down airstrikes, summons robots with laser-beams, and swings its oversized arms like a centrifuge.
The second boss, a GLaDOS-like machine with a similarly aggressive attitude towards scientific testing, divides the raid into three, and subjects each group to a bevy of stress tests. Some tank minibosses test the party between big boss brawls, a pleasant warm-up to a showdown with Engels, the titanic Goliath-class machine. Like in the original Nier: Automata, he battles using vast industrial saws, flamethrowers and missile launchers.
Once he’s defeated, it’s time for a final confrontation with a rather familiar face. We won’t spoil it, but this character uses a blend of YorHa and machine technology and subjects the party to a veritable smorgasbord of AOEs, bullet-hell bombardments, laser blasts, and even some return appearances from previous bosses Engels and Serial-jointed robots.
If you’re a Nier: Automata fan, it’s probably not worth levelling a character for the first time just for this. It’s a fun piece of content that’s surprisingly well crafted, but it doesn’t offer any real developments for the Nier franchise. But if you’re a FFXIV player, you should absolutely play this raid. It’s characterful, atmospheric, and pleasantly challenging.