The original NieR was one that seemed impossible to ever get a sequel to, with it’s niche design and lukewarm reception seeming to spell the end for the Drakengard spin-off. However, here we are seven years later with a continuation, with director Yoko Taro teaming up with PlatinumGames to give the series a rebirth. It turned out to be one of the best team-ups imaginable, as the finished product eclipses the original in every way and ends up being a game with substantially higher appeal.
Despite being a sequel to a spin-off of another series entirely, newcomers will be happy to know that none of the previous games are required to enjoy Automata. Long story short, aliens invaded Earth long ago and used machines to obliterate humanity, forcing the few remaining forces of humanity to flee to the Moon. Despite being nearly decimated, humanity builds orbital stations on the Moon to send androids called YoRHa back to Earth to try and take it back from the aliens and their machines.
2B is one of the YoRHa, who is the protagonist of the game and is essentially tasked with taking on the endless hoards of machines on Earth with the slimmest of chances of success. While she is a woman of few words, she is accompanied by her more silly and talkative companion 9S, who serves as a nice contrasts to 2B’s personality. The two of them battle together to complete their mission, but in typical NieR fashion there is much more than meets the eye. The narrative presented here is consistently engaging and surprising, keeping you guessing and impressed by just how much creativity is on display here. It doesn’t even end when you originally think it has, offering multiple endings from different playthroughs that pack even more surprises.
The game’s world is beautifully designed even though it’s set entirely in a post-apocalyptic Earth, with city ruins, deep caverns and the strange homes that the machines have built populating it. It’s set in a large open world with plenty to see, and often warrants just taking in the sights between missions. Animals like moose and boar roam the demolished lands, and can even be ridden by 2B to get around faster. Fast travel is also an option, which is done by way of the game’s all-important Access Points. It all looks great, though there is some occasional micro-stuttering that can happen when 2B starts moving fast during travel. These issues are minor, however, and do not impact the more vital areas of the game like combat.
NieR: Automata’s unique world is one that is easy to get sucked into
It doesn’t take long before you realize that this isn’t just another action game from PlatinumGames, but a full-on RPG experience. Exploration is a big part of the game’s formula, but it’s made important by the numerous side-quests that you’ll encounter along the way. Many of these optional quests are by no means filler, and instead flesh out the game’s world further and offer some great and dramatic (or goofy) stories of their own. They result in you wanting to seek out everything that the game’s large world has to offer, making it easy to get wrapped up in non-essential tasks while you forget about the main story.
One of the strangest things about this game is that it doesn’t feature an auto-save feature, which is something that it humorously lets you know multiple times. All saving is done through the game’s Access Points, which are scattered throughout the game’s world and allow you to save when you’re within range of them. While there are many of them, there will still be stretches where they’ll be absent entirely during some particularly challenging segments. This means that death in battle will typically send you back to the last Access Point, resulting in you potentially having to do large chunks of gameplay over. While this adds an old-school level of challenge to the game, it does get annoying at times.
This is smoothed out some by the way that the game handles death, as it actually takes some cues from the Souls series while putting its own spin on it. When you die your memories are downloaded into a new body, and you have the ability to go and find your old body wherever you were killed. You then have the ability to either retrieve it to gain temporary stat buffs, or you can repair it to cause it to follow and assist you in battle. It’s a great twist on the aforementioned formula, and the bodies of other players can be found throughout the world that function similarly if you’re connected to the internet.
The action-packed narrative is matched by its fast-paced combat, with PlatinumGames offering up their best system here since Bayonetta 2. It’s lightning-fast and very responsive, and has a decent amount of depth considering the genre. You can switch between melee weapon sets on the fly, shoot enemies at the same time with your floating robots called Pods, all while swiftly dodging the onslaught of attacks coming at you. Each encounter feels like you have to put your best foot forward to come out of it alive, utilizing all of the game’s combat tricks in the process. Death can come very quickly in any particular combat situation, which keeps things intense throughout.
These challenging enemy encounters are only the warm-ups for the boss fights, which are a serious force to be reckoned with. There are usually several different attacks that you need to learn the patterns of to be able to avoid taking damage, and they’ll also summon swarms of enemies to make life worse for you. One tactic that many of these bosses employ is firing a barrage of orbs at you in the midst of battle, which you’ll need to dodge or shoot in a hectic shoot-em-up fashion. Other bosses will learn your preferred methods of attack and counter them with powerful blows if you rely on them too much, forcing you to regularly switch up your tactics on the fly.
NieR also shakes things up by regularly switching the style of gameplay that you’re currently taking part in. While you’ll normally be playing the game in a third-person perspective, the game will also switch to an overhead or a side-scrolling perspective to introduce gameplay scenarios that are very different from the default setup. Sometimes it feels like you’re playing a top-down shooter as you’re spinning around and shooting enemies when the overhead perspective comes into play, whereas flashes of classic 2D side-scrollers get a nod when things shift to the side view. It’s all handled in a way that makes it feel like the developers are trying to make every step of this game exhilarating, and they pulled that off perfectly.
Fantastic combat mixed with deep RPG systems make gameplay endlessly enjoyable
While action is what PlatinumGames does best, there’s actually a lot more depth here than you would normally expect from them due to the series we’re dealing with. There are some pretty deep RPG elements to sink your teeth into, as your character will level up and obtain new weapons while being upgraded with an in-depth chip system. Chips can be used to improve traditional things like attack and defense, while also allowing you to build a character to your liking with perks that suit particular playstyles. Progressing through the game results in you being able to equip more and more of these chips, which then expands your customization options further. Those who just want to jump in and smash things will be fine without spending too much time in menus, but those looking for more of that RPG depth will not be disappointed.
The original NieR was known for packing a great soundtrack, but Automata is no slouch in that department either. The game’s crumbling world is beautifully back-lit with an emotional and eerie score, creating an overall audiovisual experience that does a fantastic job of selling the dire circumstances of this unique setting. A game soundtrack isn’t something that is always that notable in video games, but it’s one of the many highlights here.
Nier: Automata takes fantastic action and RPG elements and blends them into a game world unlike any other, creating a truly memorable experience. The game continuously pleases and surprises with terrific gameplay that is constantly transforming, and a narrative that keeps you thinking and guessing. It has a lot to offer, and is an experience that shouldn’t be missed.