NieR is back
For NieR fans, NieR: Automata represents a dream game by a dream team. For the uninitiated, NieR: Automata marks the release of a monumental action RPG you simply must play.
Automata is the quasi-sequel to 2010’s PS3 and Xbox 360 game NieR, a seriously underrated RPG that developed a strong cult following despite lukewarm sales. If you’ve never played the original game don’t worry—Automata represents a bold, fresh start for this series.
A new development team
While the original game was lauded for its provocative storytelling, unsettling ambiance, and original soundtrack, it was not without its shortcomings. Specifically, the graphics and gameplay were often cited as being sub-par.
To address these issues for Automata, Square Enix handed development duties to renowned Osaka-based developer Platinum Games. Platinum is widely known for their stellar fast-action games like Bayonetta and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. The decision was the best thing that could have happened to NieR.
Androids vs. Machines
The single largest improvement in Automata is its all-new, overhauled combat. Compared to its predecessor, the action is faster, smoother, and a whole lot more stylish.
Keeping with series tradition, the game encourages multiple playthroughs, and each time you’ll control a different YoRHa android. For your first run, you’ll control an all-purpose battle android named 2B capable of wielding one- and two-handed swords, spears, and combat bracers. A later route lets you play as the reconnaissance android 9S, who adds hacking to your repertoire. Finally, there’s A2, an obsolete prototype YoRHa model that handles similar to 2B, but has faster and stronger combo potential.
Your enemy in Automata are the Machines, sentient robots created by the Aliens to invade Earth thousands of years ago. Machines come in all shapes and sizes, from cute (but aggressive) R2-D2 types, to massive Goliath-class monstrosities standing hundreds of stories tall.
Thrilling hack and slash combat
Engaging these machines in battle is a blast. Often times they hunt in packs, with smaller grunt-type units unleashed to keep you on your toes, while larger units capitalize on the distraction. To counter this, your android has a lock-on system that will help maintain focus on the next critical machine to take down. However, just when you have a good routine down, the game introduces new types of machines forcing you to rethink your approach. The anticipation of what crazy contraptions you’ll face next is part of the fun.
To take down the machines, Platinum’s signature fast-paced, fluid, and finessed combo system is on full display. Mixing together light, fast strikes with heavy, slow ones is the backbone of the combat system, though that’s just the tip of the iceberg. You can also perform aerial juggles, powerful ground strikes, or dash and evade when the moment calls for it.
You got a Pod, too
Further bolstering your offensive is your companion pod. This hovering tactical support device can fire unlimited long-range bullets, which is a veritable lifesaver during boss fights. You can also equip your pod with various programs, such as piercing laser blasts, devastating hammer strikes, and lock-on homing missiles.
The coolest part about Automata’s combat system is you can attack with your swords and pods independently. That means you can focus fire on a single enemy for crushing damage, or attack two enemies at once. Those minions I mentioned earlier that always seem to be aggressively protecting larger machines? They’re easy to take down with a few sword swings. While doing so, your support pod can chip away at the boss’ health and keep the heat on them. It’s a brilliant combat system that gives you tons of flexibility to choose how to approach each scenario.
Multiple genres in one
One element that distinguishes NieR from all other action RPGs is its ability to seamlessly blend multiple gaming genres together. While the bulk the adventure is focused on third-person combat, occasionally the game effortlessly transitions to completely new styles. This includes a top-down shooter like 1943, a multi-directional shooter like Smash TV, and a side-scrolling platformer like Metroid.
Most impressive of all, the camera in Automata adjusts to match the genre on the fly. One minute you’ll be battling machines in a 3D castle courtyard, and the next you’ll be exploring the castle interior from a 2D platforming perspective. The realization that you just stepped flawlessly between genres is profound, and a true mark of Automata‘s stunning technical achievement.
Automata is just oozing with presentation. From its gorgeous, melancholic visuals to its ominous, orchestral soundtrack, every inch of this world made me awestruck. The dream team of Yoko Taro (NieR series director), Akihiko Yoshida (Final Fantasy XII character designer), and Keiichi Okabe (NieR series composer) have combined to created their quintessential work of art.
As you navigate this seamless open world you’ll encounter magnificent sights like medieval-tinged amusement park, a Castlevania-esque spooky castle, a haunting abandoned factory, and even a quirky forest tribe of machines reminiscent of the Ewoks. All the while, dreadfully delightful classical music, much of it with full vocals, draws you into the game world like few RPGs can.
Story that draws you in
I intentionally left the story to last as I want to avoid spoilers for this very story-driven adventure. While I won’t go into much detail, I will say the story is as cryptic as it is captivating.
As a basic setup, the game takes place in the year 11945 AD, during a period known as the 14th Machine War. Automata depicts a desolate, post-apocalyptic world where humans were invaded by machines and subsequently fled to the moon. To fight back against the machines, humans created YoRHa, a high-tech android army sent to reclaim the Earth.
As members of that elite android squad, Automata encourages you to play the game at least three times over, with each play through offering new story details and shedding more insight into the nature of this war. Don’t be surprised if there are still many pieces of the puzzle unexplained after you see the credits roll for the first time—it’s done intentionally. If you’re the type to just play games once and move on, Automata may leave you unsatisfied and confused. But if you’re willing to invest the time to replay the adventure, you’ll be well rewarded for your decision.
More than a successful sequel, NieR: Automata is an action RPG masterpiece that should be played by all fans of the genres. It takes the best components of the original NieR—story, atmosphere, and music—and combines that with the top-notch gameplay and inspired art direction from Plantinum Games. Automata is a game with plenty of strengths, and will richly reward those who give it a try.
+ Better than the first in virtually every way
+ A unique style and atmosphere
+ Inspired story and characters
+ Soundtrack is out of this world
+ Smooth 60 fps gameplay
+ Deep and engaging combat
– No automatic saves
– Some areas feel a bit empty (even if the desolation theme justifies it)
– Rare collision/detection bugs
Lasting Appeal/Replayability: 5/5