It wasn’t long before it hit me just how insane, cool, stylish and smart NieR: Automata really is. I shan’t ruin it for you, but you’re barely past the beginning credits before you’re so taken aback by just what Yoko Taro and Platinum has done here, and it only gets better. It’s never boring – never rests on its laurels, and always knows just how to keep you engrossed.
The story takes place after a race of creepy, murderous machines has forced mankind to flee to the moon. In retaliation, they send down a team of military grade androids named YoRHa to fight them and claim back Earth for themselves. You start off as YoRHa No. 2 Type B, or 2B for short. She’s a battle android with a hard exterior, refusing to show emotions and a focus so strong she lets nothing stop her. She’s beyond awesome, and throughout NieR: Automata you’ll get to control her through a plethora of jaw dropping set pieces.
It’s put together wonderfully, with layer upon layer of bombastic storytelling there to flesh out such an intricate tale of violence, friendship, revenge and hope. You’ll be privy to multiple endings, too, so after you play it through, a whole new experience opens up; it’s such an intelligent game, and Taro has written quite the masterpiece.
It begins with a relatively weak tutorial which is a shame because some moves would have been handy to know about in the early stages. I wasn’t aware until about halfway through you could press the right trigger to dodge just before an enemy attacks you, essentially allowing you to teleport away and return with a strike of your own. However, after you’ve escaped the first wave of enemies of the game, you begin to understand how combat and movement works, and you’ll be stringing together chains of magnificent moves.
You have a light attack and a heavy attack, and depending on what weapon you’ve equipped these strikes can do varying degrees of damage. Along with your weapon attacks, you have pod: a small, hovering machine that can fire bullets, lasers, and missiles at your enemy, even whilst you’re attacking with a melee weapon. Learning to decide which weapon to use when is the key to smart combat, and the various machines and bosses you’ll encounter require different approaches. Along with combat on the ground, NieR: Automata also features segments of flying around in your mech; these sections are super fun, and employ a twin-stick shooter mechanic in true bullet hell style.
When you die, you’ll respawn at one of the access points close to where you died. Depending on where you bit the bullet, 2B can go back to where it happened and choose to retrieve any XP you had at that point, or repair to have that fallen body aid you in battle for a short time. If you’re connected to the internet, many other fallen bodies of real world players will be scattered around, and you’ll be given the same option, but certain perks and goodies can be harvested from their dead android corpses.
There’s significant customisation for 2B, giving you the options to change and upgrade your weapons, your pod, and your chips. There are four types of melee weapons: short swords, long swords, spears, and bracers. Throughout NieR, you can find them, but also buy (using the game’s currency, G), and by finding various items of scrap within the world will let you upgrade them to make attacks more powerful, along with granting them other buffs to equip. You can change what abilities your pod has as well via the pod programs, meaning if the Gatling gun isn’t doing it for you, maybe the missiles will. Both your melee weapons and your pod can be switched at any time using the D-pad, so combat always remains fluid and fast, offering lots of ways to attack your enemy.
Chips are one of the smartest features in NieR: Automata: you can build chip systems which consist of a limited amount of chip slots, and throughout the game you’ll find, buy, and scavenge chips from fallen machines. Each of the chips has a different size, so choosing some of the better chips will mean you’ll be able to fit fewer into your system. Chip abilities range from improving HP regeneration, displaying enemy HP bars, 2B’s XP bar, locations of save points, and 30% more damage when using a melee weapon. There are lots to choose from, and depending on how you play, you’ll be able to build some very specific skill systems.
Visually, NieR: Automata is a gorgeous game, wearing many influences on its sleeve. The world reminded me of games like Gravity Rush, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, and The Last of Us, but 100% its own. All of the different zones are meticulously designed, the characters all look wonderful, and the machines look and move independently to each other. There are many invisible walls you can’t break past, so it can be frustrating if your marker is behind a rock you could easily clear. There are also lots of buildings with doorways and passages you’d think would be free to walk through, but nope. That’s why it doesn’t always feel like a truly open world – more a case of many large areas you move through with no real interaction.
NieR: Automata is a superb game, with great combat, a brilliant story, wonderful moments of ingenuity, and some of the greatest videogame music to feature in an action game. Platinum Games has surpassed itself once again, providing much more than their signature gameplay. This is one of the most interesting and unique games you’ll play this year.
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