Nier Automata opens up in true PlatinumGames fashion, with stylish cut-scenes, lots of explosions, and amazing gameplay. From the get-go, you find yourself piloting a transforming jet and playing through a shoot ’em up section, before you then find yourself in a traditional free roaming action mode against a giant mechanical device wanting nothing more than to destroy you. It is in these moments that the tone for Automata is set and you know you are in for one amazing gaming experience. One minute you may be playing a 3D action title when all of a sudden you are put into a 2D side-scrolling brawler, then flung straight into a shoot ’em up section. Automata isn’t afraid to change its style throughout the experience and it pulls off these transitions beautifully. It is the amalgamation of an RPG, a hack ’n slash, a shoot ’em up, a brawler, and much more. It just keeps throwing new styles at you, creating a unique experience and one that is bound to stay with you for some time to come.
The story takes place many years in the future. Aliens have invaded earth and forced mankind to flee and make the moon their new home. Androids have been created to combat the Aliens’ inferior, but far more numerous, machines. As such, the world is a desolate place, buildings are falling apart and there are no humans in sight. Vegetation has been left to grow unchecked; huge vines and roots grow through buildings and roads. Animal life is few and far between further emphasising the destruction that has occurred since the conflict began. We start off playing as 2B, an Android dispatched to combat the machines. She is the last survivor of her unit and soon meets up with 9S, another combat android specialising in scouting.
After the opening sequence, Automata puts us into an open-world setting, allowing us to roam as we please. While there are some areas that are cut off until you progress the story, for the most part you can move around as you like. Automata has a unique gameplay style for an RPG, it is fast-paced and in depth. Anyone familiar with previous PlatinumGames action titles will feel a sense of familiarity with regards to combat. Big combos, timing dodges, counters, and just looking cool is all part of Automata’s style.
Various weapons can be found throughout the world, each with their own attack styles and combos. Two weapons can be used at a time, each dedicated to their own attack button, and two weapon combinations can be set, effectively allowing you to switch between four different weapon types during combat. Weapon types include swords, axes, spears, and even bracers for those wanting to go with hand-to-hand combat. Weapons can be upgraded through the course of the game and each new level increases that weapon damage as well as the combo potential. Weapons also gain unique abilities when they are upgraded, such as giving you increased damage when your health hits a certain point.
In addition to this, you are accompanied by a Pod. These provide support during and outside of battle. Pods can be used in battle as ranged weapons or they can be used to cross large distances and survive drops from Skyscrapers with their glide abilities. Pods can also be upgraded with POD programs that enable special abilities such as a unique attack or alerting the player to valuable resources.
The world created here is deep and emotional. Automata does an amazing job at drawing out different emotions from the player and the story had me invested in it from start to finish. I went through times of joy, sadness and confusion. There are just so many layers to the world and the story it tries to tell. This depth is further emphasised by the 26 different endings to the game. Yup, 26! While they may not all be as fleshed out as others, and some are more joke endings, the overall effect they have on the game and its story is at times a bit overwhelming. Automata is a game that requires multiple playthroughs. It wants you to explore its world over and over, each time trying something different than before. In fact, when you complete the game on your first playthrough, which could take anywhere between 15 to 30 hours depending on how you want to play, the game specifically says that the journey is not over and you need to replay it for a different point of view.
One of these different views comes from playing through the game with 9S. 9S accompanies you on your journey for most of the game and now you get to play the story through his eyes. There are additional secrets to be uncovered, but I don’t want to say too much and spoil the experience. This is a game you need to go in knowing little about and just experience the ride, because it is a unique experience in today’s gaming world.
While Automata may not look anywhere near as good as some recent releases in terms of its graphics, it more than makes up for it in its world design, characters, story, and gameplay. Quests are streamlined and easy to get side-tracked on. While there are the usual boring fetch quests, they are backed up by a compelling story behind them. Suddenly, I didn’t mind searching for a memory alloy needed to repair a damaged Android because I wanted to learn more about their journey and the story behind it. It’s quite surprising how Automata managed to make me want to do mundane tasks by just adding a little extra to that task itself, a rewarding story or encounter with a quirky, interesting character.
Side quests are plentiful, however, there is a point in the game where open quests may fail as you cross a point of no return. Some quests carry over to a new game, so if you were still busy with the quest you can continue it into your next playthrough without needing to start again. All of this comes together to create an interesting story in which each new NPC adds new pieces that start to come together into one cohesive tale. Each time you replay the game, another piece of the puzzle becomes available until you become aware of the entire story and your mouth drops. Slowly piecing events together pulled me deeper into the world until I felt like I knew the characters on a personal level, all adding to the experience.
However, as great as the story is, the shining star of the package is the combat. There isn’t enough time to discuss the intricacies of the combat, how smoothly combat flows from one move to the next, how switching weapons is as easy as a button press, and how customisable it can be. “Plug-in Chips” are used to augment your character, and these are found scattered throughout the world or dropped by enemies. Chips have different levels and their effects grow more powerful at higher levels. Low level chips can be fused together to create more powerful versions. Chips are then be inserted into your Android’s circuit board to boost combat proficiency. If you are having a hard time with the difficulty, you can socket an auto heal chip which will automatically use a healing item when your health gets below a certain amount. Want more range on your weapons? Add a shock wave chip which will send out a shockwave after every attack causing extra damage. Chips are categorised on their effects: System, Attack, Defence, Support, and Hacking. This allows you to customise gameplay to match how you want to play, adding that extra layer of variety.
All in all, I loved everything about Nier Automata. It was exactly what I expected from an open-world Platinum game. It’s one of those special games that will be talked about years from now. The type of game that stays with you long after you have finished it and stands as a new ambassador for its genre. The game that all other games should strive to surpass. The bar has been set for action RPGs and I cannot wait to see what is in store for us. The only issue I have with this game is that eventually it will end but, without giving anything away, the game knows and is aware of this and what was implemented was the best thing I think they could have done.
A lot of games, if not all of them all, have that something you would have changed or done differently in some situations. Nier Automata is the first game in memory where I walked away without wanting to make a single change to the experience. I look at the game and I am perfectly happy with it. I just want to sit down with it and play it forever, and for that reason I cannot see myself giving this game anything but a perfect score.
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