NieR:Automata is a game that I could talk about non-stop whilst spilling every little detail about it that blew me away, but it’s also a game that needs to be discovered by the person playing it. In fact, you could skip this review (and every other one online) and just play it – the best way to experience the game is by seeing it all unfold yourself with very little knowledge of what’s ahead of you. With that in mind, those who do read this review can rest assured that I won’t go into too much spoilerific detail here.
Despite it actually coming out on the PlayStation 4 and PC awhile back, I’d actually skipped NieR:Automata the first time around, even after hearing such amazing things about the game. Now, I’ve finally played the souped up Xbox One version (it comes with all DLC and Xbox One X enhancements), and I regret the fact that I left it so long to get my hands on it.
It’s hard to say what exactly makes the game so good, but a good place to start is the fact that it feels so unique with its mish-mash of genres and ideas. When games try to do so many different things they begin to misidentify themselves and start to feel like an awkward amalgamation of ideas that just don’t flow together. NieR:Automata doesn’t suffer from that with its concoction of genres – it knows exactly what it’s doing from start to finish (no matter what playthrough you might be heading through) and it is glorious.
NieR:Automata takes place on an Earth thousands of years in the future, but it’s one that is no longer inhabited by humans but rather a dastardly alien race that have manufactured their own line of robots to help seize control of the planet. Humans haven’t been wiped out though, but have rather made a new home on the Moon. It’s from here that they’ve managed to create their own Androids which they then send back home in a bid to reclaim what was once their own. You take on the role of a group of these Androids as they look to complete their mission.
And that’s as much detail I’m going to give. Believe me, whilst on the surface NieR:Automata’s tale might seem formulaic and run of the mill, it’s actually so much more and talking too much about it would be criminal. It’s clever, witty, funny and emotional, with brilliant writing throughout that’ll not only force the player to look at the world in a different way but also feel a sense of empathy towards the foes they are slaying. Add to that some fourth-wall breaking moments, and it all comes together nicely to offer a narrative that’s as quirky as it is charming.
Be warned though: it can hit high levels of cheesiness at times and even I couldn’t help but to wince at some scenes in the game. They never ruin the narrative by any means, but yeah, it can be a bit too over the top…
The first thing I feel that I need to talk about from a gameplay perspective is NieR:Automata’s combat, which is utterly brilliant – what else would you expect from the team at PlatinumGames, though? It plays like a cross of an action-RPG and a third person slash ‘em up, with the player weaving together different combos and attacks in quick-paced combat. You’ve got to stay on top of your defensive manoeuvres too, with a well-timed press of the shoulder button allowing you to quickly slip away from an attack and launch a powerful counter-attack of your own, which not only feels slick to pull off but looks incredibly stylish in the heat of battle. There’s nothing quite like seeing a bombardment of enemies pile your way with attacks only to dodge each one with stirring finesse and unloading a mixture of physical and ranged attacks their way. Brilliant.
Your ranged abilities come in the form of your support Pod, which can unleash an array of different shooting attacks upon your foe. Your Pod will improve as you make your way through the game with more powerful attacking options in place too, so you can always keep on top of your enemies whether you’re getting up close and personal or attacking from afar. It almost feels like a third-person shooter at times when using Pod, which just adds an extra layer of appreciated intricacy to the game’s combat mechanics.
Once thing I really enjoyed about the combat was that each weapon you use feels completely different. You can expect different combos and skills, and pairing the right weapons together can be the difference between beating an opponent or absolutely annihilating them. Combine this with Pod’s shooting skills and you can become absolutely unstoppable on the battlefield.
I suppose this could be considered a bit of a flaw in a way, especially since NieR:Automata is never too difficult as far as battling is concerned anyway. As mentioned, it’s fairly easy to dodge enemy attacks and you’re more than well-equipped on the offensive side too, so you can expect to dominate a lot of battles with ease. Don’t get me wrong, you’ll come across more than a few encounters where your skills will really get pushed, but I’d never call NieR:Automata a hard game.
Does it matter when it looks so stylish and feels so fun to play? I don’t think so and I never grew tired of fighting enemies. The game features some of the most entertaining combat mechanics I’ve found in a game and I absolutely loved pummelling its enemies because of it – regardless of whether or not they might not have posed that much of a challenge…
It’s not just all third-person combat in NieR:Automata though, with the game essentially shifting genre time and time again throughout. In the opening ten minutes alone it plays like a schmup, a twin-stick shooter and an action-RPG, so it sets a precedent of variety early on. It’s something you can expect throughout too, with the game constantly throwing new ideas out there or simply playing events out from a different perspective just to keep things different.
Admittedly, there were a few moments where the shift could be a little jarring, especially when the camera angle would change to a completely different view. There were times when the gameplay didn’t seem to match the viewpoint perfectly too, though these issues were all few and far between. Nine times out of ten everything flows together perfectly, no matter what kind of game NieR:Automata is trying to be at the time, so these moments of imperfection are simply minor hiccups in what is otherwise a brilliant mixture of gameplay ideas.
You can improve your character’s stats through a special upgrade system that involves different chips, with each chip providing boosts to the character – it might be a whole new ability like health regeneration, a stat increase, or even something superficial like the ability to see damage counters. It’s vital to keep on top of these chips and equipping the ones that best suit your playstyle is essential to get the most out of your character’s skills. You can even fuse chips together to get more powerful versions, so there’s a fair amount of depth and flexibility to the system if you’re willing to commit some time to it.
Be warned though: if you die, you lose all of your chips. Daunting, right? Well, luckily NieR:Automata has taken a page out of Dark Souls’ book by allowing you to recover lost chips by heading to the location where you died and recovering them from your lifeless body. You play as Androids after all, so replacing their body isn’t a difficult task…
The game takes place in a fairly open-world, so there’s quite a lot to see and do. Besides the main quests, there are a few side quests you can take on which offer extra snippets of narrative detail as well as a bonus for the player. Some of these side quests are a lot of fun to complete, though some could feel like glorified fetch quests – it’s one of the areas of the game where there’s not as much ingenuity on show, with it instead sticking to standard ideas we’ve seen in plenty of other RPGs.
Interestingly though, some side quests can’t be completed until you’ve finished the game multiple times. This is where one of NieR:Automata’s best ideas is on show.
One key component of NieR:Automata is the fact that you have to finish the game multiple times to see the full story, with each playthrough giving a different viewpoint of the tale by having you play as a different character. There are five endings that you need to see in total to get the full story, with at least three full playthroughs required if you want to get everything (chapter select comes in handy for two of the endings).
There could be some sense of repetition to be found with the multiple playthroughs (especially since you re-visit familiar locations), but they’re worth playing through just to see how the story unfolds. The fact you play as different characters helps too, especially since each one has their own different gameplay mechanics that also helps vary up the experience. The thing is, NieR:Automata is such a fun game to play that it doesn’t feel like a bore to play through the game three times – I never grew tired of each subsequent playthrough but instead found them just as fun as the last. Each playthrough can be cleared in under ten hours too, so it isn’t a massive time-sink as far as RPGs are concerned.
Visually, the game looks good, though it’s not the most spectacular title you’re going to see. Don’t get me wrong, battles look great and facing off against some of the bosses never fails to impress, but the environments themselves aren’t particularly staggering. That doesn’t mean they’re not well designed though, with some impressive sights to see thanks to the desolate take on what could be real-life structures. From a design perspective, NieR:Automata is a fascinating world to be a part of, even if some sketchy textures do prevent it from being a beautiful one.
The soundtrack on the other hand is absolutely amazing from start to end, and somehow always manages to fit the tone of the game perfectly. Whether listening to the exciting guitar riffs of battling, the harrowing rhythm of one of the game’s emotional scenes, or the chiptune renditions of just about every other piece of the game during hacking sequences, everything about the soundtrack just works perfectly.
With its astounding combat, quirky yet compelling tale, and sheer variety of gameplay ideas on show from start to end, NieR:Automata truly deserves its place as one of this generation’s defining titles. There’s a sense of ingenuity to be found from start to end, and whilst this is something that gamers have been saying about the game since its initial release, I can join in with the common opinion and say that you truly need to believe the hype.
I have no doubt it might not be for everyone and it does have its flaws, but those who actually give NieR:Automata a try will quickly discover that it’s one of the finest games that has been released under the Square Enix banner for years. Just buy it, seriously – you won’t regret it.
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: Out Now
Format(s): Xbox One (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, PC