NieR: Automata is set in the post-apocalyptic far future of 11,945. The game, though thematically linked to its predecessor, has a mostly new cast and plot for everyone to indulge in. The director of the Drakengard series and the first NieR, Yoko Taro takes the reigns of Automata, alongside Platinum Games – from Bayonetta and Metal Gear Rising Revengeance fame – who are best known for their marvelous and stylized combat.
Yoko Taro is known for his nuanced, multifaceted storytelling and character development. NieR: Automata stays true to Taro’s vision but at the same time does not forego Platinum’s approach to combat. So in the end we are left with a game that has both depth, substance and is nothing short of a treat to play. Players begin the game as YoRHa No. 2 Model B, or “2B” for short, a female android who is supported by YoRHa No. 9 Model S or “9S” for short. The game then has both 2B and 9S assist the Android Resistance against the ongoing war with the Machines, a race of sentient robots created by aliens to conquer the Earth centuries ago. Both 9S and another female android, YoRHa Model A No. 2 or “A2”, become playable characters later on in the game.
The gameplay though predominantly hack ‘n’ slash RPG, does mix in elements from other genres, including side-scrolling platformers and top-down shooters. However, the merging of different genres does not take away from each as the gameplay is wholesome, regardless of if you’re slashing away at enemies, jumping across platforms or shooting down floating machines. The boss fights are nothing if not fun and each one is unique in its own way. As players unlock 9S as a playable character, they will also get the option of “hacking” enemies which takes the form of a “danmaku” or “bullet hell” top down shooter mini-game which when successful causes normal enemies to explode, killing them immediately, while taking away a large chunk of health from bosses and special enemies.
As far as the hack ‘n’ slash portion of the gameplay goes, the standard light and heavy attacks are present along with skills which can be used via the support pods that hover along with you and also shoot various ammunition like bullets, lasers and missiles. The pods can be upgraded with certain materials and can also be equipped with a large variety of “Pod Programs” to assist in combat as well as exploration. There are a total of four weapon types in the game: Small Swords, Large Swords, Spears and Combat Bracers. Various weapons of each type can be found scattered across different areas in the world or can be bought at certain shops or acquired as rewards through quests. The two sets of equipped weapons are freely switchable mid-combat, providing for good combo opportunities. All weapons are upgradable and will unlock unique effects once upgraded fully. In addition to the unique effect, each weapon will come with its own unique backstory called a “Weapon Story” with more parts of these backstories being revealed for each step the weapon is upgraded.
Though the usual level progression system is available, the progression system that makes the difference in gameplay is the “Plug-in Chip” system. These substitute the usual equipment system from other RPGs and go well with the theme of the game. The players have a limited storage capacity which can be upgraded by purchasing memory extensions from NPCs. The plug-in chips dictate various attributes, from HUD element visibility, to weapon attack, experience and item drop rates. These plug-in chips are available as drops from enemies or at certain NPC vendors and can be fused to offer higher bonuses. Finding and equipping the right combination of chips is a good way to make things easier against tougher enemies.
The enemies in the game have moderate diversity with repeating types but this only happens towards the end of the game. The quest system is simple at first glance; posing as standard fetch quests but as they progress, each one tells a different tale of the post-apocalyptic world, yielding new information about the world, player characters and enemies, which will redefine subsequent playthroughs. Speaking of which, subsequent playthroughs expand and give more exposition to the world, plot and the characters, including enemies, leading to new cutscenes, quests and scenarios.
The Reliquary System is a death mechanic that models itself after the Souls’ series but with a little twist of its own. Upon dying the players respawn in a new body back at the Access Points but all their equipped plug-in chips, except the system chips, are left behind at the location of their death along with their previous body. The players are required to head back to the location and retrieve these chips. However, once they arrive at the location, in addition to retrieval, they can also choose to repair and resurrect their old bodies to fight beside them for a short time. The old bodies can also be made enemies if the machines get to them first and corrupt them. The Reliquary System adds a small multiplayer aspect to the game as well. If played with the network features switched on, players will be able to discover bodies of other players along with a short premade message at their locations of demise which can again be either resurrected as an ally or retrieved to obtain certain buffs depending on the installed plug-in chips at the time of death.
Finally coming to the world of NieR: Automata which is as beautiful as it is melancholic and sad. The open world is a series of different environments interconnected seamlessly and with no loading screens appearing while transitioning to different areas. Be it the city overrun with vegetation, a large sandy desert, an eerie amusement park filled with mirth or a forest with gigantic trees, the game spares no quarter in depicting them with as much variance and uniqueness as possible; each location exuding its own sense of identity and immersion. This is only accentuated further by the game’s beautiful soundtrack, composed by Okabe Keiichi, another staple in Yoko Taro’s games. Traversal within the world is either by foot or ridable animals such as a moose or boar and fast travel via the Access Points. Fast travelling will probably be the only time players see loading screens between areas and that is mostly acceptable. Though the game is sound overall, there are some technical aspects that need to be addressed.
Both the PC and PS4 versions are said to suffer from certain bugs in side quest progression with some side quests not triggering or progressing as they are supposed to. Coming to the technical aspects of the PC version, the game has several problems including the resolution issue which won’t allow it to render at 1080p in fullscreen mode. Instead the game renders at 900p and stretches it out, causing the textures to look horrible. Another glaring issue is the inability to change the global illumination setting which is constantly set to his causing drastically performance and FPS drops. Aside from these a lot of other miscellaneous bugs do exist with no solution from the developer’s side thus far but the bugs are far from game breaking.
NieR: Automata is a game that should not be skipped. A little rough around the edges on the technical side of things, the game is very well made from the design side. It captures the duality of its world perfectly while hosting a set of endearing characters acting out a twist laden, non-linear plot along with multiple styles of gameplay and multiple endings to keep things interesting throughout. NierR: Automata is a strong second entry in the series and a game for both longtime fans to enjoy and for those new to the series to discover.
Engaging gameplay fusing multiple genres and styles
Beautifully designed game world with a matching musical score
Characters are both well written and well-acted
Multiple progression systems which greatly improve the overall experience
A uniquely laid out plot which makes for an engaging experience
Grand boss encounters
A total of 26 different endings with 5 mains ones and 21 joke endings
The PC port is just passable with lots of bugs and graphical issues
A lack of bosses and enemy diversity
- Platinum Games