The original NIER for PS3 and Xbox 360 received favorable reviews, but hardly any stellar ones. That’s definitely about to change with the release of NieR: Automata.
Oddly enough, I never played any of the Drakengard games other than the original NIER, which was a spinoff of that series. The more futuristic approach of NIER resonated with me better than Drakengard’s medieval/fantasy setting did, perhaps because the fantasy genre isn’t exactly uncommon in the action rpg realm. The newly released sequel to NIER, NieR: Automata, is bigger, bolder and more polished than the first game, and nothing short of a being one of the top games available in its genre.
In NieR: Automata, mankind has been forced from earth by a vicious race of machines/AIs, and has taken refuge on the moon. Humanity’s resistance is a group of elite androids called YoRHa, who get sent back to earth to do battle with the oppressors and try to win back our earth. Your particular android is called 2B (short for YoRHa Number 2, Type B), and you’re armed with a variety of weapons that allow for different attack and defense styles.
There is a large emphasis on melee combat, and depending on which type of weapon you equip this can take different shapes. Fighting with a spear is different from fighting with a sword, and if you want to get up close you can choose bracers as well. In addition, you also have pod – a ‘buddy’ of sorts who floats around you and can be equipped with a variety of weapons, ranging from bullets to missiles and even laser guns. Different enemies and bosses require different combinations if you are to be effective against them, and part of NieR: Automata is figuring out what works best with your individual playing style.
In addition to ground-based combat, portions of the game also see you operating a giant flying mech. These sections are similar to twin stick shooters and offer a nice break from the melee/brawling style that makes up the majority of the game. What ties all this together is a strong storyline with plenty of dramatic twists and turns – and the option to play through the entire game again several more times while following different story paths and reaching different endings.
When you look at how polished and well thought-out everything is in the game, it’s surprising to see how bare bones the game’s tutorial is – a lot of the moves and options available to you (right from the start) aren’t explained, so a lot of it is learned by chance as your progress through the game. Perhaps this helps in making a second playthrough more interesting/diverse, but it felt odd from the perspective of the tutorial itself.
When you fall in combat, you can go back to where you died in order to regain your XP – a gameplay dynamic we’ve of course seen before in action/rpg titles over the past few years. In Automata, you can also opt to revive a fallen android to have it partner up with you for a short while – until it expires for good.
Besides upgrading your weapons/loadout and that of your hovering buddy pod, you can also tweak your various perks by loading up and configuring them on a ‘skill board’ of sorts, on which you can install chips that you find or acquire throughout the game. Their effects differ, and so do their sizes – more powerful chips take up more slots, so you have to choose your loadout wisely. You can opt to make your character sturdier in combat, boost your attack powers, or any kind of combination you can think off – and of course you can change things up when situations demand it.
Audiovisually, my one gripe with the game would be that the future world of earth looks a bit empty at times – yet is littered with invisible walls that stop you from going into certain areas or past certain (small) obstacles. Ignore that, and you’re looking at a gorgeous game with wonderful animation – as well as listening to an epic soundtrack.
NieR: Automata is more than deserving of the excellent reviews it has been getting. It doesn’t just build on its predecessor, it surpasses it in nearly every way. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait as long for the next entry in the franchise.