Some games are classics that everybody knows about; who hasn’t played Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, for instance? That’s part of gaming’s canon. If you haven’t played it, chances are you’re at least familiar with its significance. Some, though, slide in under the radar and only build up a following over time. Nier, a seventh-generation action-RPG from Cavia, was one of those, and now we’re seeing a sequel that’s garnering a bit more press in Nier: Automata.
If you’ve never played the original Nier, you’re kind of missing out. It’s the sequel to Drakengard, a game that could be easily dismissed as a fantasy-themed Dynasty Warriors clone because it pretty much is…aside from the myriad weird moments that Nier capitalizes on. From a gameplay perspective Nier can be a little iffy, particularly with regards to melee combat, but as a cohesive experience it was one of the masterpieces of the seventh console generation. It touched on the meta-aspects of gaming without becoming too obnoxiously self-aware; imagine a narrative-focused indie game that wasn’t pretentious and insufferable and you might have an idea of what I’m talking about. That’s a tall order, I know.
Nier: Automata continues that tradition by toying about with gaming tropes, only this time it’s actually a pretty decent game besides. We can attribute that to Platinum Games. If you’re not familiar, they’re the developers of action classics like Bayonetta and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, and their MO of refining the action formula means they’re one of the top companies out there when it comes to making this kind of game. That’s certainly the case here in Automata, where combat is as much of a joy as the game’s bizarre plot.
You control 2B, an android warrior from the moon who descends to Earth at the bidding of her human masters to fight alien machines. Recon with her scout unit ally 9S and clearing out hordes of baddies are the orders of the day. Without spoiling too much, though, events call 2B’s morals and the real meaning of her mission into question. All the while, you’ll have to deal with plenty of said alien machines in traditional Platinum games style, which means stylish combat focused on precision and agility.
2B can wield two sets of two weapons each, with light attacks and heavy attacks using different gear based on how you’re set up. A sword might allow for quick light attacks, for instance, while equipping it as your weapon for heavy attacks could lead to slow and more powerful swings. You’ve also got a pod, a floating drone that’s used for ranged attacks of varying power, slowing down falls from great heights and, erm, fishing. Enemies tend to be stronger or weaker to melee or ranged attacks, while boss battles usually involve switching between styles as the fight proceeds.
Combine this with Platinum’s signature focus on carefully-timed dodges and you’ve got a recipe for some engaging battles; this is a stark contrast to the original Nier, where jumping slashes were the order of the day and could carry you through the majority of the game’s content.
On top of that, Nier: Automata’s many RPG elements help keep the game feeling fresh. You can upgrade your weapons, as you could in the original Nier, which leads to more of the weapon’s unique story being revealed. New features here are customizable options for your pod, both in terms of how it looks and the weapons it uses, and a bunch of customizable chips that you can install that boost 2B’s combat abilities. That last bit is particularly interesting, since dying leaves a corpse to retrieve to regain your chips; this also leaves a corpse in other players’ games that they can use to gain a temporary ally or buff, which feels a bit Souls-y.
Automata continues Nier’s legacy in other ways, as well, including by looking and sounding freaking gorgeous. The game runs smooth as butter most of the time, with the only drops I saw on my PS4 Pro taking place during extremely intense battles, and the music is hard to beat. One thing that’s worth noting is that the game can be a little difficult, but unlike most Platinum games you aren’t judged after every battle so feel totally free to spam healing items if necessary.
Fans will find Nier: Automata to be a worthy successor to that title; Drakengard fans will find Automata to have gameplay that doesn’t make them want to claw their eyes out; action game fans will enjoy the fast-paced, tightly-balanced combat. Automata is worth a look from pretty much anyone who’s able to play it. In a year that’s already seen so many good games, I’m surprised I’m not yet tired of adding yet another solid experience to the pile.