Games with lightning fast combat are a bit of a vice of mine. Titles like Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance and the Devil May Cry franchise may not tell the best stories but the flashy, high octane style always draws me in. Nier: Automata boasts a similar combat system and is one of the most unique games I’ve ever played mixing genres with ease on its way to 26 different endings. It’s a hell of a ride.
- TL;DR: Multiple genres and endings make Nier: Automata a unique and special game
- Platform: PC, PS4 (reviewed)
- Developer: Platinum Games
- Time Played: 22:45
- What I Played: Completed all five standard endings plus another five alternate endings on normal difficulty
Nier: Automata takes place in a far future where Earth has been invaded by machines brought by a mysterious alien race. Humans took refuge on the moon and eventually created androids known as the YorHa. These androids are tasked with battling the machines to take Earth back for the humans. The campaign follows two of those androids, 2B and 9S, on their mission to defeat the machines and reclaim Earth.
2B and 9S seem like polar opposites at first. 2B is a no nonsense female combat unit dressed rather provocatively with a singular goal to complete the mission while 9S is nervous and paranoid young male scout adept at hacking. It’s clear from the start that 2B is the muscle of the group while 9S is the brains. The relationship between 2B and 9S is interesting to watch grow as 2B imparts some maturity on the latter while 9S wears down some of the straight-laced exterior of the former.
Emotion, dialogue, and story isn’t where I think Nier: Automata shines brightest. That honor goes to it’s handful of incredibly unique systems, genre swapping being chief among them. Combat is mostly a highly stylized melee system with all manner of sword slashes until you are suddenly in a full fledged shoot-em-up. Your flight unit occasionally transforms into a more mobile unit for some twin-stick shooting action. Even the typical action combat has rooms and areas that switch from a free camera to top-down, isometric, and side scrolling angles. All of this is experienced in the first 15 minutes of play. At first I was worried that the constant swapping from swinging a sword to aerial combat would be jarring and feel out of place, but Nier: Automata makes every change feel so fluid. It’s a real achievement to have three distinct genres not only represented in a game but to have them be so fully fleshed out and work well together.
Nearly every facet of combat can be seen in the clip above. 2B has light and heavy attacks along with a floating robotic partner known as Pod that shoots a constant flurry of bullets. Pod can be equipped with one of a dozen or so abilities like shooting a laser, smashing a hammer, or striking all enemies around you. The only means of defense is to evade. A perfect evade allows you to follow up with a launch attack and take your slashing to the air.
There isn’t a list of special moves with intricate button combos to memorize here. 2B equips one weapon for light attacks and another for heavy attacks. Each weapon tells you the number of attacks it can make in a row and you can swap between two pairs of weapons at will but I stuck with the same pair for about 75% of the game. This was a bit unexpected as I like mixing up combos in games like DmC. But when you get in the zone and dash around the battlefield while fighting 10 machines at once, dodging every bullet and launching into your own whirling sword frenzies while both Pod and 9S lay down their own fire, it’s hard not to enjoy yourself.
Next on Nier: Automata’s list of interesting spins is its skill system. Since 2B is an android, upgrades take the form of physical chips plugged into her body. Upgrades like increased weapon damage, life steal on attack, and decreased Pod skill cooldown rate are some of the dozens of chips you’ll find. An NPC in the main town can fuse duplicate chips together to create better versions of them at an increased slot cost. Each chip takes up a portion of the 128 maximum slots that 2B can equip. Even HUD-related things take up space like 2B’s health bar and the minimap meaning they can be unequipped if you so choose. Pro tip – get the chips to automatically heal when your health is critical and to become invincible for a short time after taking damage as soon as possible. Healing without stopping helps keep the chaotic flow of battle moving and stopping an errant bullet from turning into four hits and half of a lost life bar is crucial.
If I had to pick one word to describe Nier: Automata, it would be weird. This game is just so goddamn weird. Going from swinging a sword and dodging bullets one minute to shooting down enemy vehicles in a gundam suit the next is one thing. Hearing a machine say the phrase “I will rip the shit out of thee” and have it make sense in context is another. The fact that 2B and 9S have blindfolds on is something that I still don’t understand. There’s an NPC in the main town that wears a giant head the size of a sports mascot that acts as a general advice giver. Why? Who the hell knows?
All of this weirdness fits perfectly in a game with 26 possible endings. There are five “true” endings but this isn’t a Mass Effect situation where all of your decisions lead to a branched final scene. Nier: Automata isn’t truly over until you see all five endings. Calling them endings is a bit of a misnomer since you aren’t replaying the same content five times over. I won’t spoil what happens obviously, but simply seeing the credits roll doesn’t mean you’ve seen the end of the game. The story of Nier: Automata builds and morphs each time you hit one of the “true” endings. It’s an odd story involving humans, machines, androids, creation, and sense of self, but it’s an interesting one nonetheless.
Outside of the five main endings are 21 additional “joke” endings that play into typical gaming tropes. When a city is attacked an NPC asks for your help, what if you just… didn’t? That’s one way to end the game. Simply walk in the opposite direction, watch a few lines of text talk about your decision, and boom. Roll credits. What if you want to attack a group that wants to broker peace? Go for it. A chapter select option is unlocked after finishing three of the true endings so you can jump around and trigger any joke endings you missed. My favorite joke ending is one you can get at any time. ***SPOILER*** One of the many system-related skill chips 2B has is an OS chip. Sounds important, right? Well, it is. Rip out the OS chip and the screen goes dark as you’ve effectively committed suicide ***END SPOILER***. Even something typically mundane like the end credits isn’t straightforward. There’s a hell of a decision to be made after the actual, final, for real credits roll.
Nier: Automata is hands down the weirdest thing I’ve played in a long time, possibly ever. It’s an action RPG mixed with a shoot-em-up and a twin-stick shooter. There are 26 different ways to see the end credits. Machines speak to each other and androids question what it means to be alive. All of this is rolled up into a package that is fun, interesting, and memorable. Nier: Automata is a different and special kind of game. It tries to be more art than game at times. No matter what it’s doing, Nier: Automata succeeds.