Nier: Automata (Impressions)

After Scalebound‘s cancellation it seemed PlayStation 4 owners got the better end of the situation with PlatinumGames’ “other RPG” Nier: Automata arriving to plenty of acclaim. Thankfully publisher Square Enix would later release it to Xbox in the form of the “BECOME AS GODS Edition” which is where I’m finally able to check it out via Game Pass. One thing’s for sure is that you won’t quite know what you’re getting yourself into at first as the game starts you off early in what’s akin to a scrolling shooter before moving you to a hack & slash RPG. Combining this mixing of genres with a character design that looks like a cosplayer’s dream and it was giving me a strong Bayonetta vibe early on in my time playing it.

You start off as combat android B2 who has been sent down to Earth to investigate trouble coming from alien robots that lead to humanity fleeing the planet to the moon thousands of years earlier. As with most tales like this the real truth becomes apparent as the story progresses. And being a combat android it’s pretty obvious you’re going to fight a lot. When you’re on the ground your melee attacks come directly from your character and the weapons they wield which feels very 1:1 and there’s some cool flourishes with your character’s movements when pulling off moves. When using ranged attacks your companion “pod” handles that side and it can take a little getting used to as it does require manual aiming with the default weapon which requires you to mentally shift your perspective to the pod and not remain focused on the game’s camera which is still centered on your character.

While experience points and leveling up is still part of the process it’s really all about the chips. During the game you can acquire upgrade chips which apply bonuses to your abilities or add perks to help you in the game. You only have limited space for using such chips at any one time (it can be upgraded) so you have to be selective on what you can use as they all occupy varying amounts of space but the game also allows for players to create loadouts which can be switched to as needed. Chips that are comparable in ability can be also fused to create better versions but that will also result in them taking more space too. This really forces players to be selective in what they use as maxing out certain chips may mean giving up on using others at the same time. On the lowest difficulty level you get access to extra chips that provide gameplay assistance at the expense of storage space but it is still up to you to use them. I suppose you can still say it’s all just the same inventory system with character buffs as other games (with a fresh coat of paint) and that’s true but I appreciate the simplicity behind it and the presentation is appropriate to the setting.

Your weapons and pods (you can find others) can be also be improved and you find that it’s not so much about leveling up your character but finding the right tools to use. It seems quite possible to stick with your starting gear too and I’ve not felt like I’ve been impacted by that choice which has meant I’ve been able to ease myself into trying out any other items and weapons I’ve picked up along the way. I’ll admit that might also be reflective of the difficulty level I’ve chosen to play but it’s not like I’m finding the game a pushover either as my android has often been on the receiving end of an android butt kicking. When you die you quickly respawn however you also lose all your chips that were being used so if you want them back you’re forced to make a corpse run to retrieve everything lost. If you’ve only got a limited supply of extra chips it can feel like a substantial loss so the pressure to get them back increases but thankfully when you succeed the game gives you the option to quickly restore everything to how you had it before which saves you a lot of time.

In terms of presentation the best way to describe Nier: Automata is that it feels economical. It seems clear most of the focus on design has been on the main characters and bosses as the rest are reused often through the game as is parts of the environment. However in saying that there is a lot to explore – your starting map is only a small slice of the full game world and the different locales are impressive to take in on your first visit. Some of the boss fights do have an impressive sense of scale that really make for some fun challenges… and plenty of great screenshots too. Audio is a level up on the visuals with the soundtrack being a real standout and is a constant fixture throughout your play time. It’s been a while for me to play a game of this length where the soundtrack doesn’t repeat itself into submission but the quantity and quality here really makes it easy to enjoy.

I was intrigued by reviewers describing how the game doesn’t end after your first play through and it really does take a fascinating direction with how it chooses to let it play on. At least one of those was a humourous aside that was totally unexpected. All of this has meant I’ve been really happy with my time playing Nier: Automata. The story has me wanting to learn more as I progress and the mix of gameplay styles help to keep things moving along. It’s also much more accessible than I was expecting which makes it perfect for players who like their RPGs in small doses. Highly recommended.

Nier: Automata is out now for PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Played on an Xbox One X.

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