NieR: Automata Hands-On

Posted on December 23, 2016

From the makers of the obscure PS3 title NieR comes the next instalment in the Drakengard series, NieR: Automata. Continuing the story of the futuristic and distraught earth from the original game, NieR: Automata takes place some time after the fourth and final ending of NieR. The sequel breaks away from the storyline and characters from the previous game, instead following the war between the remnants of humanity and the invading machine army from another world. Having been forced to flee to the moon, humanity attempts to take back the earth with androids equipped to fight the invading machine life forms.

These androids are called “YoRHa” and lack all emotions. Without names they are the perfect soldiers for this war. Each is singled out by their individual attitudes that distinguish them from their fellows. Not much about these androids were revealed, most likely their stories will be a major aspect of the final game.

The demo begins with a mission briefing; reports have indicated that the enemy machine army has been constructing a large scale Goliath weapon at an abandoned factory on earth. As this weapon could potentially wipe out the last remaining refuge for humanity, two YoRHa are dispatched to investigate and destroy the weapon.

The simplified HUD and control scheme gives the combat a serious but relaxed feel. Heavy melee attacks and light melee attacks have been separated into two buttons, serving as the main mechanic for defeating the enemy machines. Not being locked into a combat state helps to give the player a better sense of choice and control in situations. As a result, combat is fun and freeing.

The graphics are smooth and robust – if not lacking in colour. This is a pitfall that the original fell into as well and was criticized for. There is little variation in scenery between the two games, as they take place in the same dystopian earth. From what we played there is little to suggest that more colour will be introduced as the game goes on.

Healing is an automated feature based on accumulated items so the flow of combat is never interrupted. This, however, can be hard to keep track of and soon enough you might find yourself low on restoratives in a big fight. Managing your inventory is a must. As well as checking every corner for extra healing supplies is encouraged.

Weapon combinations can be customised to your own play style and preference. In the demo, only a pair of katanas were usable for the character but it makes sense that more should become available with the full release.

The boss fights in Nier: Automata are a mixture of regular combat and scripted sequences. Splitting them up like this is far more entertaining and less draining than a long fight with only one main mechanic behind the battle. They begin small and grow and grow in action, scaling up like a Dragon Ball Z episode into an epic battle against the odds. Broken up into segments by the scripted gameplay helps to create a sense of accomplishment, as the fights generally take a long time.

Areas of fixed camera change up the open map feel, giving a more linear and cinematic story approach to the environments. As a rule if the camera becomes fixed then you know you’re on the right track. Between the side scrolling sections and top down sections, most fights remain consistent. The combat mechanics switch into this side-scrolling style really well, becoming almost like the old arcade classics.

The levels are very linear in style, with small hidden pockets and paths that can be unlocked linking back to earlier areas. Despite how confusing this sounds this is actually really intuitive and flows well. Having no fall damage works well with her movement too, encouraging faster play styles.

Your character is also equipped with a ‘pod’ gadget that can interact with the environment and alter the landscape. It’s much more than a handy-dandy gun, it’s the Clank to your Ratchet (though thankfully silent). It can allow you to glide over longer distances and lock onto enemy units. An asset not present in the original NieR, the gadget creates a more diverse level of interaction within the gameplay and environment.

NieR Automata seems to be following in the footsteps of the first game, for better or worse. From what we played, the gameplay and plot will be again be of a high standard. However, the shortcoming of the graphics will likely discourage newcomers to the series. NieR: Automata will probably be loved by fans of the series, but the jury is out on everyone else.

NieR: Automata is available for PS4 on March 10th 2017. The worldwide release for PC has yet to be announced.