A Genre-Defying Game With Incredible Combat
On the surface, you’d be forgiven for thinking NieR: Automata is a disjointed explosion of ideas; a fragmented series of levels stitched together with thought provoking themes all whilst painted with an anime aesthetic. If you can look past this, there’s a tightly refined, impressive game here, one boasting satisfying combat and truly incredible boss fights. While the story does sometimes career off track and fall into convoluted territory, the gameplay is the real star here and much like Dark Souls before it, NieR: Automata is a unique proposition, one that manages to subvert expectations again and again.
The game opens with a solid hour of gameplay to get you accustomed to the style of play on offer. It’s here where NieR really shows off what it’s really capable off, evolving from a vertical shoot-em-up to a 360 degree shooter and eventually to its predominant form, an over the shoulder hack’n’slash. After a teasing boss fight showcasing what’s to come in this 12 hour journey, the perspective dynamically shifts as you traverse the areas, switching from overhead to isometric, through to side scrolling and over the shoulder. This continues as you blast through waves of enemies and destroy the first of NieR’s many bosses before the story begins properly. It’s a solid opening, one that will either fully immerse you or turn you away from what’s to come.
The Boss fights are easily the stand out moments of the game
The crux of the conflict you become engulfed in early on revolves around a bitter conflict between androids and robots. You play as 2B, an emotionless android who, along with fellow android 9S, are tasked with helping the resistance overthrow the robot uprising. Of course, things are not quite as simple as they seem and as you progress through the story you uncover uncomfortable truths and begin questioning the world around you. It’s here where the game opens up somewhat, introducing secondary missions and light collectable items that, if we’re honest, feel more like busywork to pad the game-time out than add any meaningful substance. Still, the story unfolds at a decent pace so expect to slash, blast and dash your way through the game in around 12 hours. At least for your first run-through.
NieR’s combat is tightly refined, satisfying and certainly a real challenge at times
For those who aren’t aware, the game requires three plays to really experience everything, switching perspective to a different character each time and opening up new challenges and areas that weren’t available before. If you intend to do this, expect your play time to jump from 12 to around 60 hours if you’re really serious about experiencing absolutely everything the game has to offer. It’s worth doing though, with the two other characters boasting their own combat and skills to keep things interesting whilst extra cut scenes help to flesh out missing parts of the story the first time around. Of course, if you do intend to embark on this journey, expect to replay a lot of the same areas again from the first run through which can feel a little grindy and tedious, especially if you intend to do this straight after finishing the game
NieR’s genre defying level design works surprisingly well with the rest of the game
Comparing this game to Dark Souls would be a disservice to both games but doing so is the easiest way to describe NieR’s unique combat and mechanics at play here. Traversing the world is simple enough with a specific button for dashing helping to speed up proceedings as you explore the ruinous world the robots now call home. Engaging in combat allows you to wield your weapon of choice, with one small attack and one heavy attack offering a good dose of variety during fights. While you could theoretically slash your way through the game by hammering the square button, there’s enough intelligence with the AI and creature design to prevent this being an easy way out. Mixing up moves and engaging in combos is the key here, helped by a separate drone that fires a flurry of bullets by holding down R1. This trio of buttons in combat are further enhanced by weapon buffs, skills, temporary enhancements and upgrades that keep things interesting and unique.
Speaking of interesting and unique, NieR Automata’s various boss fights are some of the best in recent memory. While the main antagonists introduced early on pose a significant threat throughout, it’s the various other fights you engage in that tend to be the most memorable. From a towering Goliath dwarfing over you to a spinning ball of death that fires lasers, NieR Automata’s boss fights are tough, well designed and make the most of the various skills and abilities you pick up as you play through. These are easily the stand out moments of the game too and in that respect, hold more than a few similarities to Dark Souls, helping you truly feel rewarded for completing them.
NieR’s world is beautiful, with splashes of vibrancy dotted throughout the landscape
It’s worth mentioning the soundtrack and general ambience of the game too which are excellent, switching between peaceful, melodic chords and fast-paced, orchestral songs to help really immerse you in the world. This works harmoniously with the general aesthetic of the game which is beautifully realized, injecting the world with vibrancy and patches of colour to avoid it feeling too dull and dreary.
If you can look past the slightly disjointed story and take to the genre-defying gameplay, NieR Automata is unlike anything out there. The game constantly subverts expectations, switching genres on the fly while building a believably realized world that works surprisingly well given the context of the game. The combat is the real winner here though with boss fights that feel suitably epic and enough variety and skills to help mix things up and prevent the game from feeling stale. It’s certainly not a game for everyone but for those who can take to NieR’s beautiful world and thought provoking themes, there’s something here that’s likely to stick with you for a very long time.