Square Enix and PlatinumGames' NieR:Automata is the sort of game that likes to defy expectations. Sure, it's a game where you play a silver-haired android girl who throws around giant swords in a hack-and-slash game. And sure, the androids are fighting the alien machines for control of earth,
But that's underestimating the depth of the game's narrative. Without any spoilers, the game's story exists on multiple levels. You've got the machine v android war, and then the personal story between protagonist 2B and 9S.
For some backstory, the NieR series is a spin-off of the Drakengard series. It's a continuation of the fifth ending to the original Drakengard in which the Earth is left in shambles after an alien machine invasion. Granted, NieR: Automata is not exactly a direct sequel to the original NieR. So really, you can come into it completely fresh and not run into too much trouble. Sure, there are a few points at which things converge, but ultimately that's just surface information. And then leads to spoilers, so I'll just be keeping my mouth shut.
One of the things that struck me, right off the bat, is the reversal of the usual game roles. In the original NieR, as in most action games, the hero of the story is a physically tough man trying to protect a weaker support character who is most often a woman. But NieR: Automata gives us 2B, who is an incredibly stylish woman for a combat android. In typical JRPG fashion, she wields blades roughly three times her size. You later get to play as her support character, the waif-like 9S, and later on fugitive prototype A2 who is yet another woman with a fondness for over-sized weapons.
It's not like this is groundbreaking, but it is rare to see a woman in the usual Alpha Male role in a hack-and-slash game. And let's be honest, 2B rocks it. 9S is an adorable support character, and sure, he may be more integral to the story than 2B, but so much of the time he just fades into the background when you aren't playing him. Like he's supposed to. 2B and A2 run this show.
Like the original NieR and Drakengard before it, Automata has multiple endings for you to unlock, features you taking out an insane army of enemies, and a couple of nice story twists that will keep you on your toes. The endings are lettered. And they go from A-Z. We get 26 different endings with NieR: Automata. That's insane.
Granted, some may figure out a few of the plot twists ahead of time, but at least one or two are hard to uncover before the game wants you to know.
The game-play is solid. It's a well balanced game with intuitive controls that give you a decent amount of room for customization. You can chain combos or just buttonmash your way through how you like. This is a hack-and-slash game at it's absolute best. But then, PlatinumGames knows exactly how to do hack-and-slash. They made Bayonetta after all.
Since you're playing an android the whole game though the identity of that android differs, you can totally custom modify your body as needed or desired with chips. I tend to go a little tanky with hack-and-slash games, to cover for my tendency to kamikaze my way through a fight. Yes I know that's not how you're supposed to do things, but my primary instinct is to run straight into the middle of fights and hope I don't die. So health and defense up mods it is.
The visuals in NieR: Automata are stunning. The textures look great, clothes move like they're made out of real cloth, and there are some impressive views to be found.
The one thing that bugs me the most about NieR are some of the forced camera angles. Most of that happens early on in the game, when you have little choice about how you do things, so that camera control is definitely a way to reinforce that, for the first part of the game, you are playing a role. That's the part of NieR: Automata that won't ever change. Still, being stuck with a direct overhead view that's zoomed out so far 2B is practically a dot on my screen? Not the most fun I've ever had.
The game also has mechanics set up to really sell you the whole "you are an android" thing. You save data at specific points (save points! In 2017! Why do they make me so happy?) and when you die, you reload your data that was "backed up" to the YoRHA system. Like restoring a hard-drive from a backup. One of the first things you do in NieR: Automata is die because – like one of the other games I've been playing the last few weeks – death is part of the game world. And it's that kind of attention to detail that really, really works.
I'll be honest with you, there are just so many ways to play this game that no review is ever going to do it full justice. If you're a fan of action titles and don't mind taking the time for an impressive story, this is definitely a game you need to check out. Play it a few times, unlock a couple of the endings, really get a feel for how the game works and the way the world unfolds, try out different characters, different mod kits. This game is pretty damn magnificent.
I've still got more than half the alphabet of endings to beat, and you can be damn sure that I'm going to keep playing this until I hit them all. It just might take a while. And I'm so okay with that.