NieR: Automata Hands-On Preview

Over my time being a part of DYEGB I have been given many opportunities to preview upcoming games. I still remember my very first preview (MGS V) and how nervous I was to do it. Giving respect to the developers allowing you to see their unfinished product while also being honest to our readers is sometimes a fine line to walk. Recently I was given the lovely opportunity to visit Bandai Namco’s Sydney office and play a preview build of PlatinumGames’ upcoming release, NieR: Automata. The preview ran for about two hours and extended off of the demo that is already available for download on the PlayStation Network. If you haven’t already played this demo, I highly recommend it as it is good fun and gives you a solid idea of what the full game will be like. Anyway, let’s discuss what the game was like past where the demo leaves off.

For those who don’t know, NieR: Automata is a sequel to the underrated action-RPG NieR which is being developed by PlatinumGames and published by Square Enix. In terms of action it’s a rather interesting blend of classic hack-and-slash (a genre in which Platinum are of course quite adept) and elements of bullet hell games (also called danmaku) like Batsugun or Gundemonium. Story-wise the game takes place in the same universe as the original, but at the moment it appears that there’s not going to be too much connection between the two narratives. NieR: Automata’s basic plot sees humanity driven from Earth by an invading robot army, in fact such is the might of this army that humans find themselves having to set up camp on the Moon. Not content to let precious Earth be crushed in the grips of these mechanical bastards, humanity sends sentient androids called YoRHa into the fray. At least in what we’ve seen so far you play the role of a YoRHa, whose mission it is to drive back the machines and reclaim what’s left of Earth.

For the sake of avoiding spoilers I’ll be vague on plot details revealed during my extended look at the game, and instead I’ll just speak about how the game flowed. Picking up from where the demo leaves off, the game actually transitions into an open world. The more linear sections like those from the demo do crop up, but for a lot of the game you’ll have a substantial amount of freedom to peruse NieR: Automata’s post-apocalyptic world at your leisure. It appears as if PlatinumGames have gone for a more esoteric approach to the design of the overall game; not much context is really given and the game is content for you to discover it without too much heavy-handed exposition.

While the demo emphasised the action in NieR: Automata, the section I played showcased the more classic RPG side. There are NPCs and sidequests and the like, and in classic RPG style you gain experience and levels by defeating enemies and completing quests. In terms of mechanics, something that might set it apart is in the character customisation, which has you equipping modules and attachments to your character. These can have the effect of buffing some of your characters stats and attacks, or even UI tweaks like displaying the XP gauge on the HUD. Although in my playthrough I could only buy them, it’s likely that these modules will be found throughout the game world, and perhaps even custom crafted from materials gained from fallen enemies. This material acquired from vanquishing foes can at the very least be used to upgrade both melee and ranged weapons, and in general I dig the RPG layering that NieR presents.

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Combat is as smooth and fluid as ever. Enemies attack in wave-like patterns and it’s important to keep moving lest you get hammered by ranged or melee attacks. The scene can become fairly chaotic when you have a lot of enemies attacking at once with bullets flying like the lobby scene of the Matrix, but admirably the game clicks along at a smooth 60fps running on a vanilla PS4 (although cutscenes are in 30fps, much like Halo 5 Guardians). The visuals have an awesome unique style, and I particularly like our monochromatic heroes’ beautifully fluid movement and deadly attack animations. The environments that I encountered were also quite varied, which are essential in creating a captivating world. While the demo largely took place in a muted and dreary rusted out setting, other areas contain quite a bit of life to them (albeit life in a post-apocalyptic sense). An example is in a metropolitan area that has slowly been reclaimed by the local flora after man’s hasty departure. Dilapidated buildings choked by vines and greenery look like they could fall at any moment as Nature takes back her throne. Environments like this one really shine, and hopefully we’ll see more of this in the final product.

In terms of the story, I can definitely see the direction where Platinum were going and I think that underneath the relatively simple ‘reclaim the Earth’ story there will be some much deeper themes. The YoRHa don’t technically have emotions but are programmed with distinct personality types which makes for some interesting interplay. For instance 2B (the female android from the demo) is programmed to be very stern and focused on the mission, whereas 9S is programmed to be a little more human, in the sense that he’s curious and grateful when needs be. Your mechanical nemeses are not necessarily mute punching bags either, they’ve got their own voice and mystery as well…

I can’t divulge too much more, but from what I’ve seen Platinum are looking to take the narrative in a direction that could prove to be quite unexpected. In fact, if it all comes together NieR: Automata could be a powerhouse of a console exclusive for PlayStation (although it’s available on PC too, sorry Xbox). My only worry about the game is not so much the game itself, it’s more the fact that it may be overshadowed by the other massive PS4 exclusive in the same month, Horizon: Zero Dawn. Only time will tell, but we’re certainly keeping our good eye on this one.

NieR: Automata is set to release on March 10 on the PlayStation 4 and PC.

Jordan lives and breathes Dark Souls, even though his favourite game is Bloodborne. He takes pride in bashing his face on walls and praising the sun. Hailing from the land of tacos, he is the token minority for WellPlayed.