This new build is RPG-centric
The first NieR: Automata demo I played (which was subsequently open to the public) was a way for Platinum to showcase its action prowess. It mostly centered on combat, and barely any time was spent idling away in menus.
A new preview build that I managed to get my hands on, however, fleshes out some of NieR‘s more nuanced tendencies, most of which are both somehow wacky and deep. Par for the course for NieR.
That wackiness involves some pretty out there storylines (that I can’t spoil here) and activities like riding animals, navigating low key jumping/platforming puzzles, and going fishing. While the first build was mostly a tunnel simulator with bosses (and giant mech fights), I was now able to see some of the sandbox mechanics, which I’m probably going to spend most of my time with in the final game. Going in and out of your basecamp, gathering resources for your squad and back into the fray is just…fun. There’s lots of silly stuff to do, Metal Gear Solid V style, and not just minimap busywork like a lot of other western open world projects.
Many more of those chips and equipment tweaks were unlocked for me to mess with, opening up an insane amount of builds. The Pod (the little robot companion thing) can morph into many different forms, including giant hammers that are great for bosses, and a bunch of spears that handle crowds. You even have to build your OS so to speak, stacking chips on top of one another to achieve a balance of buffs like extra dash speed, strength, and so on. One chip, when removed, even results in instant death. It’s wild.
Seeing the base in action was also my opportunity to buy items, which run the gamut of consumables and the aforementioned chip loot. You can also straight-up earn them by killing enemies, incentivizing combat beyond the leveling system. It’s a good take for a game with such a compelling action system. Speaking of RPG tendencies, Automata even borrows a page from the Souls playbook. In this build I was introduced to the reliquary System, a body-retrieval mechanic that buffs you when you re-visit your corpse.
Oh, it’s beautiful too. The soundtrack is hauntingly distinct, the art style, while a tad muted, works without making the game seem too bleak (those ruined cityscapes are wonderful), and it’s still 1080p60 on a PS4 Pro. Even though it’s technically the same universe as Drakengard and the original NieR, it manages to get its point across really quickly and evolve into its own thing.
I mean, it starts off with an Ikaruga-esque shoot-’em-up sequence where your ship re-configures into a Gundam (note: this bit instantly segues into the first public demo, where you crash land into an arena fight). As a shmup enthusiast I especially adore how the perspective shifts from a vertical shooter, to a 360-degree twin-stick plane, to a traditional horizontal joint like R-Type. Oh, and you level-up during it! There’s a chance this gimmick could become dangerously over-used, but I’m all about it at the moment.
Although it seems highly inefficient to equip Automata‘s androids with an array of human emotions, I’m sure it’s going to lead to a lot of juicy moments — hopefully the story won’t go too far off the rails or retreat into a dark corner of insanity and rapid-paced plot points that merely move the setpieces along, as there’s a lot of potential here.
Nier: Automata will launch on March 7 on the PS4, and later this year on PC.