Impaling the metallic coating of machines with all manner of sharp implements never fails to feel wonderful in NieR: Automata. Despite its core gameplay consisting of the hack and slash infused combat that is typical of its genre, this sci-fi adventure is bundled with enough variety to make Darksiders 2 blush. Said variety in question has assisted NieR: Automata in being one of this year’s standout games so far and allows it to confidently deviate from the typical hack and slash repetition that plague so many games of its genre.
NieR: Automata’s most obvious standout feature is its abundance of enjoyable RPG-esque elements. From its traditional hack and slash conventions such as collecting and upgrading weapons, to providing the player with a large open world littered with side quests and secrets, these elements aid in alleviating the linearity and ‘beat this chapter, proceed to the next one’ nature of hack and slash games. As enjoyable as games such as Devil May Cry and Bayonetta may be, their practice of confining players to a fixed path towards the goal can on occasion create a sense of tedium. NieR: Automata recognizes this, and uses variety to its advantage every step of the way.
Although the aforementioned features would be more than enough to provide a stellar experience, NieR: Automata rises above and beyond the call of duty. Scattered throughout its story are instances requiring for you to take to the skies in a heavy firepower packing flight unit. Cue a bullet hell sword fighting fusion, with camera angles that progressively alter, changing the exact nature of flight unit control in the process. Instances such as these within NieR: Automata would predictably fall apart in practice, but bizarrely they work wonders, and further cement NieR: Automata’s mastery of utilizing gameplay variety to avoid repetition like the plague.
The creative additions to combat in NieR: Automata are also worth mentioning, due to them contributing so much joy to what could otherwise be a very stale ‘mash this button to swing your sword’ formula of gameplay. Via the utilization of your Pod (a floating mechanical partner equipped with an unlimited quantity of rapid bullets), you can gun down your enemies whilst simultaneously indulging in the standard slicing and dicing of sword swinging. With three separate Pods to collect, each offering a separate base weapon, and a plethora of Pod special abilities, from lasers to giant summonable hammers, the depth to NieR: Automata’s combat soon becomes apparent.
Finally, NieR: Automata’s most standout feature is its use of multiple storylines, each offering a different character to control. What makes said storylines so excellent however is that your character level, weapons, items, and even side quest data, all carry over. This once again serves to alleviate what would be a humongous sense of repetition. Instead of having to re-upgrade your character for each storyline, and re-complete miscellaneous fetch quests that you would rather leave in the past, you can move forward and focus on simply enjoying a generous helping of brand new content, without the necessity of retreading the old. This, along with the knowledge that each character plays with significant difference to one another (such as 9S’s unique hacking mechanic), re-affirms that NieR: Automata’s stellar quality is primarily as a result of its continuous strive to provide varied and fresh content to the player, without falling into traps of predictability or repetition. For this reason, it stands head and shoulders above its hack and slash competitors and offers a truly masterful experience within its genre.