What is life? What does it mean to be alive? Can we atone for our past sins, or are we doomed to repeat history forever? Maybe these weren’t the questions you expected from Nier: Automata, a game that – on the surface at least – is about a sexy robot fighting other robots with swords and a talking laser turret. But that sort of philosophical existentialism is exactly what you’ll get if you play, along with a healthy dose of awe-inspiring martial acrobatics and swordplay, courtesy of developer Platinum Games.
Platinum may be a developer known for its third-person action games, but make no mistake, this is a small-scale, open-world RPG. You’ll find and equip new weapons as you level up by fighting tougher and tougher enemies, explore large biomes ranging from forest to desert to sunken city, complete side quests, and collect crafting materials so you can better your arsenal. All the trappings of an RPG are here, it’s just a bit streamlined to make way for dazzling displays of fast-paced combat.
And dazzling it certainly is. The game’s three protagonists are all agile, powerful warriors, capable of wielding katanas, broadswords, spears, fist bracers, and more. The solid 60fps framerate keeps combat feeling smooth, and little mid-combo flourishes like kickflips and twirls make each fighter feel capable and just plain fun to watch.
As an android, you have access to a wealth of customization options via plug-in computer chips. These, coupled with your choice of weapons and the aid of a support unit (called Pods), allow you to find the playstyle that suits you. If you prefer to hang back and let your Pod take down enemies in a hail of bullets and lasers, you can equip chips that boost those abilities. If you want to stay on the offensive, equip chips that give you a percentage of damage dealt back as health
There’s even a set of chips that lets the game play for you, so if things get too hard, you can not only bump the difficulty down, but also make it so you automatically evade, switch weapons, fire your ranged attacks, and more. When one particular boss fight was giving me hell, I swapped in an auto-evade chip but kept manual control of the rest of my abilities. It’s an incredibly robust system.
Automata effortlessly swings between perspectives and even genres, constantly keeping you on your toes. One minute you’re quest-hunting in the ruins of a city, the next you’re sprinting down castle hallways as the game becomes a sidescrolling beat-em-up, or dodging a barrage of projectiles as the camera lingers above, turning the game into a top-down bullet hell shooter. It’s a testament to Platinum’s work that this never comes across as gimmicky or confusing, but instead feels natural and comfortable.