At Gamescom 2016 I was given the opportunity to view a gameplay demonstration for NieR: Automata – Square Enix and Platinum Games’ upcoming Action RPG due out next year. As the follow-up to 2010’s NieR the game takes place in the same universe as Drakengard, set in an unknown time following the events of the previous title. With all that information in tow, I certainly had a lot of questions – many of which were answered during an extensive showcase followed by a brief hands-on session with an action-heavy time trial.
Going into the off-hands section of the demo, I was given a bit of exposition. Humanity is still fighting a war against an alien race, who invaded earth and forced humans to flee to the moon. Humans, as well as the aliens, use androids to fight each other on our home planet. You play the female android YoRHa No. 2 Model B, or simply “2B” – supported by the male android “9S” and the old, muted “A2” model.
The demo starts off within the ruins of a city on Earth. Destroyed buildings and tilted skyscrapers are overrun by greens as nature slowly regains control. Little tent roofs spread about the small alleys between the cement giants act like cobwebs and it’s here the human resistance has established camp. As 2B and 9S walk around, Platinum Games show off examples of different camera angles you can select such as a lateral view – which was also featured in the previous game. They’ve added in this option to give a certain “arcade” or “retro” feel.
Eventually, the protagonists leave the camp to wander about the vicinity to reach a square with mechanical lifeforms. Following their desire to become human they developed a doll-ish appearance and won’t fight you unless you attack them. To demonstrate some fight scenes, one of the developers initiates battle and we’re able to see these slow-moving enemies are no match for the protagonists.
The tour continues throughout the ruins and our androids climb and jump around – showcasing the more vertical level design the developers wanted to implement in NieR: Automata. Exploration will be a very important aspect of gameplay, so expect areas to be quite huge.
Moving on we switched levels using the debug tool, landing in the dunes of a vast desert. By inching closer to some rock formations we can see some nice texture work, dust clouds and heat haze – all of which are working together to create a believable surrounding. Enemies will not just visually differ in terms of how they attack or how strong they are, they will also reflect each environment you confront them in. Here, some hostile machine lifeforms are covered by nets or scraps of cloth and attack you with spears.
While there is a lot of fast-paced melee combat, both you and enemies can also attack with ranged weapons. Your little robot adds allow you to shoot and even glide through the air, increasing possible combos. In our walk-through, 2B and 9S take advantage of this and defeat some androids flying around in round pods shooting red orbs. Most of the androids in the desert simply jump out of the sand, like a metallic giant with big arms and fists. It’s not a boss monster as producer Yosuke Saito points out, but one of the bigger and tougher enemies you will encounter in each area of the game. He has strong armor so you have to tear it down bit by bit by attacking his weak points – indicated by small robotic heads staring around.
At the end of our session I was able to play a 3-minute long time trial level with waves of enemies coming after me. It was developed for demonstration reasons and will not be in the final game.
By pressing the square button you can perform quick and light attacks. Heavy attacks can be charged by pressing triangle and strung together with light ones in a combo. Evading enemy attacks at the right moment will also reward you with stronger counter attacks. I was able to play around with different weapons including the swift sword and even faster mechanical fists – punching out every screw of my robotic enemies within seconds.
You can really feel Platinum Games’ involvement in this project. Controls are very tight, fluid and fast-paced leading to a surprisingly straight-forward and fun combat experience. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to pull off some of the jump attacks due to the short play time.
The NieR: Automata demo Square Enix prepared for Gamescom this year was short but left me with a very strong impression of things to come. The game surely is very beautiful and contains those cool, wacky designs you might expect from a Taro Yoko game. The return of an interesting mix between action adventure, RPG and other genres combined with the support of Platinum Games and Keiichi Okabe’s acclaimed soundtrack build a great foundation for a potential hit when it releases in 2017.