If you had told me in December that one of my favorite games of the year was going to be Nier: Automata, I would have looked at you like you were crazy. As the amazing games continue to pile on, Nier: Automata stands above them all. The game takes place thousands of years in the future, where earth was attacked by alien robots, and humanity was forced to seek refuge on the moon. To save themselves, humanity built androids to battle the robot forces, and make earth habitable for humans. This is where the player comes in, as you take control of the female android, 2B. 2B is one of many android’s part of the YOHRA group, tasked with rescuing humanity.
As you progress through the game, you are accompanied by a scouting unit named 9s. As 2B, you are tasked with missions, you start to find out things are not as black as white as they seem. 9s seems to have an intense curiosity to understand machines, and 2B is only driven by her objective, her emotions are cold and calculated, a true soldier focused on the mission. This may be a sequel, but in the timeline, it is so far removed from the original Nier that playing that game is only necessary to understand some Easter eggs and other small references.
What really stands out, though, is the structure of the story. The director, Yoko Taro, creates a story that has you coming back for more, with five main endings (roughly three playthroughs, depending on some choices), and 21 extra hidden endings. While the game refers to these as endings, it’s more accurate to think of these as chapters. The first two “endings” are very similar, but the second “ending” gives a lot of context to the events of the first playthrough.
The story tackles large questions of ideology, and how complicated human emotions can be. The world explores what happens when these machines find remnants of human society, and try to emulate what they did. Whether it’s robots who have formed a death cult, believing they can “die and become gods” or a village of pacifists who don’t understand the emotion of fear. Nier: Automata goes places in ways that I never anticipated, and in the final stretch of the game, I couldn’t put the controller down because I was so compelled to see the conclusion.
Accompanying this story, is an easy to learn, but deep combat system. The player has chip-sets that they plug-in to give their character abilities. It plays like a 3rd person action game, like the Devil May Cry series. The gameplay is very tight and responsive, with a lot of variation on weapons and weapon abilities. For those who struggle with these types of games, there is even a very easy mode where the game can almost play itself entirely.
While the world is post-apocalyptic, there seems to be an intense beauty in this world. The world map isn’t very large, but is compact, with plenty of unique and beautiful locations. Whether it’s the serenity of a lush forest, or the bright and colorful amusement park, Nier: Automata finds a way to keep the players in awe.
My only complaint with the game, and what keeps it from being a 10, is the side quest system. Most of the side quests are glorified fetch quests, and playing them seems boring. The other part that’s bothersome is that the game is not very clear when side quests become unavailable. I missed some side quests on my first playthrough because I decided to do a main story quest, and some quests became unavailable. This is especially frustrating because the side quests have such a good pay off and provide interesting ideas or concepts in this world.
Overall, Nier: Automata is the complete package. It has plenty of content, with an amazing story, and fluid combat. The characters are memorable, and develop a strong emotional attachment to the player. This all culminates with a near-perfect recipe, with one imperfection that was too glaring to ignore. Despite this, don’t be surprised when this game comes up in Game of The Year conversations at multiple outlets.