I’m going to put what many will consider the most salient points from my time with the NieR: Automata preview build up front, which are that a) if you have the will and the necessary items you can ride an elk, and b) you can pet your flying companion robot Pod like it is a small floating dog. This will have piqued the interest of a substantial number of a certain type of person, but some people like more information than if there are animals and/or things you can pet. Very well.
In NieR: Automata the Earth has been invaded by mechanoid aliens, who appear as simplistic but relentless robots — the Automata of the title we infer, but not assume because history has show that a Nier game can have some surprises in the plot. Humanity was routed to the moon, and from there they send down androids called YoRHa to fight the war on their behalf and, hopefully, reclaim Earth one day. Enter the protagonist 2B, who is a combat android.
When the demo for Automata came out, a photo began circulating showing that 2B not only had a visible arse, but also a hole in it. The entire thing made me laugh quite a lot, even though the photo was of course fake, because androids are robots made to look like people — they’re not cyborgs or anything, they’re all just Kryten from Red Dwarf — so there is literally only one reason for one to make an android with a realistic arse, and even though it’s not in the actual game it’s still hilarious to me that someone would photoshop that.
And then, as I did play the actual game, my brain went on a long tangent wondering how and why the androids are sexed or gendered, because their entire purpose is to destroy the alien robots that look like big pedal bins with legs, and the only difference between 2B and her male android partner 9S is that 9S is dressed like Little Lord Fauntleroy and 2B has thigh highs and tits — so does that mean the only difference between the genders of the androids is a costume with a boob window for your cleavage? Are they just gendered, or sexed as well? Why are they gendered at all?
This wasn’t a tangent critical of the game or character design itself, it was just that the question of why humans would make their warbots all sexy made me laugh. There is no answer, apart from ‘Just ’cause,’ although there actually may be a reason that reflects on the larger themes of the story, at least based on the glimpses of plot I saw.
There’s something extra fun about wellying robots with a giant sword when the avatar you have to do it is a tiny waif dressed in black velvet. The camera angle occasionally drifts down, but I think this is more to do with the camera going a bit on the wonk when you’re on a slope rather than anything else (the camera was, at times, something to be wrangled with). But I liked 2B. She’s enjoyable to play as, as well as being unapologetic cosplay bait.
2B and 9S make a pretty solid team. Combat feels meaty, in that when you smash something it does indeed feel like you’ve smashed it, but I had trouble chaining attacks as elegantly as I felt 2B should be able to, given the lithe look of her. This could conceivably be because I was bad at it, but despite 2B moving very fast, the fighting did, sometimes, feel a bit laboured. On the other hand it obviously has several layers to it: dodging, jumping, strong and regular attacks, as well as your robot pal Pod firing rounds can all be combined, so it’ll take a bit of time to get truly great at it. Smacking robots is very much the core bit of gameplay, but there was a dusting of RPG questing — whether only a feathering light icing sugar that quickly disappears or something more substantial can’t be said — wherein I fetched some items for some shopkeepers, via smacking some robots.
There are a bunch of cool little things I saw in Automata that may pique your interest. There’s the Dark Souls adjacent way death works, which includes leaving behind a little haiku when you die; the huge building-sized enemies. Sometimes the camera swings around to give different angles on fights (top down or side on) forcing you to adjust your movements, and making it feel like 2B is being actively observed by something. The environments are overgrown and ruined edifices left over from human cities: empty shells of concrete blocked by huge trees and covered in ivy, or a desert with vestiges of a pipeline poking through the sand.
The hubris of mankind is writ large across the maps, and one wonders what exactly happened for humans to be overthrown by the rusty little salt-and-pepper pots 2B has to deal with. Sheer force of numbers perhaps?
So NieR: Automata is intriguing, and has captured my imagination (even if only in some very specific ways), and unfortunately some of the things I found most intriguing and enjoyed the best I am very much not allowed to talk about. But the preview inspired a lot of questions in me that I believe the full game might answer.
And, to reiterate: you can ride the wild elk, and you can pet your little robot friend.