Nier: Automata, the sequel to 2010 Square Enix RPG , is both like and unlike its predecessor. It’s similar in that it features dark themes, an open world that unfolds as the story progresses, and is being worked on by the same character artist and composer. But what sets Automata apart from the Nier of before is its core: Automata is in development at Platinum Games, a studio best known for their skill with action games. And Nier: Automata does not disappoint when it comes to that.
According to Takahisa Taura, the game’s lead designer at Platinum, Automata is being made by the “younger generation” within Platinum Games, a team of newer designers who are hopeful to prove themselves with this title. Most of the time when you think of Platinum, you think of developers like Okami and Bayonetta creator Hideki Kamiya, but according to Taura, the “old” team is focused on Scalebound and other projects while Taura’s team builds Nier.
During a hands-on demo with Nier: Automata, I was immediately reminded of the aforementioned Bayonetta. Combat is fluid, and switching between attacks and weapons is smooth. Playing as the android warrior 2B, I flipped and flitted around my enemies, whipped my sword out mid-air to smack them away before following up with a ranged attack. Everything moved quickly, a dance between enemies, 2B and her AI companion 9S.
2B can jump, dash to evade hits, and execute heavy and light attacks. Attacks are mapped to the controller’s face buttons, and certain inputs will execute combo attacks. Successfully dodging an attack will give 2B access to a special, more powerful action. 2B can also switch between two sets of weapons: one with a large sword and a katana, and another with a katana and a pair of heavy metal gloves good for up-close melee combat.
Both 2B and 9S also have pods, small floating robots that float around them at all times. In the face of enemies, the pods can function like turrets, shooting balls of energy to take them down. Turrets can be left to their own devices and will automatically shoot at whatever is in the center of the screen, or players can manually control the pods and aim to shoot. All of these attack options can be changed on the fly, which comes in handy because most enemies move pretty quickly. I found myself dodge-dashing between enemy projectiles and jumping through the air to land on their heads, pounding them into the dirt with my metal fists before switching weapon sets and whipped out the katana to finish his horde of brethren closing in behind me. It felt empowering and incredibly satisfying.
The world of Nier: Automata also looks alive, and feels vast. I emerged from a tunnel into a large desert, and I could see to the horizon in both directions. Enemy machines popped out of the sand as I walked, attacking me in droves without warning. Some enemies had tougher armor that had to be stripped away through melee before I could deal any damage.
Nier director and creator Yoko Taro confirmed that Nier’s world is open, though how open it is depends on story progression.
“For the most part it is billed as an open-world and you can go into all the areas, but it is based on the storylines, so the world will expand along with the story,” he said. “So it is very similar to the previous title where it is an open-world-like map that expands as you go along the story.”
Taro also confirmed that there will be a host of other familiar RPG elements, including settlements and camps for the Resistance–the humans left behind on earth fighting machines–where 2B can purchase items and rest. These settlements are packed with somber-looking NPCs, clad in gray and quietly sitting around fires. The fishing minigame from the original Nier will also return, albeit with a few tweaks to make it more fun, Taro said. He did, however, explain how the fishing mini-game would fit into Automata’s world.
The original Nier asked players to complete the game three or four times to completion to uncover the full story; each playthrough would yield new bits of information and fresh perspectives on its characters, adding depth to the narrative. When asked if Nier: Automata would have the same layout, Taro said the team is planning something similar, but not quite along the lines of needing multiple playthroughs.
“It’s not exactly the same but there are some similar mechanics in the storyline,” he said. “It will be a little bit different than the previous title but there will be the same kind of gimmick. But it’s not like an RPG where there is just one route you can take.”
The original Nier also gave players one end-game choice that would result in your save file being totally deleted, never to be recovered. When asked if that gameplay element would return, Taro was sly.
“That’s a secret,” he said.