Nier: Automata is absolutely wild. It is the single strangest game I have ever played, which is no surprise when you remember that this is the man who directed it.
I digress – Square Enix recently announced that Automata has now shipped a whopping five million copies since it originally launched back in 2017. I’m no mathematician, but five million is quite a large number. That being said, it should be much, much larger in this instance, because Nier: Automata is an incredible game that all of you definitely need to play.
I’m not going to spoil anything about the story of Nier: Automata, because I want you to actually play it for yourselves. What I will say is that the narrative is… let’s just call it unique. It did things I had never witnessed any other game even consider attempting before, and somehow managed to nail a grand total of every single one of them. There are 26 different endings, which range from actual, proper conclusions to you taking out protagonist 2B’s OS chip (she’s an android) and the game entering a fail state as a result.
That second point is interesting, because I can expand on that without really spoiling anything. Automata is very interested in flaunting its ostensibly meta narrative. You can accomplish some amazing things simply by tinkering with the UI, while the menus all have direct relevance to the way in which you choose to play the game. You can even buy trophies or achievements with in-game currency, which is something I was fuming about when I found out because I’d spent about 20 hours after finishing the game trying to get platinum. That lad Yoko Taro is a great big messer.
This all feeds into what I was talking about earlier, too. Nier: Automata plays in a very distinct and impressionable way. While it’s a hack-and-slash game, you can put combat into easy mode by slotting certain auto-chips in that allow you to sit back and watch fights as your AI-controlled character executes every single step perfectly. You can ride a rollercoaster in an amusement park, except it immediately switches from a third-person 3D perspective to a flat 2D aesthetic, with the aforementioned hack-and-slash mechanics now being imposed over a new side-scrolling base.
What I’m getting at is that nothing about this game is predictable – not the narrative, not the combat, not even the exploration you’d think could be managed relatively mindlessly. Nier: Automata is always confronting you, and challenging you to actually pay attention to it. Sometimes this is subtle and dialed-back – on other occasions, the game straight up speaks to you. It’s over three years old, but it’s still one of the most unapologetically ambitious games out there. I actually think Automata should be bad given its approach to design… and yet, somehow, it is consistently excellent from start to finish – especially when it goes from relatively tame to absolutely batshit in the space of about three seconds, which it does every three seconds.
I also want to mention that Nier: Automata has one of the best soundtracks in the history of games, and I’m not even remotely exaggerating that. I saw an orchestra perform it live back in February – when concerts were still allowed – and the songs still struck a chord with me three years after playing it. I don’t listen to many game soundtracks, but City Ruins (Rays of Light) was not just first on the “most played” section of my Spotify Wrapped this year – it was first and second, because I regularly listen to two different versions of it. Don’t even get me started on the music that plays in the Flooded City. Honestly, you really need to walk through its bombed-out backdrop while listening to some of the best tunes ever written for a game, purely because it is a magnificent testament to how evocative these virtual worlds can be.
As I said earlier, five million is by no means a small number. But Warzone had 85 million players as of the beginning of the month, which is 17 times the amount of units Automata has shipped in almost four years. I’m telling you now, if you’re one of the people who has yet to pick up Automata, now is the perfect time to rectify that. A lot of us have some extra free time over the holidays, which means we can catch up on games caught in the limbo of our ever-growing backlogs. But on top of that, Nier Replicant – a remake of an alternate version of the original Nier game – is out in April. If you get into Automata now, you’ll be able to play what’s probably going to be one of the low-key best games of 2021 at launch – and right now, we could all use something exciting to look forward to.
Also, it’s 50% off on Steam at the moment. And the PS Store. And the Microsoft Store. Go on. You know you want to.
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Cian Maher is the Lead Features Editor at TheGamer. He’s also had work published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Verge, Vice, Wired, and more. You can find him on Twitter @cianmaher0.
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