The developers of Nier: Automata understand how important it is that a really big sword feels like a really big sword. The upcoming action-RPG puts you in the role of an android soldier who wields a blade that’s even taller than she is, and when you swing it for a heavy attack, there’s an incredibly satisfying weight to it; it takes a moment before she’s able to swing the sword around, and when it connects with a group of robots it lands with a pleasing crunch. It just feels good.
Tomorrow Square Enix is releasing a demo of the game on PlayStation 4 so that you can experience it for yourself. And while it’s brief — you can easily finish the demo in under an hour — it’s a tantalizing glimpse at what could end up being the best action game of 2017.
Automata is a sequel to the original Nier, a flawed-but-memorable game released in 2010 that went on to become something of a cult classic. While its world and story pulled people in, Nier was roundly criticized for its messy and overly difficult combat, something the team aimed to fix with the sequel. Automata moves the setting forward a few thousand years, and stars an android named 2B, part of an elite group of soldiers tasked with saving a post-apocalyptic version of Earth from an onslaught of mechanized alien forces. The demo has 2B infiltrating some kind of production facility in search of a particularly huge enemy robot so that she can destroy it.
The demo doesn’t give much away story wise; you’ll hear some brief snippets of dialogue hinting at the “old world,” and you’re able to chat a bit with a second android character named 9S. It also doesn’t delve much into the role-playing aspects of the game, like skill and gear upgrades, which admittedly is hard to do in such a short time. Instead, the focus is smartly placed on the action.
To fix Automata’s combat, Square Enix enlisted the help of Platinum Games, the studio behind renowned action experiences like Bayonetta and Vanquish. And like the developer’s previous work, combat in Automata has a very specific and intuitive sense of flow. You can’t just swing that big sword around wildly; you need to chain together light, strong, and ranged attacks in order to defeat the huge squads of security bots you’ll come up against. In addition to a huge blade, 2B also has the help of a machine-gun-toting drone, and it’s incredibly satisfying finding ways to link her various attacks together to smoothly dispatch of foes.
Everything feels fast and fluid, but what makes the combat in Automata particularly great is how it’s constantly changing. It’s a third-person action game, but often the camera will shift to make it feel like something totally different. At times the camera moves to the side so it’s like playing a classic side-scrolling beat ‘em up, in other moments it zooms high up for a bird’s-eye view that makes Automata feel like a top-down shooter. The boss battle that caps off the demo is particularly impressive, with 2B facing off against a massive machine that looks like an entire naval ship transformed into a gigantic robot with saw blades for hands. You even get to pilot a mech suit at the end.
Not only does the combat feel great, but it also just plain looks cool. 2B moves with a wonderfully detached sense of calm and grace, neatly cutting down enemies while barely showing any kind of distress. And the ruined Earth proves to be a perfect backdrop for her particular blend of balletic carnage. The industrial areas you explore in the demo provide a sense of the world that was, while also offering the game’s designers plenty of opportunities to craft organic-feeling arenas where 2B can fight against swarms of robots. The post-apocalyptic grit is punctuated by the bright greens of nature fighting its way back, and futuristic flourishes like the floating holographic displays that pop up when you chat with other characters.
It’s obviously too early to say whether or not Automata’s slick action will hold up for the entire game. But from what I’ve played the sequel definitely fixes arguably the biggest problem with the original Nier. And in a year that looks to be packed with huge names and plenty of blockbusters, Nier: Automata could well end up being a must-have for action fans.
Nier: Automata’s demo is available tomorrow on PS4, while the game launches on March 7th on PS4, with a Steam version coming later in the year.