Xenoblade Chronicles 2 managed to take me on a journey that few games have ever managed to do. Throughout the game, I wanted to learn more about the world that has been created, from the history of Alrest, to the Titans, the Cloud Sea, the people, and the blades. Every area that you visit feels unique with its own type of people and environments. In Xenoblade 2 you will travel through snows fields, deserts and massive open plains, sometimes under the starlit sky and sometimes through rainstorms. No matter the setting the game never failed to impress.
The game starts off by introducing us to Rex, the main protagonist of the game and probably the character you will spend the most time playing. Rex is a salvager who takes on a contract that will turn his world upside down and set him on his journey through Alrest. When Rex is tasked with bringing up a ship hidden in the Cloud Sea, he meets Pyra, a blade of incredible power. In the world of Alrest, the Blades are weaponized life forms which form bonds with their Drivers, allowing them to fight together as one, Blades come in various forms and can fill the role of attacker, healer or tank. In addition to this, Blades also have various elements such as Fire, Water, Wind etc. Choosing which Blade to use is a key factor in Xenoblade's gameplay strategy as each element has a weakness and link together. Learning this can be a massive boost to the player's damage output in battles.
As you progress through the world, new companions will join you on your journey. You can choose to play as any character in your team or stick with Rex, though changing team members in different situations is key to some of the more difficult battles. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 does an amazing job with its characters. I found everyone interesting and the deep back-stories you get further enhances the characters and the world. It managed to drag me in every time I turned the game on, and even the more rare Blades will have their own quests where you get to learn more about that particular Blade.
Combat is extremely deep with a lot of things to learn. The game tries to give you some tutorials but I only actually started understanding the combat about 20 hours into the game. Combat works on an elemental board where you go into a battle with 2 other people - usually divided into Attacker, Healer, and Tank. This is not mandatory, but I found myself going with this combination more often. Combat revolves around the player auto attacking while they build up their arts, once the art meter is filled you can initiate a driver art, a special move of sorts that has various abilities such as doing more damage from the side or having a chance to spawn a healing item.
In addition to this, you have your special attack. These are high damaging, cinematic attacks that start a blade combo, each special attack has 4 versions, and the meter for this builds up as you use your arts. Once you have a level one special you can initiate this to the blade combo, where it will inflict damage as well as a status ailment such as burn. When the enemy is burning, you can switch to water and do a level 2 special to create a steam burst which further enhances the damage and changes the status ailment again, switching back to a fire blade you can then do a level 3 special to inflict huge damage and end the blade combo. After this, an elemental orb will float around the enemy. The goal is to get as many orbs as possible by switching between various elements and using your team members to add to the combo.
Once you have elemental orbs around the enemy you can initiate a chain attack, which allows you to go into a sequence to try and burst the orb with the opposite element resulting in incredibly high damage which can take out high-level enemies very quickly. The combat certainly takes getting used to and experimenting to see what works for you is key to success. It gives a lot of freedom and blades come quite easily as you progress so having good elemental team composition is quite easy to achieve. There is much more to the combat than this though and figuring it all out is just part of the journey.
Character development in Xenoblade 2 is top-notch. I found myself totally immersed in the world and the characters, rooting for them in cut-scenes and trying to learn as much about them as possible. The game sets up some great quest lines for the characters and the rare blades. There are also "Heart-to-Heart" story elements that give you more insight into characters and blades and help to increase your trust in each other. The story, at times, can be extremely over-the-top, but then again you do have some of the strongest beings in the world fighting against each other. At times it can feel like you are participating in Shonen anime and I found myself loving some of these over the top moments.
Two other standouts for the game are the world and the music. The world that has been created is simply beautiful, traveling from massive Titan to Titian puts you in different areas with their own ecosystem and varying environments. No area felt the same which allowed a uniqueness to develop for each place you visit. This is further enhanced by the music, which is the best game soundtrack since Nier Automate and, at times, I would just stand there and move the camera around slowly while listening to the music in awe of the area I was in. In this department, it can stand side by side with the best in the business.
There are some negatives though, firstly the lip syncing is quite terrible whether in English or Japanese, and it really can take you out of the moment at times. I found myself wondering if the game was broken because the lip syncing was so delayed, with characters talking and only after they finished did their mouths start moving. Secondly, while the game has some great quest lines that flesh out characters and blades there are some extremely annoying quests that, at first, seem to be something that will take 5 minutes only to find you have to travel to multiple locations searching for various items and 2 hours later give up on the quest and move onto something else. I found this happening too often and just continued with the main story as that was far more interesting.
Lastly, the field skill system needs to be tweaked a bit, field skills are skills that can be used outside of battle and every blade has their own field skill and can range from having one to multiple field skills. The problem comes in with rare blades, as they have unique field skills which can’t be found on common blades. Rare blades are extremely hard to get as they have a very low chance of spawning. This means that depending on how lucky you are you may be locked out of exploring certain areas or opening treasure chest. It wouldn’t be so bad if so many field skills were not limited to rare blades.
I can’t praise Xenoblade Chronicles 2 enough. I loved every moment of the game and even after finishing it there are still so many secrets to unlock. It’s very rare that I can play a game for 16 hours straight and still want to go back for more the next day. There are easily 80-100+ hours of gameplay here if you want to rush through but for those wanting to explore the world, find all the hidden areas, collect the rare blades, experiment with different combat setups this time can easily double if not triple. It is a superb game and I can’t recommend it enough. I’m looking forward to seeing what new story elements the season pass will contain, but for now if you are looking for a game to get lost in and sink hours of your life into, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 will have you covered - a must buy for Switch owners.
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1 December 2017
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