Xenoblade Chronicles X is a massive open world JRPG with breathtaking art design that is some of the most gorgeous of the generation. The MMO style combat is carried over from its predecessor which is fast and fluid this time switching between ranged and melee attacks. However, a poorly paced story with an ending that creates more questions than it answers left the game feeling hollow.
In Xenoblade Chronicles X, gameplay is split up into three main sections: resource management, exploration and combat. Part of the main story is that there are those dedicated to venturing out and planting probes to reveal information about the continents. Each time you place a probe, you will gain more materials whether that be collectible items or, more often than not, money or a resource called Miranium. You will have access to different types of probes and, if several of the same type are chained together, the output you receive will be boosted. The player will reap these rewards about once every 30 minutes. Don’t fret if you change your mind about a specific location, though. You can switch what type of probe you want at any location at any given time. This is the least important aspect of gameplay, but if you do it right, you can rake in a ton of cash to buy new gear.
However, the exploration aspect is arguably the most addicting part to the game. There are five massive continents that make up the planet of Mira and you have access to all of them from the beginning. Sure, there are some areas that you shouldn’t go to with roaming packs of wild life always present, some aggressive, some passive, and all varying in strength, but you have the option. This is one of if not the biggest game world of the year and each continent has its own distinct look. The starting continent, Primordia, has vast grassy plains while Oblivia is more of a desert setting with massive metal structures lodged in the ground suggesting civilizations long gone. Running from area to area whenever you want and finding new landmarks or secret areas that grant you experience never gets old.
Xenoblade Chronicles X’s combat consists of auto-attacks and special skills called arts that are lined up across the bottom of your screen during combat. These are often spatially specific such as a specific attack causing more damage if performed from behind or from the side with additional effects if you let a school achieve a secondary or tertiary cool down. You never have to guess about where you are at with the game letting you know your orientation in relation to the enemy at all times. Your created character also has the option of picking between three different classes early on: Striker (a mix of offensive and defensive skills), Commando (focuses on dealing damage while also casting damage enhancing buffs) and Enforcer (support based and focuses on ranged attacks). Stemming from each of these are four additional subclasses that allow you to specialize on what you want to do. Each class has to be ranked up to level 10 within an upgrade path to unlock the next one, but you can switch to any of the base three classes (or any subclasses that you have unlocked) anytime you want for free.
The final aspect to gameplay are the mechs, or Skells as they are called here. For those of you hoping to get them right away, well, you will be disappointed. Skells are not obtainable until around the 30 hour mark and only after a not so great eight part quest to obtain a license. About 6-10 hours after that is when you will unlock the flight module for your Skell and can fly wherever you’d like in the game world. While this initially seems like a big drawback, it ends up having the exact opposite effect. Experiencing these vast continents on foot from the ground level makes you appreciate all of the art design and sheer scale of the work that went into the game and makes you feel like Mira is truly an alien planet. Once you get your Skell, not only does it have its own set of Arts attached to whatever equipment it has, but also allows you to speed your way through environments which is great, but makes them lose some of their luster. Also the fact that you can take on stronger enemies while in your Skell makes on foot combat less necessary which is also unfortunate because you may spend less time caring about what class you are and the skills you have. Overall the Skells are great but don’t make or break the game.
Story and Modes:
The story begins as two warring alien factions fight over the Earth and rain destruction on the planet through collateral damage. But humanity jettisons off of the planet in a number of massive ships carrying citizens and equipment to colonize new worlds. The White Whale escaped the planet shortly before it was destroyed entirely. After being followed, the ship is shot down and crash lands on the planet Mira where colonization efforts begin around the city of New Los Angeles. Once you create your character, you are found by Elma, a colonel in the human army called BLADE and you return to NLA to figure out what to do next.
After how fantastic the story in the original Xenoblade Chronicles was, I had high hopes for the sequel. Unfortunately, the main narrative is good at the best of times and entirely forgettable at its worst. None of the characters here are incredibly endearing or memorable. They are all serviceable but nothing spectacular. And that last statement pretty much sums up the main story entirely. The affinity missions that are spread throughout NLA are more character focused and provide some of the better moments in the game from a storytelling perspective and there are some normal quest lines that are great such as an assassination plot targeted toward a member of NLA who sympathizes with some of the alien species you come into contact with.
There is a multiplayer component to Xenoblade Chronicles X which, honestly I haven’t been able to play much of so far. Constant server disconnects have been a problem since day one and will happen within five to ten minutes of starting up the game. There is a 32 player squad mode that you will jump into every time you start the game which gives everyone in the squad a shared pool of specific numbers and types of creatures to take out. Everyone stays in their own game and there is no interaction, but you can see the numbers in the bottom right of the screen decrease as players go hunting. For completing these, everyone gets reward tickets to buy in game items which helps with some of the bad gathering side quests where you have to find a specific number of a specific item which are entirely randomized throughout the world. There is a four player mode where you can join three others to take on challenges together, but I have not been able to stay online long enough to try with the exception of once where I was ready and waiting for others to join me. No one did and then I was disconnected. Regardless, this is not a game that you should buy for its multiplayer nor was it ever.
Visuals and Sound:
Visually, Xenoblade Chronicles X is stunning and one of the best looking games of the year. The art direction of not only the environments but also with the creatures and Skells are fantastic. Character models don’t look incredible and there is a fair amount of pop in terms of enemies and NPCs. There are optional free downloadable data packs available on the Wii U Shop for the game that will install parts of the game to the hard drive, but all four together take up around 12 GB which, if you don’t have an external hard drive for your system as I don’t, is too much space. I downloaded the general one they suggest and noticed improved loading times.
From an audio perspective, the English voice acting is totally fine. It doesn’t have the charm that the original game did with its British voice cast, but the people involved here did a good job. The lone exception to this is the direction they took voicing one of the species you come across that all sound like someone who inhaled a ton of helium and then jumped into the studio to turn on autotune. It’s bad. But the music for the most part is great. The music in NLA is an odd combination of rock, hip hop and country with some interesting vocals. There’s no doubt some people won’t be big fans of this, but I found it quirky and it fit with the tone of the game.
Even though this is sequel to the original Xenoblade Chronicles, it is a spiritual one and not a direct continuation. If you played the original, you will pick up on some references, but these are all new characters in a new world with a new story. There have been a fair number of AAA open world games released this year, but what sets Xenoblade Chronicles X apart is the creativeness of the different continents and the creatures that inhabit them. There were some vistas and creatures that caused my jaw to literally drop. Also, with the Wii U not getting MGS V, Fallout 4 or The Witcher 3, this is the open world game to buy on the system.
I completed the game in about 55 hours. This was with completing a number of the affinity missions and many of the basic sidequests that constantly repopulate. Throughout the game even though the vast majority of the missions were either gathering materials, bounties or settling disputes between residents of NLA, I bought into the idea that everything I did was helping us to survive on this new alien world. There was a feeling that every little objective worked toward the greater good of the survival which is a credit to the game that it made me feel that way. However, the disappointing story which ends on a massive cliffhanger is incredibly unfortunate and the texture pop-in can be jarring. Luckily the world and combat save this game by being fantastic. While Xenoblade Chronicles X may not live up to its predecessor, it is still a solid game that RPG fans should check out.