"Exploring these enormous areas teeming with life...is predictably a delight."
One thing that Monolith Soft undoubtedly excels at, and they certainly do little wrong these days, is building robust and eminently intriguing open worlds for players to explore in their Xenoblade Chronicles series. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 (XC2), the non-direct sequel to the original on the Wii, follows suit and thrusts players into a vast world of clouds known as Alrest. The remnants of humanity live on the backs of giant beasts known as Titans, and these beasts lumber through Alrest's sea of clouds towards their inevitable demise.
It's quite the setup and one that hooked me before I even got my hands on the game. Why is civilization relegated to living on Titans? What's below the clouds? What the heck is Elysium? It's an auspicious start to a narrative that the developer has made a main selling point, deeming XC2 a "story-driven" RPG. Given the alleged size of the game, it's expected that these mysteries and more will very slowly unravel as you embark upon a quest to ensure humanity's survival.
The game opens with the main character Rex, a salvager, doing his salvager thing atop a Titan he affectionately addresses as "Gramps" out in the middle of the cloud sea. After taking on a very high-paying job from a mysterious and seedy group of clients, Rex finds himself inextricably linked to a living weapon of legendary proportions known as Pyra. Things get all kinds of complicated for poor Rex from here on out as word quickly spreads about his mythical new companion.
I've plugged a couple dozen hours or so into XC2 ahead of its official release and, although that's barely scratching the surface, I've come away with a few thoughts worth sharing. It's much too early for any judgments on story, but the early worldbuilding is expectedly slow and methodical as backstory is revealed and motivations are established. The first couple of hours are quite action-packed as Rex meets Pyra, but things tail off a bit as players are introduced to various aspects of the game world and thrust into their first huge map to explore. Exploring these enormous areas teeming with life, both aggressive and docile, is predictably a delight. You're just as likely to find a cool, sort-of-hidden place accessible by a bridge made of giant tree roots as you are to be one-shot by an impossibly powerful monster that chooses to make your day a bad one.
I've got mixed feelings about the battle system so far, but my opinion on it is incomplete at this point. Much like the original Xenoblade Chronicles, the system is complex with many moving parts, and the game provides tutorials that range from mostly helpful to a tad confusing. Up to this point I haven't seen a way to review previous tutorials and tips, which is a bit frustrating as I try to wrap my head around a system that rewards an informed use of mechanics rather than mindless auto-attacking and thoughtless skill use. It could be that I've yet to encounter this feature as, rather amazingly, I still have some menu options locked at this point. Additionally, though not available at this time, there's certainly the possibility that a digital manual is provided with reference material.
The art direction has both positive and negative effects that I will be expounding on in the review, but I'm mostly enjoying the world of Alrest and its collection of characters. The locales look great, the character designs are interesting, and the music is absolutely fantastic. The drawbacks to the anime-inspired design choice become quickly obvious, but overall it's added a good deal of charm to the game as a whole.
I'm just getting started on my adventures with Rex and company, and XC2 is such an immense game that early first impressions should undoubtedly be taken with a pinch of salt and measured skepticism. I've certainly enjoyed my time with it so far, though, and many of my personal gripes can surely work themselves out as the game continues to unfold. I'm excited to continue my journey to Elysium and explore Alrest's mysteries along the way, so if you'll excuse me...
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 releases worldwide on December 1st for the Nintendo Switch. Stay tuned for the official RPGFan review.