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A disgrace to the Xeno franchise

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    Xenoblade Chronicles 2

    Rating: 1.0 – Terrible

    A disgrace to the Xeno franchise

    Being a massive fan of every single other Xeno game, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is a staggering disappointment. Before I get into the negatives, the game does have a couple positives.

    The combat system is actually very deep, interesting, and fun. There are numerous strategies one can use to take down an enemy by exposing and exploiting enemy weaknesses. This leads to tons of different combo attacks that you can do between party members that are fun, flashy, and damaging which makes the combat a joy to play. It is fairly complex and the game does a good job of easing you in to all the mechanics over time, instead of overwhelming you by throwing them all at you at once. Some of the tutorials are bad though, in that they will introduce mechanics that you really can’t use yet since they require a full team and the party is just 1 character at the time.

    Music was another thing the game did well. Music is quite subjective, but I really enjoyed all the scores and they fit well with the world. The battle music was largely edgy, electric guitar, which I like, but when exploring the world and towns, it was more traditional JRPG music, which was also quite good.

    Despite those 2 great points, every other aspect of the game appeared to be designed to be as unfun as possible or had some major technical issue. The minimap contains no points of interest other than the current quest objective. So if you’re trying to find an inn to rest at or a blacksmith to buy weapons from, the minimap is no help. The minimap is also fairly zoomed in, so you’ll find yourself going through the cumbersome menu to get to the full map quite often. But the full map is incredibly lazily designed and tedious to navigate. Going to the full map won’t just take you to the map you’re on, it take you to another menu of maps you have to navigate and then find the map of the "country" (AKA titan) you’re in, which is broken down into another sub menu of maps where you have to find which one applies to you. There are also 2 ways to get to the maps, a single button shortcut, or going through the main menu to select the map section. But if you use the single button shortcut, you can’t back out to the main menu if you decide there is another menu action you want to do. Each of these on their own makes for a miserable user experience and combining them is even worse. But it doesn’t even stop there. I mentioned earlier that the only point of interest that the minimap shows is your current quest objective, the full map will only show this if the current quest objective is on the titan that you are currently on. So if your quest objective is on another titan and you browse that titan’s maps, the map gives you no hint as to where to go.

    Speaking of quests, the quest system is terribly designed as well. If you talk to someone and they give you a quest, the quest log only contains a very short summary of the quest and talking to the person again will not repeat the quest info, so I hope you were paying attention and taking notes the 1st time you talked to them. Tutorials are similar in that they are only explained once. So if you missed something, time to go searching youtube to see it again. And no, you can’t just save to a different slot, then go load up an older save to redo the tutorial then load up your main save to continue on because the gacha system, which I’ll explain later, means only 1 save is allowed. Back to quests, there is a compass that’s supposed to help guide you on where to go, but some quests have multiple objectives and they all overlap each other on the compass making it impossible to read.

    This game also relishes in making you sit around and wait for no good reason. All over the map are collectibles to pick up, Some are used for quests, some are used to improve gear, some are used for cooking, etc. Collectibles are broken up into categories like minerals, plants, etc and party members can have skills of the same category. If the current party member has a matching skill when you pick something up, the whole game stops for a few seconds while the party member makes a comment about it. If you have multiple party members with the skill, they all say something. This very quickly becomes incredibly obnoxious.

    But it doesn’t stop there. The game has missions you can send these party members on and they will return after X minutes (by they way, these minutes will not pass if the Switch is in sleep mode which is another terrible, make-you-wait-for-no-good-reason design choice). And sure enough, before they go on their mission, the leader has to make some comment that you can’t skip, and same for when they get back, and when they get back, the party members may have leveled up and must make a comment when they do so, and then the game will prompt you to hit A and only A just because, and then you must hit B and only B to see if another party member has leveled up, so you can’t even mindlessly mash through this stuff. Next, there are the tests of skills throughout the game.

    You will also run across a number of special markers that can be on anything from doors, to chests, to ladders, to in the water, to just sitting on the ground. These markers mean that if you have party members with the required skills, you can get past them to claim some reward. You may need level 5 strength and level 3 jump to clear a hole in a broken ladder for example. But you won’t know what skills and level you need until you interact with the icon, at which point the game stops and slowly fills up the level and skill requirement bars, which each skill relevant party member making a comment as it fills. You can mash through this to speed it up slightly, but it not being skippable entirely is still incredibly frustrating.

    Then there is the salvaging minigame. You can do this salvaging minigame as a way to get rarer collectibles, farm money, or improve rep with different towns. To get a rare item for a quest, you may need to do this minigame 30-40 times in a row. The minigame involves several parts, a QTE even to jump into the "ocean" (5-6 seconds), returning from the ocean with your haul (5-6 seconds), and then either collecting your haul, or fighting some enemies that came with before collecting your haul. Even after becoming proficient with the battle system, it will still typically take you a good 30 seconds to clear the enemies before you are allowed to loot your haul. 40 seconds per attempt may not sound like a lot of time, but when you need to do this 20-40 times in a row to try to get some rare item for a quest, it becomes maddening.

    Then we get to the gacha/loot box system, which is a double whammy of RNG and making you wait because your time is worth nothing. To get new party members with skills, this game has a gacha system where opening up a crystal gives you either a common blade (that’s what these type of party members are called, so I’ll switch to referring to them as blades from now on) or a rare one. Rare ones are different in that they are stronger, have unique art, get special quests in the game, and have unique skills that commons don’t have. They are practically a new party member. There are 3 types of crystals, common, rare, and legendary with the idea being that the high tier ones have a higher chance of resulting in a rare blade. In practice, this is not the case. This may be a bug (since the game is buggy, I’ll get to that later). Now you can only open these crystals 1 at a time, and the game forces you to save before opening each one. Opening a crystal involves a ~15 second animation, then some loading while we wait to see what we got, then a ~30 second character introduction of what we got. Only the last part is skippable and with rare blade acquisition rates being extremely low, you’ll be opening A LOT of crystals. I think I opened around 400 on my play through. In any other loot box game, opening a loot box takes less than 5 seconds and it’s something you rarely do. Why they would make something you need to do so regularly take so long is beyond me.

    To make matters worse, any common blade you get has random skills. So maybe you need a certain skill to get past one of those icons I mentioned early, have fun praying to the RNG gods to get a blade with the necessary skill and waiting around for hours opening crystals to try to get one. The missions you can send the blades on I mentioned earlier also have specific skill requirements. There are some missions I just never did because I never got blades with the necessary skill load out.

    And to make matters EVER WORSE, is the RNG aspect of which blade you will get. The rare blades all have personalities, voiced cut scenes, unique quests, the works. Like I said, they are basically a new party member. But odds are, you won’t get to interact with the blade you want because the chance of pulling one is so abysmally low. Some blades can be acquired through quests, which is great, but they ALL should have been acquired through a quest. Instead they use the mobile, F2P, P2W design but w/o the P2W part because there are no microtransactions. That doesn’t make it better! The entire point of that design is that because it’s so awful, it convinces people to break down and pay. It’s like torturing someone just to torture them instead of doing it to get information out of them. Just because you’re not trying to get info out of them doesn’t make it better.

    Now when trying to get a blade, you need to determine beforehand, which human party member (AKA driver) the blade will be assigned to. See, blades are essentially classes. So maybe you’ve decided you want 1 character to be DPS and another tank and another healer. And archtypes are already decided somewhat since each driver has traits that make them better for 1 or the other. So now, after spending hours opening loot boxes, you get your rare blade, yay! And it’s not the right class for the character is was assigned to. AHHHHH!!! Oh, but worry not, you can reassign blades… except it requires an EXTREMELY LIMITED resource called an overdrive, which the game doesn’t ever tell you about nor tell you is limited. So you’ll run out of those about 5 hours into the game after using them all to reassign common blades and be up a creek when you get a rare on the wrong driver. Awesome! Not.

    On top of all that, since you will have to churn through hundreds of crystals to get the blade you want, there is a limit to how many blades a driver can hold at once. So while you’re getting aggravated at having spent the past 30 minutes opening 50 crystals in a row and still not getting a rare blade, now you have to go clean up your blade inventory. But the inventory just shows ALL the blades with no way to sort by owner. So before deleting each one, you’ll need to check to see that you’re deleting from the right driver by going through some submenus. You’ll probably also only want to delete ones with less useful skills, so be sure to go through some more submenus to check that as well. Oh, did you think you could just delete them and move on to the next one right away? Sorry, but you’ll have to sit through a tearful farewell comment for 5 or 6 seconds after deleting each one.

    So that mostly covers the major design issues with the game. So lets talk about its horrendous technical issues. Any time you fast travel to a new titan, to save load time, the game let’s you start playing the game before most of the textures have loaded, so it looks like you’re playing an early alpha version of the game for ~2 seconds after ever fast travel to a new area. Not a massive issue, but it’s still pretty jarring and feels like a game made by someone with no concern for quality (though I guess that should be obvious by all the previously mentioned issues). The same thing happens when getting your rewards from salvaging. Any enemies or treasure that spawns also have no textures on them for the 1st few seconds.

    The game also suffers from some frame rate issues during big battles. Some of the moves are very flashy with lots of particle effects and the switch just can’t keep up and will dip to a slide show of under 20 fps for a second or 2. This is mostly only an issue for the flashiest of attacks and when you are fighting a bunch of enemies at once, which doesn’t happen too often. And at least it recovers.

    What doesn’t recover is this game’s sleep mode bug. If you regularly put this game into sleep mode between play sessions, after 35-40 hours of play time, cut scenes will start becoming very choppy. The audio will start skipping like crazy and becoming more and more desynced from the video. This will not go away until the Switch is fully powered down and restarted.

    Ok, yea, but JRPGs are for the story and the world building, right? If those are good, the combat is good, and the music is good, then who cares about anything else? Well, if you played XC1 or XCX, you might be expecting some expansive and beautiful worlds to explore. And in the beginning, that’s what you’ll get. The 1st few titans you explore are massive and gorgeous zones that give an awesome sense of adventure. The world is really cool an mysterious and the towns are bustling and alive with lots of NPCs to talk to and get lore from. And then there are like 12 other ugly, hallway zones for the next 70 hours to go through for the rest of the game after that. Needless to say, the world was quite a disappointment.

    When it comes to the story, it was all very plain and boring. There wasn’t a single major plot twist throughout the entire tale. Everything unfolds pretty much as expected. There’s nothing offensively bad about the story, but there’s nothing memorable from it as well. It just kind of sits there as a reason to keep messing with the fun combat engine. In the end, this is not a game worthy of the "Xeno" name. If you’re a Xeno fan, do yourself a favor and just pretend this game doesn’t exist.

    Rating:   1.0 – Terrible

    Product Release: Xenoblade Chronicles 2 (US, 12/01/17)

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