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Large in Scope, Constrained in Practice

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    Xenoblade Chronicles 2

    Rating: 3.5 – Good

    Large in Scope, Constrained in Practice

    A game that is large in scope, but constrained in practice, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 does not feel like a sequel to the Wii release in any meaningful sense. Characters do not carry over (this is not unusual for the series), but the large, sprawling "worlds" (actually the physiology of giant titans) are back. The character models have been infant-ized – they resemble mid-pubescence and speak in mainly (and strangely) Welsh accents. This is the first bizarre design choice that becomes noticeable.

    The story unfolds at a reasonable pace, yet the game opens up in the slowest manner I’ve ever witnessed. This has the benefit of making the game feel like its developing into magnificence, but it has the disadvantage of making the game feel self-conscious and self-limiting. After say, 2 hours of questing 5 hours in to the game, you’ll suddenly get a meager tutorial window about a new game mechanic, for example. No single game mechanic changes things all that significantly, except perhaps the side-missions that open up some many hours through (which I won’t spoil here).

    Abilities and battle-techniques are complex and usually rewarding. You (whichever character you wish to control directly) auto-attack your default, then you add special attacks by hitting corresponding special attack buttons in quick-time, then you command your two party members to unleash a special attack with a shoulder button, and then you initiate your own special attack to complete a flow-chart of potential specials in chain, and then you can fill a gauge all the while, and then empty this gauge to launch a mass chain attack which is itself control with quick-time commands. Convoluted? Well, even this description is not complete.

    But all of this battle commanding will very rarely allow you to defeat an enemy even slightly above your current level. This seems to a problem that they have no idea or have made no attempt to solve. It also limits the game and gives a disincentive in exploration. Add to this that you must rest at an inn to level up, and the game becomes unnecessarily grind-dependent. Further to this, the inventory management is convoluted, the mini-map useless and the main map just as bad – it’s non-interactive and would be suitable for a freemium MMO style game.

    Musically the game is often great and often middling. The themes are well composed but do not evoke the majesty of the original game. When layered over the environments, it is not always clear what mood or cultural reference they were going for. The brilliant East-meets-West compositions of the original are unusually absent here. The mid-fight chatter that the series has become known returns, and while it adds some realism to the brawl, it soon becomes a cacophony of Geordie, Welsh and Australian accents repeating phrases that just add to the general noisiness of the fight.

    It seems each area of the design was slightly compromised, and when added all back together, the compromises add up to a limited game with intermittent fun and unclear direction.

    Rating:   3.5 – Good

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

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