The original Dragon Ball Xenoverse branched away from being a pure fighting game and dabbled in the realm of a quasi-MMO. It was something that fans had wanted in an official form for a long time. While it wasn't perfect, it was still embraced by a majority of fans as a great first step that would hopefully build into something more. A little over a year later, we get Dragon Ball Xenoverse 2, a game that has tweaked the original formula. The question is whether those tweaks are enough to get players to return, especially when you consider that not much time has passed between the two titles.
The story will seem very familiar to those who have played the first title. You are a recruit at the Time Patrol, an organization that is dedicated to the preservation of history. Your superiors have discovered that the antagonists of the first game, Mira and Towa, are wreaking havoc once again in the timeline by changing key events to benefit the enemies of the era. This time around, they have a masked Saiyan helping them out and doing their bidding. Based on your performance, you've been assigned the task of going back in time and righting all of these wrongs, hopefully putting a stop to the duo and its new Saiyan friend.
The issue is the same one that has plagued every Dragon Ball Z game for more than a decade: You're already intimately familiar with the story beats from every major arc since you've played them countless times before. Whether it's the Frieza saga, the Android saga or the initial meeting with Vegeta, you've gone through these so many times that they've long since lost their luster. Granted, the changes to the timeline pla out a little differently from what you saw in the initial Xenoverse game, but you're still treading very familiar territory. One thing that works here is that there's more of a spotlight on the scenarios and characters from the movies, so at least some of the story will feel fresher.
The game starts with you creating a rookie Time Patrol agent of any gender and race. You can choose from Earthlings, Namekians, Saiyans, Frieza's race and Majin's race, and all of them have different traits, such as increased strength or health regeneration. Sexes — for races that have them — are also slightly different, so you can get more starting trait differences without having to introduce more races into the fold. The cosmetic choices are decent, so while they aren't as extensive as some other games with custom characters, there's enough here to create someone fairly distinct.
For veterans of the first game, the bad news is that you can't simply import your old character and play with that hero. The title does cast him or her as a hero who's stopped the destruction of time before, and there's even a statue of that character in the middle of the city, a nice consolation prize for those hoping to start the game with all of their hard work intact. You can also get some of your items and abilities transferred to the new character, so there is a benefit to playing the first game before this one.
The gameplay flow is pretty much the same as before in terms of mission structure. You have Story missions, which feature specific timeline changes to the main arcs. Parallel missions present even more outrageous situations from those previous arcs, this time with the ability to use either your created character or mainline ones to take them down. In both cases, you'll notice that the AI for your companions isn't up to snuff, as they all become punching bags and ki blast sponges. It can be deflating to see someone like Goku get beat up badly by someone as weak as a Saibaman.
For the most part, the fighting system feels slightly tweaked from the first game. Learning new moves and combos is now more essential for fights, as enemies won't fall for basic combos anymore. Ki blasts are rebalanced, so they still hurt but aren't as deadly as before; it's a blessing since enemies use them often. Escape moves are a little easier to pull off, and fights are a little faster since your dash has been sped up a bit. Otherwise, the combat remains fast and fluid while remaining simple enough for anyone to pick up, and there's even some added depth from the combos.
One of the big improvements comes from the new hub world of Conton City. Unlike the original Toki Toki City, Conton is a seamlessly connected world that is large enough to have quick travel points but populated enough so every area has a purpose. For a game that is intended as a multiplayer title, having such a large hub world really sells the setting. Trainers are abundant and stationary, so you don't have to chase them down to start learning from them. You also don't have to build up your rep with each individual trainer to learn new moves, so you'll get them at a faster clip. Overall, it is a well-received change that makes things feel better.
The other improvement has to do with the accessories and clothing you can buy for your character. In the previous title, both costume pieces and accessories were useful for stat boosts, but you were forced to abandon nice-looking items in favor of less appealing ones if you wanted the better stats that were associated with it. To help those who valued aesthetics more than stat boosts, there are QQ Bangs, which are pretty much stickers that augment equipment stats. This helps you keep the outfits you want while still getting some stat upgrades outside of leveling up.
Interestingly, one of the hooks is nerfed on the PC. For a game billed as a quasi-MMO, it is very difficult to see or play with anyone. You might catch a player or two in your hub world now and then, but good luck trying to get them to join you for a match. For the most part, the online community is more interested in going solo or hooking up with friends rather than teaming up with strangers. With reports that the online stability is still spotty after a few patches, the chances of online games are slim, so if that was a selling point for you, prepare to have that hope dashed, unless you're playing on the console.
Graphically, Xenoverse 2 is in a slightly better place than before. Depending on your options and your graphics card, you're afforded more shadows in the environments and more details on character models. The game looks much like the first one, but with a few more characters added to the battlefield. Considering how frantic things can get, the camera keeps up with the fast action nicely, and the frame rate holds very steady on mid-range cards, so it's rather easy for anyone to run this title at its best.
The sound is exactly the same as before, which isn't necessarily praise. The soundtrack for the battles works fine but isn't memorable, and the tunes for Conton City sound like bad carnival music rather than something you'd expect from an action-packed anime. Failing or completing a mission once again comes with no fanfare, so the end of any missions and bouts feels empty. The sound effects are fine, if watered down, but the series' voicework is top-notch as always.
While Dragon Ball Xenoverse 2 may be a better game than the original, it is by no means excellent. The story seems like an uninspired rehash, and the minimal roster changes makes it feel like a director's cut instead of a true sequel. On the PC in particular, the online community is practically extinct, and the game's semi-frequent crashes disappoint. If you're willing to put up with all that, you'll be treated to a game that feels like what the original should have been, and the fighting system is chaotic and fun. Provided this one does well, here's hoping that another sequel manages to get everything right.
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