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Xenoblade Chronicles 2

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch
Genre: RPG/Action
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Monolith
Release Date: Dec. 1, 2017


Switch Preview - 'Xenoblade Chronicles 2'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Nov. 16, 2017 @ 12:30 a.m. PST

In the latest entry of the Xenoblade Chronicles series, a new hero seeks out Elysium on an immense journey through a brand-new world.

Pre-order Xenoblade Chronicles 2

The original Xenoblade Chronicles is the definition of a cult classic. A Wii-exclusive JRPG that almost didn't see a North American release, it became a shining example of the power of word of mouth. It's hard to believe that the franchise was almost dead in the water at the time; the franchise is on to its third title, and its characters have appeared in Super Smash Bros. High production value JRPGs are in short supply these days, and the Xenoblade franchise, while occasionally flawed, shows a ton of ambition. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is the first major RPG for the Nintendo Switch, and it's shaping up to be a must-have for RPG fans.

Despite the name, Xenoblade 2 is set in a very different world from the first game or its spin-off, Xenoblade X. The world of Xenoblade 2 is one of eternal sky, and the only landmark is the World Tree, where humans are forbidden to tread. The storyfollows Rex, a salvager who searches for rare treasures in the Cloud Sea. An unexpectedly profitable salvage mission goes south, and it leads to Rex finding a mystical sword that is the embodiment of Pyra, a woman who's known as a Blade. In exchange for saving Rex's life, Pyra asks him to take her to Elysium, the peaceful land at the top of the World Tree.

At first blush, much of Xenoblade 2 will feel familiar to fans of the original. The game has a lot in common with MMOs, right down to the combat system and large open world. The protagonist is directly controlled, and other party members fight alongside you. Design-wise, XC2 is an almost direct follow-up to the original, from the interface to the movement to the level design.

There's a little more focus on the timing in the combat system in Xenoblade 2. Your characters automatically auto-attack when they're near an enemy. Each of the special moves available to your character is tied to attacks, and attacking charges up the special moves meter. More powerful moves require more attacks to charge. Special moves come in a variety of flavors and styles. Your protagonist begins with the ability to use an anchor wire to attack enemies and drag HP potions from them, but he quickly gains new skills, including fan favorites such as positional abilities, status effects, and the ability to break and topple foes.

An interesting element of the charge system is how it plays into the special moves bar. Special moves have multiple levels, and the more often you use your special moves, the higher the levels get. However, you also gain a bonus charge by timing your attacks with an Attack Cancel. Using a move just as you're landing an auto-attack gives you increased special bar gain and does extra damage. If you do it on the last blow of an auto-attack combo, you'll do even more. In addition, other party members charge up their special bars as they fight, allowing you to combo together special moves.

It makes for an interesting balance. It's tempting to use special moves as soon as you can to maximize damage, but if you're patient and careful, you can do more damage by saving them for the end of a combo. On the other hand, if you hold them too long, you're wasting the recharge you'd normally get from auto attacks. Since the special moves also represent healing abilities or powerful character buffs, it can be interesting to figure out when to hold and when to release.

The biggest change to the combat system is probably the inclusions of blades. Your characters in Xenoblade 2 don't equip weapons, but they have collectible robot partners ("Blades") who are a combination of AI partner and equippable weapons. Some, like Pyra, have their own special design. Others are more generic and have a more basic design and move set. You can equip multiple blades to a character and instantly swap between them in battle. This changes your character's move set as well as their equipped weapons and elemental affinities. You can have Pyra's sword-based move set as your primary offensive option, but if you need it in a pinch, you can opt for a more defense-oriented blade or a healing-based blade.

The changes to the combat system are largely beneficial. The blade system is a nice way to add flexibility and customization to the game. The charge-based cooldown system is a lot of fun and makes it more meaningful to figure out when and where to use your special moves. In the previous titles, it was best to spam attacks during the cool-down, but in this title, they feel more thoughtful.

It wouldn't be a Xenoblade game without tons of systems to interact with, and Xenoblade 2 is no different. The game is bustling with mechanics, options, and things to explore. Towns can be developed and modified as you explore. Buying items and doing quests increase the town's level, which in turn changes the items it offers. You can buy out entire stores and purchase the deeds to gain access to special items. In good RPG fashion, there are dozens of side-quests, rare monsters to hunt, special fights to join, hidden blades to find, and various other things to stay very busy.

Anyone hoping that Xenoblade 2 would tone down things from the first game is going to be sorely disappointed. There's just as much to do here — if not more. The collect-a-thon nature of blades adds a ton of extra gameplay. Not only do you have to find blades that match your characters, but you'll also have to do various quests to raise their affinities to achieve their maximum potential and power. Players will be swamped with things to do even in the very early hours of the game. As you progress, more things get added. As in the original game, a lot of these seem genuinely optional but offer chances for rare blades and upgrading your characters.

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is shaping up to be the sequel that fans are expecting. It features the same beloved gameplay, but it's bigger and better than ever. With more customization options, more locations to explore, and more systems to engage, Xenoblade 2 will be even bigger than the 100-hour original. There are a lot of questions about the story and characters, but fans should expect similar themes and ideas. Rex and Pyra's adventure will arrive on the Nintendo Switch on Dec. 1, 2017.

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