The world of Alrest is bleak in Xenoblade Chronicles 2. The Titans – massive creatures that live in harmony with humans, allowing life to grow and flourish within – are dying. And there’s little hope that their ultimate fate will change. Yet one salvager, Rex, believes there is a way to turn the cloud sea tides in their favour. Elysium, the World Tree and the ultimate haven for human life, still lives and breathes in the centre of Alrest. If humans could access Elysium, it would ensure a prosperous life ahead. But before he can reach Elysium, Rex will have to face a perilous journey, only helped by the legendary Aegis, Pyra.
Developed by Monolith Soft and written by Tetsuya Takahashi, hailed for his work on the Xenogears and Xenoblade series, comes a tale of war fuelled by many years of bitter resentment between the Torna and the Imperial Army. Plunged into the fight stands Rex and Pyra, alongside their friends Nia wielding the white tiger blade Dromarch, and Tora the Nopon with his artificial blade built from nerves of steel, Poppi. Together they traverse the open world of Alrest, visiting the luscious fields of Gromott and the dusty Steampunk desert of Mor Ardain. Each area offers unique monsters to battle and a multitude of side quests to discover. In this vast open world, it’s easy to get lost within Alrest (trust me, it’s happened numerous times) and to lose hours of your time taking in the sumptuous sights on the Nintendo Switch.
With my inept geographical directions aside, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is stunning to the naked eye. Huge waterfalls and pools in Gormott can lead to secret honey grottos and flower meadows, while in Mor Ardain small pathways lead to risky footing and abandoned factories. In the main cities, players will find shops to stock up on armour, food, accessories and Aux Cores used to enhance blades, as well as take on side quests from fellow NPCs. There are even drop off points scattered across Alrest where Rex can salvage all sorts of goods for the journey.
As an open world game with the breadth of content provided, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 feels similar to Xenoblade Chronicles X on the Wii U. But as an action RPG, their differences are immediately apparent. While both focus on blade Arts, they do so in different ways. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 relies on Blades – which can take the form of an animal, human or humanoid – to power their Drivers’ abilities and channel their Arts in battle. And with Drivers able to attach up to three blades at any time, there’s a distinct focus on elemental power and combination chains.
For Xenoblade series newcomers, the battle system may seem complex at first. But with nicely paced tutorials to release chained combo attacks, battles become more fluid and natural to the touch making it accessible to most players. Using chained combo attacks by letting your party team members work together, means you’ll unleash massive damage on your foes. Only by chaining these elemental combinations together, along with breaking and toppling an enemy, will you defeat enemies in the mix. It’s a meaty combat system that can make battles easy or hard, depending on your skill set and strategic movements.
Of course, battles can be made easier by levelling up your party members. Resting at the inns in Alrest’s main cities allows your team to gain levels, while equipping your Blades with Chips and Aux Cores purchased from stores can increase their overall strength and defence. Arts and field skills can also be enhanced too with SP and Affinity, giving your Drivers and their Blades a much-needed boost to progress the main storyline or access new areas.
Should you wish to switch up your battle strategy, Rex can bond a new Blade and expand his elemental repertoire. Blades can be fused with core crystals, which can be found throughout Alrest in chests or collected as part of main story missions in Xenoblade, and their statistics can be altered by attaching boosters during the fusion process. There’s no limit to the amount of Blades you can bond with (as of yet), though only three can be used at any one time during battle. However, after Chapter 3, players will unlock Merc Missions in the main menu, meaning unused Blades can take on field missions and scour the areas for Alrest’s inhabitants. While these missions aren’t compulsory to the main storyline, they serve as a great way to improve Alrest’s major cities, as well as build trust between the Driver and Blade, and unlock Affinity skills to be used in battle.
Aside from the breadth of content on offer, it’s clear the game houses much emotion. While we won’t spoil any of the major story arcs across the four chapters played, what X lacked in story development, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 makes up for in droves. The stakes are real, the war is bitter and the development between Rex, Pyra and their fellow comrades is emotional. Takahashi has managed to weave hundreds of years of in-game lore together to create something quite magical. And that is what matters in Xenoblade Chronicles 2. Besides, I can’t get over how adorable Gramps the Dragon Titan is. Like a warm cup of hot chocolate, his voice wraps around you in a cosy fashion and melts you to the core.
*Please note that this is a written preview for Xenoblade Chronicles 2 and a review will be written in due course. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 will be released for the Nintendo Switch on December 1st.