Sunday 23 August, 2020
I can't believe I never wrote anything for this. Woops! Long story short: I'm shelving it because of the grind.
Xenoblade Chronicles X is a sequel in name and gameplay mechanics to Xenoblade Chronicles, which I beat earlier this year. I suppose it was my first big quarantine game and this is likely my last. Fitting! It takes everything from the first game and makes it bigger. The game is humongous. The world is beautiful. It's like a single-player MMORPG. I'll start with some things I enjoyed and finish with my gripes, including the big one about the grind.
There's a lot to love here. Setting and narrative context are excellent, really. The last remnant of humanity crash lands on an alien planet. Pieces of the "life hold," which everyone needs to survive long-term, are scattered. Hostile alien races have taken a foothold on the planet and are hunting humanity down (not sure why exactly, didn't get that far), and you'll encounter friendly races too. The crashed ship is a city with six districts. It's a living city. NPCs don't have daily schedules, but will appear certain places at certain times of day for quests and things. Their society is complex. There's an organization called BLADES which fulfill many of the useful functions having to do with exploring the planet, gathering resources, expanding intel, killing native monsters (indigens), and even mediating squabbles between the populous. There are divisions for each of these (eight in total) specialties, and you can join them. The web of complexity governing characters' relationships and interactions is difficult to wrap my head around. There are hundreds upon hundreds of quests/missions of various types. Some are really basic categories like gathering items or killing indigens, but many are narrative and add depth to the city. The hundreds of NPCs are engaged in other vital tasks too like building water plants, growing food, and governing.
You know what. The thought of writing in more depth about the 50 hours I sunk into this game is daunting. It's huge, okay? There are many intertwining systems to learn and I still do not understand some of them. For example, I glossed over equipment completely. I never bought or upgraded a single piece. I just got my Skell (flying mech) and have no idea how to outfit it or use it, and the thought of having to get three more Skells for other characters makes me nauseous. There are easily over 1000 items. The game is so huge you use two screens to play. The handheld Wii controller with the screen is where you engage with the map layers (fast travel, checking completion criteria for the game's hex grid spaces [again, literally hundreds of tasks to check off to complete these grids], following objective markers, setting up your mining and research probe networks...). I will say I LOVED having a dedicated screen for the map in this game. It was fun to use and integral to the experience. It made me feel like I was really out in the world surveying this alien planet with this mobile technology in my hands.
The writing is infinitely better than Xenoblade Chronicles. I regularly chuckled when given dialogue options. They are often sarcastic and hyperbolic and it's like your character isn't taking it seriously. The quest responses are some of my favorite things in the game, and a lot of the quests are wacky too. There's one where you meet an alien who says he can travel through time and you have to go buy a car for him. Then he gets stuck, not in time, but on an island in the middle of the ocean, and you have to go save him. In another, you can help a character run away from her possessive husband with her new lover by gathering materials for her to stitch together a fake baby to convince her lover to keep her around (yikes!). When he immediately falls for it, you can call her out ("Mutter loudly about how it's clearly a stuffed animal") or support her ("Tremble at the awe-inspiring sight of life's new dawn."). In another quest, you're helping an alien understand human emotions. After you do enough, the alien says something about how much emotional range humans have. You can "Accept" this conclusion or "Deny" it: "Explain that you are dead inside." Really, I might have quit the game sooner had I not enjoyed these dialogue options so much!
And for the sake of time, the game requires hours upon hours upon hours of grinding. I played about 50 hours and feel like I did nothing of substance for at least 25% of it, just running around the map trying to find collectibles for quests or taking random "kill x monsters" missions to get experience to unlock the next story quest. See, story quests and "affinity missions" have level caps and other pre-requisites. I occasionally had to direct my attention to grinding to reach a requirement. Often you don't have to grind because there are so many other fun ways to get experience, largely involving exploring, but once that sort of runs out (i.e., you've explored most everywhere), then what's left? I finished Chapter 7 or 8 at level 26. The next chapter had a level requirement of 30, and the next affinity mission was 28. I hadn't had to deal with nearly that much of a gap yet. I figured I'd be able to find plenty of side missions and things to do. But like 8 hours later, I had finally hit 28 and did the affinity mission. Still two more levels to go for 30 and advancing the story. For all the game has going for it, I'll use this fun phrase: "It doesn't respect the player's time." There is so much noise. And it takes some of its simulation so seriously, which adds drag and downtime. For example, you are the main character, and you have two other pretty much main characters. But those two, plus like 15 others, can be switched in and out of your party. Every single time you switch a character out, they go back to a specific place in the city. If you want to add them to your party again, you have to literally go to where they are to recruit them back. And many quests will limit who you can have in your party, require specific characters, so that you frequently are changing characters in and out and sometimes kicking everyone out if the quest requires just you. Then you have to run around the city finding them all again to add them back. I hated that feature so much. Yeah, it's realistic, but my god, who cares?! I know that Doug is a Harrier and is going to spend time in the Hangar. I don't need it reinforced by having to go all the way there every time I want to add him to my party!
Ugh. Okay. That's it! Done with this and almost done with the Wii U! Then I can move on to the PS4.