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Xenoblade Chronicles 2 Preview: Infinite Blade Works

Nintendo is having a wonderful year ever since the launch of the Switch in March and has dominated their console competition. The hybrid console has a strong software library that is only getting stronger as the months go by, picking up major steam into the holidays with the release of Super Mario Odyssey, DOOM, Rocket League, and more. JRPG fans are getting a major treat as well, with the next chapter in Xenoblade Chronicles coming on December 1. I got my hands on a copy of Xenoblade Chronicles 2 and put together this snapshot of things you can expect from the first six or so hours in this massive game.

Xenoblade Chronicles 2's plot and combat is built around living weapons called Blades. They are activated by and develop relationships with people that have a certain aptitude, called Drivers, and the pairing of the two can be devastating so long as the bond between them is strong. In pure JRPG fashion, players take control of a seemingly regular young man thrust into a conflict where he and a band of characters must save the world and Blades are a large influence on this conflict.

The game takes place in Alrest, a world set up in the clouds on the backs of gigantic Titans. Each titan essentially serves as a continent with its own regions, wildlife, culture, etc and exploring all this in Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is no simple fare. 

The terrain you must traverse is often riddled with obstacles that can be overcome with Field Arts that your Blade can learn throughout the game. Without specific Field Arts, some spaces are locked off to you until a later time. Area access is also influenced by things like the Cloud Sea's sea level (there's a high and low tide that will limit where you can go) and time of day. 

When it comes to combat in Xenoblade Chronicles, things get fairly complex. Drivers in your party will auto-attack once you engage in combat, but you won't just be sitting back while the health bars dwindle down. There are tons of things to consider of when fighting enemies and creatures you come across, including the timing of your Blade Art skills, the elements of your weapons, the shifting weaknesses of opponents, your position in the battlefield relative to where the enemy is facing, and more. There's a lot more strategy to Xenoblade Chronicles 2's combat, so much so that it may turn off a few hoping for a more relaxed experience.

Combat starts in real time during exploration and the developers have gone the extra mile when it comes to creatures you encounter in Alrest. Instead of just seeming like a random scattering of monsters have been placed before you, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 gives off the impression of a living ecosystem. There are individual creatures, herds, parents and cubs, and larger monsters that you'll definitely want to avoid early on. There are also unique creatures you'll encounter, recognized by a unique emblem above their heads, and defeating them will earn you notoriety in the local towns and a solid haul of items. 

The towns you visit have lives of their own as well as they can be improved as you earn Dev points and use them to increase a town's Development level. This influences the price of goods and the products the different shops carry. Devs points are earned by completing quests, helping out the residents of the towns, and engaging in conversation with residents.

The voice acting in Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is deliciously diverse. A variety of accents can be heard for all of the different characters, but there are some weak moments in the voice performances too. In regular conversation, the voice acting is a complete treat. In more intense or emotional moments, the voice acting and sync with characters broke me out of the experience and dulled the impact of some scenes.

Undocked, the textures and resolution obviously take a hit, but the game is still pretty nice to look at in handheld mode. I experienced very subtle slowdown in massive areas as well, but by no means was it anything game-breaking or distracting. There were some moments when framerate dropped while docked too, but even less frequently. 

Xenoblade Chronicles 2, thus far, is a platter of clever design choices for a JRPG. Many of the things that could be considered mundane and often get overlooked in other titles have some sort of progression mechanic. This inspires players to engage with the world more, spend more time in optional quests, and soften the blow of the genre's knack for grinding. That design translates into the deep combat too and you'll have to pay attention to a lot of details to remain successful. Add to this the Blade system and you've got the recipe for a hardcore JRPG that will keep you engaged for a very long time.

There's a whole lot more to unravel in this Switch exclusive JRPG. so look out for our full review of the game before its launch next month. Also, take a look at some of the details for post-launch content planned for Xenoblade Chronicles 2. Nintendo is offering an expansion pass for the title and has released a fairly detailed schedule for the content the pass nets you.


This preview is based on a Nintendo Switch code provided by the publisher. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 will launch on December 1st for $59.99 and is now available for pre-order. The game is rated T for Teen.

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