Xenoblade Chronicles X's premise is nothing that video game players haven't heard before. The Earth is no more, so it's time for humanity to explore a new planet. It's one thing to venture to a completely new world, but Nintendo and Monolith Soft have made their game stand out in one major way. The new planet truly feels like a massive, new world and that sizable new setting is home to one of the most gratifying (and lengthy) adventures of the year.
The story is a simple one. As mentioned, the Earth has been destroyed by a mysterious alien race that seems to be hellbent on eradicating the human race. The remnants of humanity have set up a colony on a foreign planet called Mira, filled with dangerous wildlife, unfamiliar settings, and enough resources to start up an entirely new civilization, with the player character as a custom-made clean slate. And all would be well and good if that same alien race hadn't decided to pursue the survivors and continue their quest for total extinction, leaving military organization BLADE no choice but to fight back.
Brave New World
This point cannot be emphasized enough. Mira is huge. It is an absolute massive world, all ripe for open-world exploration. The planet is filled with resources, collectibles, and wild creatures and it is virtually impossible to explore the entire area in any less than a few dozen hours. It'll likely be days before you can explore beyond the sub-continent of Primordia, not just because the enemies are much stronger outside of its borders, but because there's so much to soak in.
This is where it should be noted that while off-screen play with the Wii U GamePad is possible, it is absolutely not recommended. The second screen acts a handy map, separated out into clusters. While this is mainly to keep track of what's been collected, it's also essentially to avoid getting lost. And with the world the size that it is, the first few days will be spent wandering aimless around the continent. Fast travel paths open up later and that becomes a godsend, given how long it takes to traverse Mira and how quickly the day-night cycle passes.
There's another reason that Mira is so large and that's to give the game's wild creatures space to roam around. While players will find smaller creatures closer to their level, they'll also find some massive dinosaur-sized Level 50 beasts grazing in the distance. Many times, these higher-level wild animals will mingle freely with their lower-level brethren, which is both a cool sight to see, but also a bit of a problem at times. Grinding for experience can get tough, since there are times where you'll be poking at Level 8 creatures during one of the game's real-time battles, only for an errant shot to attract the attention of a Level 35 behemoth. There are also other times when a rare Tyrant (a more powerful version of a standard enemy) will pick a fight with your character on sight. Unfortunately, there is no way to decline these battles other than to attempt to flee on foot and, even then, it's easy to get smacked down in a single hit by a relentless bully of a beast. That can get annoying after a couple of sessions.
With that said, Xenoblade Chronicles X is not for the impatient. It will take hours to get used to the real-time combat system, especially when it comes to learning which MMO-style Arts abilities work best in conjunction with one another. Even with the aid of capable AI party members, death will happen quite often. The solution is to grind and, unfortunately, experience doesn't come quickly, whether it's through battle, exploration, or side missions. And there are plenty of side missions to play, especially when story instances often come with prerequisites. This is another reason that the whole experience runs longer than average.
There is a rewarding light at the end of the tunnel, though. Not only do characters eventually level up enough to take on larger creatures, but after enough time, they can wield the artillery to match. Leveled-up abilities, as well as character weapons, will vary based on class and the game is generous about allowing players to experiment. New weaponry and armor can also be unlocked after contributing towards a variety of manufacturers, with resources raised through probes placed across the world. There's an insane amount of depth to how characters are raised and while some of the more nuanced ideas can be ignored, it's worth learning the ins-and-outs of these systems in order to create the strongest character builds possible. After all, survival is much easier that way.
But while a stronger arsenal is a good incentive to keep on trucking, the true reward comes when earning a Skell. These are massive mech suits and piloting these puppies makes traversing Mira feel like a completely different experience. Sight lines are suddenly no longer a concern, since Skells can go toe-to-toe with just about anything on the planet. In fact, they can kill numerous hostiles in a matter of moments, thanks to their powerful beam swords and missile barrages. It's a powerful piece of machinery, but while it's all-powerful, it doesn't break the game, as there are still plenty of Godzilla-sized creatures that are more than capable of putting up a fight.
Earning Your Stripes
Xenoblade Chronicles X feels like a truly breathtaking effort, evidenced by how much love has gone into crafting each and every inch of its massive planet. And it's a planet that Nintendo and Monolith Soft have made worth exploring and worth learning. It's not for everyone, as the story gets off to a slow start. In fact, expect the story to last well over 40 hours. The game also doesn't waste much time with tutorials. Players aren't left entirely to the wolves, but the combat, equipment, stats, and party system is far more complex than the simplistic tutorial tips let on. It's also worth repeating that new players should expect to die a lot!
With that said, investing dozens of hours into the game does feel rewarding. There are immensely satisfying moments for those that choose to stick with this game, but those moments need to be earned. Nothing will come easy, but nothing truly worthwhile ever is.
This review is based on a Wii U retail copy provided by the publisher. A 10GB patch was also used over the course of this review. Xenoblade Chronicles X will be available December 4 at retailers and through the Nintendo eShop. The game is rated T.