Xenoblade Chronicles 3 isn’t too much further off with a release date set at the end of July. Soon enough, players will be able to embark on the next chapter of the Xeno franchise and this one is looking even more intense than ever. I recently had a chance to sit down with an early version of the game and play its opening hours and, between a revamp of classes and arts, and the all-new mechanic known as Interlinking, it seems fans will have a lot to look forward to as they take on the journey of Noah, Mio, and the rest of the group’s journey through the world of Aionios.
All they know is war
Xenoblade Chronicles 3 may have one of the most dystopian overall tones I’ve seen in these games so far. In the world of Aionios, two rival nations - the mechanically-inclined Keves and the Ether-centered Agnus - are at constant war with each other. By fighting and killing each other, opposing sides gain the Life in defeated corpses which is used to power mighty machines and increase the power of colonies in which the soldiers of both nations live. The battles are fought using engineered soldiers artificially limited to 10 years of life and raised solely to fight. Even those who survive the 10 years are simply given a chance to willingly relinquish their Life to their side’s overall power.
Amid the battlefields of this desolate existence are people like the main protagonist Noah, who is both a fighter and an Off-Seer. Wherever there is death, Noah and other Off-Seers are capable of playing a musical instrument to disperse the corpse’s Life and send them on to the afterlife. Noah and his friends never question any of this existence until a chance encounter with an Agnus force including the Off-Seer Mio and her friends.
The clash of these opposing foes over a mysterious power source leads them to crack it open and imbue them with a strange force known as Ouroboros. It allows Noah and Mio to Interlink into a mecha-like and powerful form that gives them greater powers in combat. However, it also shows them the subconscious thoughts, memories, and pain each has endured, making them realize they are not so different. Being imbued with the power of Interlinking and the Ouroboros also paints Noah, Mio, and their friends as enemies of both nations. Their only hope is to survive and fight their way across Aionios to a place called Sword March where they will supposedly learn of a “true enemy.”
The setup of Xenoblade Chronicles 3 feels easily like some of the most moody and stark of anything we’ve seen in Xenoblade yet. However, it also makes for a compelling story as these sworn enemies, bred to fight and kill each other, learn to fight together toward a common cause and discovery of purpose beyond their constant conflict. There is regular tension, contempt, and mistrust among them as they try their hardest to put aside their differences if they are to move forward. I can’t wait to see where the journey takes them and how their relationships evolve.
Born to fight
Learning to put aside conflict in Xenoblade Chronicles 3 isn’t to say that the fighting isn’t fun (and pretty constant). Many elements of the Xenoblade games return, but seem refined, or are augmented by all new elements. Classes, auto-attacking, positioning, and Arts play as big of a role in battle as ever. It’s the way in which you can utilize these elements that make them so interesting.
Much as in the other Xenoblade games, if you engage an enemy, then moving in range will cause your character to attack them automatically. Similarly, between auto-attacks, you can use Arts. Things like a backstab obviously work better if you position yourself behind an enemy to get the most damage out of it. However, there is a new Breaking/Topple/Daze mechanic as well. Some combat Arts, if used correctly, not only do more damage, but will also stagger foes via Break. If a teammate follows up with an appropriate attack fast enough, you can Topple or Daze an enemy and stun them out of attacking while you wail on them for free. This is huge throughout the game’s battles. Timing up your chances to Break enemies and which enemies to break can be key to either winning or losing a battle.
Finally, if you utilize your classes' capabilities well, you’ll fill up a gauge that allows you to use a Talent Art. This is a much stronger ability that can turn the tide of a fight in various ways depending on your class. For a Fighter class, scoring critical hits and getting the most out of positioning on your Arts is key to filling up the gauge quickly. For a Support class, simply making sure your allies don’t fall in battle through healing and buffs is the way to a Talent Art.
Speaking of classes, they seem like they’re going to figure into Xenoblade in bigger ways than ever before. There’s still Fighter, Tank, and Support classes, but they’re also broken into subclasses like Noah’s Swordfighter and Eunie’s Support Gunner. Each class has access to a different array of unlockable Arts to differentiate and formulate your strategy as you go and can be swapped between characters once you’ve unlocked a class for use. I wasn’t able to dig deep into the classes for the time I had with the game, but I’m looking forward to seeing what pieces fit together between classes and Arts as I discover more of both.
It's your Life. Protect it
Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is shaping up to be quite the journey in a lot of ways. These characters, once enemies, suddenly finding themselves forced to look after one another makes for an intriguing start to a journey through quite the dystopian and war-ravaged backdrop. Moreover, the expanded mechanics of the game, including that of Breaking, classes, and Interlinking make for an interesting and expanded system of combat and interaction throughout what I played so far. If this was just a taste, I can’t wait to see what all of Xenoblade Chronicles 3 has in store for us.
These preview impressions are based on an early Nintendo Switch digital version of the game supplied by the publisher. Xenoblade Chronicles 3 launches on the Nintendo Switch on July 29, 2022.