Optimistic Weekly Update 12/18

Well folks, ’tis the holiday season, and as such I’m a busy bee and haven’t really had the chance to play many games. I’m writing this in the tiny amount of free time I have between shopping and errands I need to run, so today’s update is going to be a quick one.

Last week’s post can be found here.

Xenoblade Chronicles X (Wii U)

SI_WiiU_XenobladeChroniclesX

The only game I had the pleasure of sinking any time into this week was XCX, and what a pleasure it’s been. I mentioned in last week’s update that my first playthrough felt like I was missing large chunks of knowledge on how the systems in this game work; one of my biggest criticisms of the game, which still stands, is that it throws way too much info at you, with no good way of going back and reviewing that info. Even the digital manual that acompanies the game, which is somewhat lengthy, fails to cover a lot of the systems in any kind of depth. If I regularly have to Google how a system in a game works, you didn’t explain it well enough, or it’s too obtuse.

I’m having a much easier time of it this time around, though. The repeat of the knowledge, along with my practical experience from my first playthrough two(!) years ago, mean that I have a much firmer grasp on how to best utilize the game’s many complex systems to progress more efficiently. For the most part. There’s a lot going on here, and a lot of it is stuck in menus that aren’t that fun to navigate. They could have done some serious streamlining to make the systems interact more smoothly. For example: the map in this game is broken into hexes, and each hex has a specific mission attached to it (more on that later). You unlock more of the map by going to a node and putting a probe there, which then gains you resources, the amount of which you obtain depends on what kind of probe you choose to place. This earns you Miranium, which can be used to upgrade your weapons and armor. Upgrading your weapons and armor means going to one of three or four vendors and spending time in a menu choosing which of your weapons best suits your play style, be it causing more elemental damage of a specific type, or just raw damage output. Then, once you’ve bought weapons and armor, you have to go into your party menu, select “ground gear,” and equip all of the armor you bought to each character individually (you can automatically equip the strongest available armor for that character, but that feature doesn’t seem to work very well. Also, some of the outfits it creates are hideous). On top of that, you have three individual levels for your character to worry about: your base level, which affects stats and what kinds of armor or weapons you can equip, your Class level, which upgrades your combat skills and class abilities, and your BLADE level, which affects what kinds of collectibles you can access in the field/what sorts of filler missions you can pick up.

Wow, that’s a long paragraph. If you found reading that tedious, you have an idea of what the game can feel like at times. It has very deep systems, and a lot of the time they feel good to engage with, but if you level up and get new gear all at once, it can be a menu-laden slog for a bit. Add to that that there doesn’t seem to be any way to auto level your three other party members’ abilities and sometimes you spend far more time in menus than you would like.

So what about the rest of the gameplay? I said earlier that I’m having fun with this game, and that’s true. I can’t put it down.

The game comes into its own when you’re exploring the massive, sprawling, alien landscapes, finding treasures while the music swells. Combat feels fun and punchy. Pulling off satisfying combos with your teammates, finding what moves work in tandem and watching those huge damage numbers fly of your enemies, is invigorating. The real star of the game is the massive, epic locations. Moving around them feels good, and you can sweep the camera back quite far, giving you far reaching views of rolling hills punctuated by gargantuan, dinosaur-like aliens. Most areas have creatures that tend to stay in the same level range, but occasionally you’ll find huge monsters that are sixty or seventy levels higher than you, and some of them are aggressive. Some enemies have purple icons on their level indicator, marking them as Tyrants, powerful enemies with special abilities that finish a hex on the map when you defeat them. The music when fighting them is some of the best the game has to offer, making each fight feel like a final boss.

Speaking of hexes and Tyrants, here’s where things get confusing again. I mentioned earlier that each hex on the map (of which there are probably hundreds) has a mission of some kind attached to it. Some of them are Tyrants, some of them are treasure, and some of them are missions you get from people you can talk to in the game’s main city, New LA. Here’s the thing, though: I haven’t figured out how to find those missions, or how to complete them. I think I get it; you just find the stuff organically, either as you’re passing through or while roaming the streets, and people will have a green exclamation mark above their head. However, the game never explicitly says how to go about filling in your map (filling in your map results in a higher “survey level,” and some missions are locked until you reach a certain percentage. Systems on systems). If it does, I didn’t see it.

The story is passable. I’m warming up to the characters a bit, but the story isn’t really the draw here. Last week I complained about Tatsu, the potato-esque creature who is clearly this game’s mascot, but I don’t find him as annoying as I used to. The other characters are charming in their own way, if not particularly deep. There is a sense of urgency to the story missions: you are tasked with recovering the bodies of the hibernating humans who crashed along with your ship, and your enemies are also seeking them out in order to destroy them. It would be an effective race against the clock, but so many of your missions are slice of life stories (which are enjoyable) or tedious, drawn out fetch quests, that much of that sense of urgency is lost. The story is still enough to keep me pushing forward, but mostly I just want to fight aliens and discover more beautiful, bizarre locales to explore.

Recommendation: The game is excellent, epic and beautiful, but it’s bogged down by fetch quests and tedious game design. I can’t recommend it to everybody, but I can say that despite my many complaints it still feels excellent to play and I can’t seem to put it down. There’s something about the way it feels to play this game that keeps me coming back for more.

*   *   *

That’s all I’ve got to say this week. Stay tuned for more weekly updates. 

Have any suggestions for games you’d like me to play? Let me know in the comments below! 

Writing a blog takes time and video games are expensive. I do this purely for fun, but if you want to see me do more live content or game capture, head over to my slightly revamped Patreon page and shoot me some support. For only $3 a month you gain access to my Discord channel where you can directly influence what sort of material I write, such as suggesting games for me to play or game-related topics for me to write about. You also, of course, receive a big shoutout on my next blog post, or whichever post you influence. Any money you give me will go directly to paying for capture equipment such as microphones, capture cards or cameras that I will use to generate more content for my blog. I appreciate you and all your feedback so much. Thanks for reading, and Stay Optimistic.

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