Sequel fails to live up to its name

In Xenoblade Chronicles 2, everybody lives on the body of giant creatures. Cities, towns, forests, caves are all found on the arms, legs, shoulders and even stomachs of these titans, floating high in the sky.

The problem is, the game itself is standing on the shoulders of giants too. Not only does Xenoblade Chronicles 2 have two excellent predecessors to be measured against, it also draws heavily from Final Fantasy games and anime. To add even more expectation to the mix, this is Nintendo’s last big Switch game of an incredible 2017. Like those titans in the sky, hopes were high.

It’s no surprise, then, that Xenoblade Chronicles 2 doesn’t quite live up to the pressure. This is a really good game with a superb world to explore, bogged down by what seems like a mismatch of story and gameplay. The gameplay encourages long hours of grinding and accumulation, while the anime plot feels like it should be moving at a far quicker pace than the gameplay allows for. In the first Xenoblade, the plot felt a little more intimate, managing to be both epic and even handed at once. In this sequel, things take a turn for excess, both in terms of characters and combat.

The hero, Rex, discovers early on that he is a driver. No, this doesn’t mean that he passed his theory test — in the world of Alrest, that means he can control living weapons called Blades. Rex, who once scavenged the clouds for treasure to send back to his home village, is now caught up in the search for Elysium, a mythical place where humanity can escape to, once the titans inevitably fall from the sky.

Thus begins a fantastic journey across the backs of the Alrest titans, by far the best part of Xenoblade Chronicles 2. Accompanied by music from Yasunori Mitsuda, one of gaming’s great composers, the imagination, scale, colour and beauty of the world is worth the price alone, if that is why you play and love games.

To experience that world, however, you will need to slog through cumbersome combat and dialogue, both of which are decent but limited. The combat is largely automated, hands-off gameplay where you manoeuvre characters into position and control the timing of special attacks. The satisfaction here comes from accumulating enough experience, items and abilities to find a way past increasingly tougher enemies, much like an MMO or Final Fantasy XII. It suffers by comparison to faster paced games like YS or the Tales series.

The plot, meanwhile, is somewhat beholden to anime tropes. Anime is amazing when subverting itself with daring themes and storylines. Less so when pandering to paths well travelled, even when those paths are nonetheless entertaining.

Paths are the key to enjoying Xenoblade Chronicles 2. If you have the time and energy to invest in a flawed but glorious adventure, then this is a path through the clouds worth taking. If you have a lot of airmiles on the clock, however, this adventure may never take off.

PACKING A PUNCH

Conor McGregor’s path from the dole to doling out punches is well documented, emphasised again by his appearance as cover star of UFC 3. The Dubliner may be taking a short hiatus from the octagon, but players have been keeping his lethal left in action during the open beta of the game this past weekend.

As always with sports games, the changes to this year’s version are subtle, but the UFC series was a superb piece of work already, so we didn’t expect major alterations.

While only the lightweight division is available in the beta, fighters do seem to have more personality and definitive movesets, like devastating leg kicks and McGregor’s left hand. The graphics and animations seems a little smoother too.

Whatever about McGregor, EA’s animators have mastered the art of movement.

DESERT BUS

Speaking of movement, the infamous Desert Bus, a game in which you drive real time from Tucson to Las Vegas, has been ported to virtual reality. You can’t exceed 45mph, can’t pause the game and have to keep realigning the bus to the road as it veers slightly. It takes eight hours to finish.

The New Yorker called it the worst game ever made in 2013, but Desert Bus was always intended as a joke. Trippy!


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