Saturday, February 6, 2016

Review: Xenoblade Chronicles X (Chapter 4: Exploration)

Now we arrive at the heart and soul of the game. Exploration was cleverly included in the game´s main goal since you need to locate the countless fragments of your spaceship and this is achieved by charting and taming the unexplored land. And what a blast this charting is!

 4.1 A dangerous place to be

You start pretty low in the food chain of planet Mira and will feel small and overwhelmed by the dimensions and the sheer size of landscape and monsters. In each of the huge areas you have to pick your fights carefully and avoid the deadly creatures that will kill you easily. For now. Explore the world, gather ressources, develop new technologies. And soon you will be able to tackle bigger beasts. But don´t get reckless since even in the starting areas you will find towering monstrosities that will kick your high-level ass. This ties in wonderfully with the many different ways to improve your character as it offers a constant source of motivation to hone your skills and equipment.

Huge monsters from Xenoblade Chronicles X
Huge monsters roam the land.

There is also no level range assigned to the areas, you find low-level critters and high-level death traps everywhere. You can even swim over to the final area of the game and find some reasonable encounters as early as character level 8.
It is indeed a primordial and savage world and the way to the top of the food chain is long. (I was at 45% completion after 100 hours of play). And yes, you will die. Anger a sleeping beast with an ill-placed area of effect attack or get distracted by trivial enemies while a skyscraper-tall hungry beast is slowly approaching you from behind. Fortunately, you don´t lose your precious progress if such a thing happens. The frustration level remains low.

4.2 Incredible freedom

Later in the game you will unlock new ways to travel across the land, this will make it far easier to reach and discover exotic places. This is tied to your skell robot and while they are not healthy for the combat they are a blessing for the exploration part. By the way, the word exotic is a bit of an understatement. The creators were a bit lax with physical laws here and created some of the most breathtaking landscapes in gaming history.
Certainly the most impressive way of travelling is the skell´s flight module. You can fly everywhere you want. No loading screens, no artificial backgrounds. Okay, you can´t fly to a different planet. There are hardly any games out there that will offer such an incredible degree of freedom.

Skell flying around in New Los Angeles
Rule of thumb: if you see something weird in the background...

Panorama view of New Los Angeles
... you can travel there! Great view over your hometown.

4.3 The gamepad is your friend

To aid you in your exploration, the Wii U game pad offers many functions. It is similar to the PiP-Boy from Fallout but you have it always at your fingertips. The most important feature is the detailed map. It divides the world into lots of small segments and marks each segment with an icon that gives you a rough idea what you have to do there until this certain segment is declared as completely explored. This may be a mission, a treasure or a powerful named monster. If you want more specific information you have to look out for rumors in town that will update your map with the specific objective. With this trusty map you can explore the game little by little and work towards your greater exploration goals.

Map screen of Primordia from Xenoblade Chronicles X
Almost completed the first area, Primordia.

4.4 About the quest design

The quests are fairly standard for Japanese RPGs. They are not as fancy and elaborate as in RPGs like Witcher 3. They can still be very interesting. For example, the alien races have elaborate backstories and very... alien cultures that you will get to know over the course of many quests.
By the way, the mission and quest design has been significantly improved over Xenoblade Chronicles. This is the one important point where X demolishes its predecessor really, really bad. Quest givers are easily located by the use of your map and you will no longer need to waste countless hours looking for specific persons in the incredibly huge town.

World map of Xenoblade Chronicles X
Usually, you can see the next quest goal on your map.

Besides the essential story missions you will encounter so-called harmony missions. A lot of effort was put into these and they offer substantial rewards like new skills, new party members and new alien races that arrive in your hometown. Harmony missions can´t be cancelled and sometimes it can be frustrating if the game wants you to bring an item and you have no idea where to find it.
Luckily, there are mechanics to help you out: reward tickets act as a wild card and can be traded for any enemy drop you can imagine.
There are also conventional missions and side-jobs. Especially the side-jobs are very simple fetch and kill quests. They will very often ask for very specific items with no direction to help you or send you to kill an unbeatable enemy. You shouldn´t be afraid of putting them to the backlog... you will usually stumble upon the required things by accident during your explorations.

Table of Contents

1. General
2. Combat 
3. Character growth
4. Exploration (you are here)
5. Verdict

Useful links:

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Survival Guide: Your New Home
Survival Guide: Mining
Segment Map explained in the Xenoblade Wiki 

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