Xenoblade Chronicles X is out now in North America and Europe, which is certainly something to celebrate for Wii U owners that enjoy immersive, challenging RPG experiences. We've already shared our view that it's a fantastic game in our review - in that article we describe various key gameplay mechanics, so give that a read for some basics. We've also stated that this is a complex experience, occasionally sliding into slightly over-complicated territory.
When playing the game for review we came unstuck a few times, so the aim of this guide is to provide some key tips and pointers for your time with the game. All situations are retrievable, but hopefully this guide will get your adventure on Planet Mira off to a good start.
Read the manual. Seriously, read it...
It may be odd to say this in a guide, especially as point one, but it's vitally important. Even veterans of Xenoblade Chronicles should hit up the e-manual and read through it, as there are mechanics and processes that aren't immediately apparent in the game, nor are they ever explained. A great thing about this game is that it doesn't hold your hand and enforce hours of tutorials, but likewise it also leaves a lot of lessons untaught.
So, read the manual, then bear these tips in mind.
Exploration is vital right from the start
In the first few hours the experience is relatively linear as you're introduced to the first area, Primordia. You'll be shown how to use data probes (more on those shortly) and engage in early missions and battles. What's key from the moment the leash is loosened is exploration. It'll be about 20 hours before you own a Skell (mech) and over 40 hours before you can fly one, so exploration into new areas will often be on foot.
It's important, though, for the following reasons.
- Finding new areas will update your map on the GamePad, and Data Probes are integral. Those faded out on the map are yet to be activated, so look for these red beams of light shooting up from the ground and activate as many as possible. Doing this increases your 'survey rate' - a requirement in accessing some missions - but also reveals more information on the surrounding area.
- Discovering probe sites and locations is a hugely useful means of levelling up. You often get a healthy chunk of experience points just for finding an area, typically far more than completion a side mission, for example. Keep an eye out for caves and coves that aren't easily visible on the map.
- Be wary, however, always keep an eye on the indigens or enemiesthat are present, assessing their levels compared to your own and those of your crew. If areas are swarming with powerful enemies, you should come back when you're better equipped for the challenge. Remember that an eye icon above an enemy means they attack on sight, and a lightning symbol means they attack if they hear you.
- Gather items as you go - you'll see a lot of blue orbs as you explore, and you should pick them up as much as possible. A lot of the items may seem useless when you grab them, but as you progress and take on more missions you'll often need a diverse range of goodies in order to make progress.
Some key exploration tips, meanwhile, from our experience:
- Some parts of the world can only be reached in a Skell; if you've really tried to find a way around a mountain and have no luck, it's likely impossible on foot.
- Use the sea - Primordia, Noctilum and Oblivia are connected by land, but Sylvalum and Cauldros are on a separate continent. When levelled up a good degree it can be worth heading to the North coast in Oblivia and swimming to discover Sylvalum (or gliding across the sea in your pre-flight Skell). Some vital items can be collected at sea, too.
Equip yourself and your team
A key part of this game that continues across from its predecessor is that you have to micro-manage your team to get the best out of them. Within the Start menu you'll see 'Party', and in here that are a range of sub-menus, as follows.
- Status - A handy resource for assessing your current crew, their gear and their capabilities.
- Ground Gear - Now for the nitty-gritty. In here you manage weapons, clothing and armour for everyone in your team. You'll probably find that most of your guns and armour options are picked up after winning battles or when completing quests; we haven't bought much of our equipment. Check all categories for each team-mate regularly and upgrade when options are available; in our experience stronger armour or ground weapons can be the difference between success and failure in tightly fought story mission battles, in particular.
- Skell Gear - Once you access Skells and perhaps buy more to assign to your team (they need to be level 30 before you can give them one) this is where you customise or change armour and 'Art Weapons'. Unlike ground based battles, it's the weapons that define the Arts that are available with Skells, so you should be sure to maximise the capabilities of your mechs.
- Arts - These are your vital attacks, buffs and defensive moves in ground-based battle, integral throughout and particularly in the first 20-or-so hours. When you level up you unlock more moves so that you can customise your loadout with Arts that you like the most. You also use this screen to level up Arts utilising Battle Points - rather like with ground gear, the level of arts can make the difference in a tight battle. Be sure to manage these and upgrade them for yourself and the team, as it's a hugely important area.
- Skills - Another important aspect, you can activate a few skills that improve your character's abilities in various ways, in terms of improving accuracy of attacks, the ability to auto-evade enemy moves and more besides. Like Arts these can be loaded up as you see fit and levelled up with Battle Points, so maximise these as far as possible for yourself and your team.
- Classes - This is an important one. Within this screen are branching trees that cater to different combat approaches - you can be balanced, combative or more of a supportive sniper. After the initial basic option there are three core groups, and then these each split into two separate branches. Each Class requires levelling up to 10 before the next in the branch is then available, but there's certainly scope for exploring multiple classes and paths. Bear in mind that a new class at level 1 will have less arts than the previous at level 10; more arts are unlocked as you rank up, so test out new Class upgrades on weaker foes to get used to it and to unlock more moves.
- Soul Voices - This is where sub-menus within sub-menus really come into force. In a battle your character will respond to certain scenarios by issuing commands, and these often tie into timed moves to activate them. In this section you can go through each command and choose from multiple options in terms of what buffs will be triggered. So if you want a 'HP Peril' trigger to heal you more or to instead heal less but offer temporary invincibility, you can do that. 16 commands have three variations each, so this could take a while to customise.
- Active Members - Most of the time you'll have Elma and Lin with you, yet outside of story and affiliate missions (which often 'require' certain party members) you can add many others to your team to boost affinity or help them level up.
- Return to Skell - If you've left you mech to explore on foot but want a quick return, select this option.
Your mission, should you choose to accept it...
The mission structure in Xenoblade Chronicles X is interesting, as the number of Story Chapters is actually relatively humble. Yet they often require certain player levels and completion of other quests to access, and much of the narrative here is driven by Affinity missions and even smaller tasks. Let's break it down.
- Story Missions - These are the main attraction and prompt notable moves for plot progression. After the early stages the access requirements are so stringent, however, that a good number of hours can pass between taking on chapters.
- Affinity Missions - The next tier down and, importantly, just like Story Missions these can only be taken one at a time and cannot be cancelled. These incorporate side-story elements and are often required to unlock Story Missions. Be careful before accepting one, using your map to make sure you've found and selected the task you want or need to undertake.
- Normal / Basic Missions - You choose these at the BLADE terminal and are limited to 20 at a time. Some develop into sub-plots in which you help other New LA citizens or even try and resolve disputes, while others simply require you to find specific objects or kill dangerous creatures in Mira. As you're limited to 20 we recommend that you only 'accept' missions such as hunting certain creatures or bigger missions with multiple parts. Those that necessitate collecting assorted objects in the world can be left alone as you can see whether you've gathered the materials already while checking the terminal. When you have '7 high accelerators', for example, it'll show in the objective screens and you can accept and clear the mission immediately. Save your 20 slots for tasks where you want to set waypoints, not collect-a-thons.
A key tip with missions, also, is that many are discovered and triggered simply by exploring New LA. There are six areas - five excluding your BLADE Barracks - full of characters and hidden secrets. Look for NPCs with blue or yellow speech bubbles and go nearby, as these provide cues, tips and even unlock new missions. The hexagonal panels on the GamePad map often show 'New' discoveries when you do this, so tap these panels to see what's at those locations.
When running around New LA also keep a close eye on the sub-map visible on the top right of the TV screen. It often shows exclamation marks for characters and objectives, with red equivalents being missions that may not have appeared on the BLADE terminal.
When you launch the game you can choose to focus on solo play - in which case online features are more hidden - or to prioritise online missions. These actually have little difference between them, as you can choose the online-centric option but still mostly mind your own business playing the solo campaign, for example.
When online your BLADE 'Division' is relevant; there are eight to choose from and you can switch at any time. Each division rewards extra bonuses for completing certain kinds of tasks, so switch these around if you're taking on particular types of challenges. If you're focused on exploring and placing data probes the Pathfinders are best, while if you're fighting a lot of battles and clearing missions the Interceptors are more rewarding, and so on. Keep an eye on these eight options and switch out at the 'Network Console' in the Barracks if you can find a group better suited to your current gameplay goals.
We explained aspects of this in our review, but below are tips for online features that aren't immediately obvious in-game.
- When out in Mira 'Squad Tasks' show as icons in the bottom right. Hold R and then cycle through them with L to see descriptions; these are often timed, and if you contribute you receive 'Reward Tickets' which can be redeemed for items at the Network Console.
- You can also contribute greatly to your Division simply by completing solo missions or tasks fitted to its requirements - see our paragraph above - which is a vital source of Reward Tickets. So there's scope to earn these even when ignoring Squad tasks.
- Squad Missions are often triggered when your Division has met Squad Tasks, and you can join other online players in their parties, host one of your own or take them on solo with your AI team.
- To tackle the biggest quests - particularly Nemesis battles - you need to be at certain levels and have reached the Skell stage. Also, though, you need Medals; you earn these by contributing greatly to the timed Squad Tasks, so bear than in mind.
- Time Attack Missions at the network console are tackled solo with your AI crew and can be repeated as much as you like. These offer a lot more experience points that normal, so if you're grinding to move up levels these are hugely useful.
Some final useful tips
Xenoblade Chronicles X is a game with incredible depth, much of which you'll discover as you progress through the mammoth campaign. We'll round off with some miscellaneous tips:
- In the Start menu you'll see the Affinity Chart - it's useful for seeing how much you've bonded with the sprawling cast. Some Affinity Missions necessitate a certain Affinity level with characters, so try to shake up your crew to develop these bonds as you play, especially when tackling easier missions. Focus on characters like Lao, Doug and Irina, but try to find space for more minor characters too.
- Use the GamePad map in both New LA and Mira. In New LA, particularly, it's invaluable for viewing details on available Affinity missions, or simply to see information on where certain characters - that can be recruited into your team - typically hang out.
- Use Data Probes properly, the game will show you how near the start of the game and it's important to give this attention. When viewing a data probe segment by tapping on it you can see what benefits and resources can be found. If a probe has actual mineable resources beyond the standard 'Miranium' be sure to set Mining Probes, as some key Affinity Missions can require resources only found via these Probes. Be sure to explore these areas thoroughly to avoid frustrating waiting later on.
- Talk to fellow gamers when trying to find a specific collectible or item that's blocking progress. As the world is so enormous it can be overwhelming when seeking a specific item within a continent, especially when they may be limited to spawning in one or two small areas. We had to use Japanese resources and speak to fellow reviewers, but now many more have the game and can help each other.
- Skells - These typically come with 3 'insurance' points, which recover it for free if it gets destroyed. When these are gone, however, it costs a lot to get your Skell back, so if a battle's going poorly use Y to bail out of the mech so it survives, even if you'll then likely die and get put back to a checkpoint. When your teammates have Skells and you want them to exit the mechs to preserve them, meanwhile, you need to access the battle commands menu (Start button during battle) and tell them to do so.
This guide will evolve in the coming days; hit us up in the comments with your enquiries and we'll add more details to try and help.