Xenoblade Chronicles 3, out for the Nintendo Switch later this month, is an anticipated tentpole release for the hybrid console. And thanks to some schedule shuffling, it’s sooner than ever! We’ve spent time with the game’s opening areas, which set a foundation for what should be another long, sweeping adventure.
Combat will feel similar to players of earlier Xenoblade games. You probably know at this point if you like it! It feels a lot like MMO combat. Characters auto-attack, and the strategy comes through selection and timing of special skills. The Xenoblade Chronicles 3 version is all about combos that trigger Break, Topple and Daze statuses. Attacks have special effects if you attack from certain directions, and a handy arrow on the UI lets you know your current angle designation.
The early tutorial sequences of a JRPG can be something of a slog, as the game’s long running time means a couple of hours getting you settled isn’t entirely unreasonable. Still, Xenoblade 3 breaks down elements and rolls them out in bits! This helps with a battle interface that otherwise might overwhelm.
Key story fights won’t let you use it, but the game’s auto-battle functionality is quite nice when it’s available. It does a great job of coordinating your skills for combos and correct attack angles. There were a couple of instances when it didn’t work as intended — stay away from cliffs, maybe — and sometimes we disabled it to grab items mid-battle. But generally? It’s nice to have. It’s still satisfying in the early areas to optimize your team configuration. Auto-battle also makes the game great for “podcast play,” working toward grinding levels and such while doing other things.
Setting the game apart, at least in its early hours, is a darker tone. Instead of the happy-go-lucky Rex and his gramps, you’re introduced to the main cast of angsty pseudo-teens and their bleak war-filled existence. People in this world live ten year lifespans as part of a combat faction, forced to slay others to essentially steal their life force. It’s honestly wild that anyone in this world would be as well-adjusted as these six.
They’re quickly cast out for various plot reasons, and forced to work together to survive. And at this point… weirdly, the game starts to lighten up a bit? It’s hard to say how things will play out. Still, it feels like you’ll be able to enjoy exploration and building your team with a bit more levity, before heading back in to the darker reality of main story sequences.
While we’ve only seen hints in the game’s early hours, Xenoblade Chronicles 3’s modular class system appears to be a big focus. Early in the second chapter, a scripted sequence forces you to try swapping up classes, at least for a bit. That feels like a concerted effort to keep you from just settling into the initial canon roles. The game also switches you between lead characters, further instilling its desire to get you experimenting with the systems. We’ll have to play more to see how this plays out, though.
Mostly, the early parts of Xenoblade Chronicles 3 confirm what fans probably wanted: this is a familiar, robust adventure. It’s a comfort for those who use games like this as long-term companions, and it iterates just enough to keep things interesting. Whether it holds together for its full duration? We’ll just have to see.
Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is developed by Monolith Soft and published by Nintendo. It launches July 29, 2022. It’ll also see the release of a paid Expansion Pass. For more on the game, stick around for Siliconera’s review.