“AAAAHHH!!” GRUUAAAHAHHHHH!!” “HUAAARRRGGHH!!” “EEEEEEEE!” “UUUURRRRRGGGHHHH!!”
Yup, It’s a new Dragon Ball game.
In case you’re completely oblivious to the existence of Dragon Ball (which seems unlikely), it’s a franchise that started off as a comic in Japan over 30 years ago, and has gone on to spawn anime, movies, games, posters, pants, and just about anything else it’s possible to charge more for with the right picture on it. There are lots of aliens and people with impossible spiky hair fighting one another; often with grunts and shouts that would put even the most enthusiastic tennis player to shame, hence that silly opening paragraph.
So this is a beat ’em up, right? Yes… and no. While of course there have been (and will be) scrolling brawlers and 1-on-1 beat ’em ups by the bucketload with the Dragon Ball name attached, the Xenoverse titles are something closer to – but not quite matching – an MMO. When you start this game (once you’ve navigated its demands to know whether or not you have save data from the first game available), you’ll find yourself in a hub with plenty of NPCs, shops, and quests for the taking. Your character will also be at the very first level, posing about as much of a threat as a kitten with a butter knife sellotaped to one paw.
That character, by the way, will be one that you have created and named yourself. You get to choose from five races – Humans, Saiyans, Majins, Namekians, and Frieza’s race – then tweak various elements of your appearance, including colours. As well as the clear cosmetic differences, each race offers subtle base advantages and disadvantages, and will each have unique reactions from characters and quests to be found later in the game. Just like a proper MMO, you can have multiple characters in one save.
I went for a purple Namekian whom I named Gordon Bennett, who you can see in the gameplay footage. Side quests allow you to play as any canon character you’ve unlocked, however.
Although it can initially be a little unclear about exactly what you should be doing and where you should be going, things soon smooth out, and the way that features are unlocked is actually quite well considered. For example, you won’t even be given the option of interacting with other players in the hub – which you can only do with emotes and pre-written phrases, oddly – until you’ve reached a certain level, and even then you can stay offline in Conton City should you so wish (you can in fact quite easily play the whole game exclusively offline, and not be punished for doing so). You’re also prevented from flying around the game hub until you’ve had a chance to explore most of it on the ground, helping it feel like a place you know rather than a place you need to refer to a map every five seconds for.
I think what I admire most about this game is the variety, acquisition, and customisation of special move sets. There’s a huge number of quests available in the game but, ultimately, they all come down to – you’ve guessed it – having a fight. Sometimes with allies by your side, sometimes without, usually against more than one opponent simultaneously and/or in multiple rounds… but fights. Some of the best-known heroes (and even villains) are marked as ‘instructors’. Their quests will help teach you the basics of combat or, usually, give you a new special move or technique to use. Complete one of these quests and you get to keep the move in question. There are absolutely loads of these up for grabs, and you can mix and match them in any way you see fit between bouts. You have special moves, super special moves, special counters, and an ‘Awoken’ slot that you won’t unlock an ability for straight away. The Awoken ability is a super-duper-wuper ability that carries some sort of caveat. I unlocked the ability to turn my Namekian giant for example, opening up new powerful attacks while in this form; but giants are vulnerable to attack from behind, which instantly returns you back to normal and with instantly drained Stamina.
Stamina is one of the attributes you’re able to assign points to each time you level up. The others are the self-explanatory Health, Maximum Ki, Basic Attacks, Strike Supers, and Ki Blast Supers. Stamina is important for evasions, counters, and extra flying speed (fights are in mid-air). Ki powers your Supers, and the best ones require multiple bars of the gauge. Choosing which Supers best suit your fighting style, and then choosing when best to use them, are therefore key to victory.
Though quests are scattered throughout the hub, there’s a main storyline (with cutscenes and everything) mainly concentrated in the ‘Time Nest’. The idea is that, due to time travel malarkey, you’re able to experience a variety of times and places and, therefore, as many Dragon Ball characters as possible; including various forms and ages where relevant. Although Dragon Ball fans will most definitely get the most out of the story, the basic concept of bad guys changing history to do Evil Stuff is easy enough to grasp. Although story levels are after a point theoretically level restricted, you should be able to mostly ignore this if you’re a competent player. The maximum player level at time of writing is 80. Recommended level for the final fight is 58, but my Gordon was level 51 when I beat it (though I did end up using a health restoration item). Most people will probably see the ending within 15-18 hours of play.
But wait, wasn’t I trying to compare it to an MMO earlier? Yes, yes I was. You really can play it entirely offline, and get dozens of hours of play that way. But choose to take things online, and you can fight alongside a couple of other players for enjoyable mid-air melee mania. You’ll eventually unlock “Expert Missions” too, which are not only harder than normal fights, but also offer unique rules and situations & enemy attacks that you won’t ordinarily come across. Or if you just want to kick the virtual backside of another player/have another player kick your virtual backside, both ranked and unranked 1-on-1 PvP fights are also on offer. You can choose to have items and level variables in play (you’d be crazy to go for this while you’re anything below level 80), or have things more evened out.
Unfortunately, although there seems to be no shortage of players, actually getting an online game is much harder than it should be. It’s hard to tell how much of this is down to server issues, and how much down to the simple fact that the server you’re on is full of people doing other stuff. Communicating with strangers, due to the aforementioned pre-programmed limitations, is potentially frustrating. Whatever the reason though, be prepared for an online search hit rate of of 50/50 at best.
What’s the bottom line? A great experience for Dragon Ball fans with the bonus of being a good game other people can enjoy too.
Review by Luke Kemp and thanks to Xbox for the review code!