In 2017, Nintendo made a huge impact with Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Fans could not get enough and are salivating at the sequel. What if players could get a taste of something new while they awaited it? Look no further than XEL. With Zelda as the core blueprint and a few added-in thoughts and ideas of their own, developer Tiny Roar is giving it their all to impress. There is a lot to enjoy and only a few things that need attention to make XEL a great game.
XEL begins with a young girl who crashes into a planet which results in some memory loss. The girl is told what happened to her spacecraft by a robot named Chap and that she must locate something called XEL. She later encounters a guy named Desmond who leads her to the village of Needle Eye where she talks with the town elder after she wanders around, finds a blade, and runs across some of the less pleasant robotic natives. Players begin their long quest and begin to understand what XEL is.
If players overlook the grass, the scenery and characters are both beautifully rendered visually. But XEL really shines when it comes to audio. XEL features a ton of voice acting, and all of it is at least passable. Second, the background music is wonderfully done, and although players might quickly stop noticing it for a variety of reasons, the sound quality is actually quite good for both the music and sound effects. However, there were a few abrupt scene changes and instances where dialogue would skip forward, so those issues could probably be substantially resolved.
XEL’s gameplay has a solid foundation. You can hack at adversaries, block with a shield, and find new weapons and equipment like a shock trap and the “not-a-hook shot” in the 3D isometric landscape players have to explore. There are many chests to find and plunder, as well as numerous interesting places to explore and puzzles to solve to get access to chests or other goods in the main regions for plot advancement. According to Breath of the Wild regulations, players have a stamina wheel that is slowly replenished and depleted as players roll or are hit while blocking. At campfires, players can also “make” food by turning it into stat- or life-improving goods that players can select from the menu as needed.
The majority of the time, combat is remarkably fluid. When necessary, players attack and defend while being mindful of stamina. If players are targeting an enemy, players can roll away from them and take steps to the side and back. Additionally, players have the option of equipping two tools, either useful items or potential weapons. Combat with common foes, including some of the bigger mini-boss foes, is generally quite effective. It can be a little annoying if players have a lot of melee and ranged units, but the difficulty is more related to the number of foes than to any fundamental gameplay flaws. On the other hand, some bosses can be more difficult than anticipated. Mainly due to the limitations and concepts of how players fight them.
The puzzle component makes the XEL experience more intriguing. The protagonist’s ability to teleport between the present and the past is most noteworthy. It is autobiographical to help players grasp the setting of the game and helps to create original cross-space puzzles that are uncommon in this genre.
XEL is currently beset by a few problems. All characters generally have problems with movement. Reid, for instance, might occasionally be moving around after various exchanges. My next thought is plunging into a pit halfway across the map. This also poses a similar issue because players could approach ledges to leap off of them while walking, miss, and fall, only to respawn mid-walk directly on the edge, forcing them to jump. This was especially noticeable during the final boss battle when players had to briefly cross some platforms. Another issue that becomes common is the game has some issues loading in assets. Occasionally textures and objects would take a long time to load in, sometimes not at all. Do not let this scare you off though. Tiny Roar is consistently working on getting updates out and fixing a lot of issues each time, so it is only a matter of time before these will be relics of the past
Although each sub-weapon is distinct and has a specific purpose, players learn relatively little about them. For instance, the sonic weapon must be deployed from at least a short to a medium distance away in order to be effective. The targeting for the web shot is also a little strange and requires some adjustment, but overall, it’s fine. The camera orientation only adds to how unpleasant this is. Sometimes it’s a little too far away, and by moving around, players can make the camera appear behind walls where nothing is actually there.There is generally enough enjoyment for players to have in XEL. Although not overly sophisticated, the crafting system is nonetheless a wonderful method to improve equipment and create things for stat bonuses and health regeneration. The puzzles and stages are all fairly entertaining and have various unique themes. The voice acting and music are excellent, and most of the time, the combat is surprisingly fluid. Picking up a copy is definitely recommended if you enjoy Zelda-like games; especially in light of the numerous updates the developer is making.