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Dragon Ball Xenoverse - Review
Last year’s Battle of Z was a cumbersome and clunky attempt at creating a multiplayer scrapper in the Dragon Ball Z universe. Its fighting was a mash-up of so-so ideas pushed into a fighting system that was simply too shallow and bland to be exciting for any great length of time.
This year’s release Dragon Ball Xenoverse does at least seem to be listening to some of the criticisms aimed at the series and attempts to try once again to fashion a multiplayer focused casual scrapper set in the Dragon Ball Z universe.
In what’s (sort of) a series fist, Xenoverse’s story mode is one giant “what if” storyline. Rather than simply recreate the exact same fights from the anime once again, this time around the game plays with an alternate past narrative, as the player is required to travel back in time and attempt to fix the timeline.
Hence, plenty of fanboy-rousing scenarios. What if Goku hadn’t been able to defeat Nappa? Or if Radditz had managed to avoid Piccolo’s finishing blow. It’s the perfect kind of fan-teasing that’ll only appeal to those who’ve been invested in the show for years, but as an idea it does at least remain entertaining.
This storyline meanwhile, allows the developers to cast a new character at the centre of the story; you. Xenoverse’s much-touted mechanic has been the ability to create your own character. It’s a no-brainer really, in a series with so many weird and quirky characters as Dragon Ball Z, it makes sense for the games to revel in it.
As a character creator, things are about as you’d expect. There’s several races to choose from, including being a part of Majin Buu’s race, or an alien similar to Frieza. Whilst it mostly boils down to which one looks the coolest, there are slight advantages to each race. Namekians, for example, benefit from better long range attacks and better item use, whilst Buus possess a higher level of defence.
It’s a shame then, that all of these RPG aspects are in support of a clunky and oftentimes torturous battle system. As with last year’s Battle of Z, developer Dimps still haven’t managed to get the feel of combat right at all. Don’t expect epic Kamehameha blasts or awesome looking super moves for the most part. Fights feeling shockingly underpowered, with combatants wailing on each other for minutes and only making a slight dent in their bloated life bars.
Similarly, many of the other problems found in Battle of Z’s combat quickly make themselves apparent. Stages are huge but manage to feel completely devoid of any atmosphere or interesting visuals. Likewise, those huge arenas work against the game. After pulling off a button-mashing combo on an opponent, you’re likely to send them hurtling across the stage, only to have go chase after them to continue the pummelling. It doesn’t help either that the game’s camera is woeful, regularly taking nose dives and spinning around to face the wrong way whilst you’re in the middle of a scrap.
All of these flaws are actually compounded in the story mode. Strip away the messing with series canon, and the main campaign is full of dull fights and repetitive encounters. Many story missions force you to babysit other characters whilst killing an absurd number of enemies. One such fight forces you to kill twenty grunts whilst protecting Gohan and Krillin. This would perhaps be acceptable if the grunts went down fairly quickly but instead they manage to be built like tanks, absorbing hit after hit before they go down. What should have been a breezy, exciting fight with a dash of challenge, quickly devolves into a repetitious, boring slog.
Step away from the poor story mode and generally shallow combat and you can see where developer the developers did come up with a few ideas. The hub world essentially has you walking around a giant time machine, with the ability to interact with other players, or at the very least see computer controlled versions of other player-created characters.
In this Destiny-lite hub, you’re also able to take on side quests (effectively minor story missions), and bring along other people’s characters to help you, either as A.I. controlled allies or directly controlled by the player. It’s a smart, flexible decision and, given all of the game’s faults in terms of its combat, it does at least get a little better when you’re fighting alongside other players.
Likewise, versus mode would prove to be more entertaining than the story campaign were it not so horrendously imbalanced. Taking my handcrafted Buu online repeatedly met with a vastly over levelled Super Saiyan able to Spirit Bomb me into oblivion. The shallowness of the combat rears its ugly head once again, with fights devolving into brainless button-mashing but, given some more care and attention this could have been an interesting focus for the game.
There’s plenty of other little RPG elements that are woven into the game. Some abilities are unlocked by being trained by one of the cast. Study under Vegeta, for example, and you’ll unlock his Galick Gun move. Meanwhile, new clothing provides your character with upgrades to various stats and can be purchased between missions or unlocked by completing side quests.
Of course, mentioning all these elements feels rather pointless when you consider the core battling is arguably the worst aspect of the entire game. Even when you strip away the padded out story missions, which manage to serve as nothing but filler, you’re still left with a game with woeful fighting mechanics that manages to undermine the game’s better online modes.
Making Dragon Ball Z games multiplayer focused is certainly no bad idea. In fact, it might just be what the series needs to give it a shot in the arm. The poorly crafted combat however, is still the weakest link, and some of the MMO-RPG elements manage to come off as nothing more than attempt to create a time sink. The padded out life bars, and a need to grind, being a shallow way of adding depth to the game.
It goes without saying that Dragon Ball Xenoverse is best reserved for the fans, yet surely even they demand more from a Dragon Ball title than this.
Until then though, you might went to dust off that copy of Budokai 3 you still have laying around…
Dragon Ball Xenoverse was released February 27th for PC, 360, Xbox One, PS3 & PS4.
This review is based on the PS4 version.
© 2015 LudoLogic