Die-hard Dragon Ball Z fans finally have a game to feel good about. It might stumble a bit along the way with some odd design choices and rough edges, but Dragon Ball Xenoverse 2’s mix of fan service, fast-paced arena brawling, and long-term questing and progression scratch a long-standing itch for series fans.
The unique and ambitious concept of the Xenoverse series really sets it apart from the rank and file of licensed anime games. It’s a three-dimensional arena brawler seated within an MMO-lite structure, which provides both the immediate fun of DBZs big battles and a broader experience of being a new Dragon Ball character that inhabits the same universe and grows gradually in power over time, just like the franchise’s greatest heroes.
Combat is at the heart of the experience, and Xenoverse 2 generally does a good job of translating the omni-directional, all-over-the-place scraps of the show. Basic chain combos can just be mashed out haphazardly, but these alone will not grant you victory. Building real combos requires a sound understanding of various cancel mechanics, and different resource meters.
Ki to Victory
Ki powers all of your special abilities, and unless you equip skills or gear that helps you build it efficiently, you'll need to be smart about when to spend it. Stamina is even more vital; it powers your defensive and evasive skills, as well as your ability to Vanish Cancel, a special combo-extending tool that's crucial for dealing big bursts of damage. Especially against human opponents, forcing foes to waste their resources and saving yours for key moments becomes the key to victory, making Xenoverse 2's brawling a lot more satisfying than it initially comes off.
In terms of execution, none of it is any more difficult than pressing a couple of buttons at the same time. But where it didn’t necessarily test my fighting-game dexterity, it did reward me for experimenting with its huge cache of special abilities, which offer a wide range of tactical options. From space-controlling abilities that help you zone out aggressive opponents, to attacks that trade away damage for the chance to inflict debilitating status effects, there are enough interesting tools to support almost any playstyle, as well as ample opportunity for counterplay.
The huge cache of special abilities offers a wide range of tactical options.
Some of my enthusiasm is dampened by the wet-mop hit effects, which rob even the beefiest looking combos of much of their sense of impact. The camera is downright unruly at times too, in its over-zealous attempts to keep up with the action. Since some commands require character-relative directional inputs, this can lead to frustrating missed attacks at the worst possible moments. On the whole, though, Xenoverse 2 captures the spectacle of DBZ bouts while keeping things manageable.
Back to the Future
Though the story won’t exactly set the world on fire, it does manage to serve as both a plausible excuse to send you on a trip through DBZ history and a sidestory that could conceivably fit into the series’ established lore. Two new antagonists and their masked lapdog are sowing chaos throughout the Dragon Ball Z timeline, changing key moments that fans will remember well. Stepping in to right them means fighting some of the show’s most iconic battles, which even as someone with a less-than-complete knowledge of Dragon Ball, was a fun way to get an anime history lesson. The story hints at some heavier themes, with Trunks in particular struggling with the opportunity to change some painful events from his past, but most of it is lightheartedly played for laughs, which feels just a little bit hokey at times.
Still, flying around the sizeable hub city, being randomly challenged by legendary DBZ characters, and slowly building my fledgling Time Patroller into an “over-9000” beast really immersed me in the world. Especially in online mode, Xenoverse 2 is essentially an MMO-lite, with other player characters flying around looking for party members to quest with and opponents to duel in pursuit of more power. That, I expect, will go on well after the 30- to 40-hour campaign is over. By the time the credits had rolled I had only unlocked a fraction of the skills and barely touched the repeatable Parallel Quests, which can be tackled offline or online with a party to back you up. There's still plenty more for me to do.
By the time the credits had rolled I had only unlocked a fraction of the skills.
While it does an admirable job of providing the necessary activities and services that make an MMO experience work, Xenoverse 2 also commits a variety of small but irritating faux pas. For example, there’s no journal to track current sidequests, so sometimes I ended up manually walking back to quest-givers just to have them reiterate what they needed me to do. There’s a map that shows me where I can find new quest-givers, but the fast-travel map doesn’t have them marked, so you need to memorize their locations before opening the fast-travel menu and then picking the closest point. None of this is a terribly huge deal on its own, but there are enough design oversights like this to cause irritation and confusion that could have been easily avoided.
Dragon Ball Xenoverse 2’s ambition is admirable, and though it’s riddled with a lot of silly little inconveniences, it mostly succeeds in giving DBZ fans an authentic-feeling world to dive into for the long haul. Though no individual element of its roleplaying or brawling gameplay is overly complex, taken as a whole there’s a surprising amount to consider while progressing your character, and enough to do to keep it from getting stale to soon.