Xel Is Other People

HIGH Gorgeous visuals. Likable characters.

LOW Buggy and glitchy. Inadequate save system. Too much backtracking.

WTF How did I fall through the map more than once?

I was trying to come up with a clever, catchy introduction to discuss my feelings about Xel from Tiny Roar, and I was really struggling.  It took me a while to realize why, and then I understood — I realized that I feel kind of like a parent. I’m not angry at Xel, just disappointed because it could be so much better if it had applied itself. 

Xel tells the story of an enigmatic stranger crash-landing on the eponymous space station hurtling through the cosmos.  Upon extracting herself  from her wrecked ship, the stranger (eventually accepting the name Reid) attempts to discover the secrets Xel  has to offer, including her identity and past. Reid is quirky and likable, full of pluck and determination, and quick with a quip.  The people she meets along the way are guardedly welcoming, but not everything in this space station is what it seems, and glitches in its systems mean the end could come sooner than anyone is ready for.

Players control Reid from an isometric perspective, with the camera at (about) a 45 degree angle.  Like many other action-RPGs, players guide Reid through a series of environmental puzzles, light platforming (jumping is automatic when Reid approaches a gap so long as she’s properly lined up with her landing point) and quick, realtime combat involving slashing lots of robots with a sword. 

As Reid progresses, she’s able to find additional gear and weaponry including a cool web-shooter-like device for traversing gaps, remote ECM mines to disable enemies, and a flamethrower to melt ice (and enemies).  The hack-and-slash combat is fast and contains a bit of strategy when players need to work out enemy weaknesses and patterns.

So far, all of this is right in my wheelhouse.  I love traversing beautiful open-world maps, finding stuff to do, and smashing lots of baddies.  Unfortunately, Xel suffers from many glitches that constantly destroy the experience.

Xel‘s station is huge, and there’s a lot to do.  However, item markers are broken, meaning they don’t consistently register that a loot chest has been opened. That means a lot of backtracking to locations only to find that I’ve already claimed the goodies before. 

Also, many items in the world require pixel-perfect positioning to successfully operate.  I’ve spent several minutes trying to lower a ladder or activate a switch because either the ‘activate’ icon won’t appear, or I’m not in the perfect position for the game to recognize that I’ve done it. 

This same finicky quality applies to enemy hitboxes as well.  With certain items it’s easy to miss an attack despite being certain I was lined up properly, and the lock-on feature didn’t seem to help. 

Furthermore, while Reid is able to dodge attacks and carries a handy shield to deflect ranged shots, she’s unable to dodge many boss attacks and shield capacity is connected to her stamina bar, limiting its usefulness.  In the beginning of Xel this is mitigated by plentiful health replenishing items, but as time goes on, Reid is left to craft her own medicine at poorly-spaced campsites. 

The camera is also too zoomed out and at a terrible fixed angle.  It’s easy to lose sight of items (and opponents) behind corners of buildings, trees, or other pieces of scenery, making combat more difficult, and item collection damn near impossible at times. 

The save system is troublesome.  It relies on a series of manually-activated checkpoints which are scattered about the map.  During the tutorial these are regular, but as Xel goes on and the map opens up, they become few and far between.  It’s quite possible to meet an untimely end and be forced to replay 30-60 minutes to regain lost progress — an unacceptable situation which happened to me more than once.

Then, there are the game-breaking bugs. 

After the tutorial, I met a friendly soul who offered to take me to a place of sanctuary.  Sadly, he disappeared along the way, although his dialogue played without missing a beat.  Later, after fighting a series of difficult enemies and solving a tricky water level/time travel puzzle, I somehow clipped through the game world and fell into an infinite void.  I couldn’t move, couldn’t reload a save and couldn’t even exit the game. This was at least an hour of lost progress, and it wasn’t the only time.

Xel tries to tell a compelling story about time travel, loss, anger, and consequences, but the game just isn’t in great shape. I want to see what Tiny Roar can achieve after they patch the daylights out of Xel, or perhaps what they do in their next project.  As it stands, though, Xel needs to think about what it’s done and learn from tis mistakes before it’s not grounded anymore.

Rating: 3.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Tiny Roar and published by Assemble Entertainment.  It is currently available on Switch and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 12 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was not completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and contains Fantasy Violence  and Language. This game features combat against robotic enemies, both fantastical and humanoid.  One of the enemies is an enormous spider-robot, which may be frightening.  The game depicts a violent suicide, which may be a trigger for some, despite the lack of gore.  The main character, Reid, frequently uses profanity, mostly involving some form of s##t.   This game is not recommended for children, despite the cartoonish characters and vibrancy of the colors.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game offers subtitles. The subtitles cannot be altered and/or resized. Dialogue is subtitled, although there are a few ambient moments of dialogue not fully conveyed by the subtitles.  All audio cues have a visual component, but there are several occasions where an enemy is effectively invisible due to the fixed nature of the camera.  These enemies attack without being seen, although the audio cue still plays.  Therefore, this game is not fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: Yes, this game offers fully remappable controls.

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