It’s time to lead another liberal sacred cow to the killing floor. I’m talking about non-violence. I’ve never exactly been a fan of pacifism. What finally inspired me to write this article was Stephen Gowans’ own excellent article “Peaceniks for Imperialism,” which exposes the blatant pro-imperialist slant of Canada’s Peace Magazine, a publication that legitimizes the overthrow and destabilization of governments who resist the machinations of the US, the EU, G-20, etc. Peace Magazine‘s version of imperialism is supposed to be okay because they advocate, get this—non-violence! Wait, they advocate non-violence, but when their imperialists heroes occasionally decide to use violence as in Iraq, that’s fine, albiet not ideal according to them. I recommend that all readers go over to Gowans’ blog What’s Left, and read that article if only to read the ideas of Peace Magazine‘s editor, which would be hilarious were they not taken so seriously.
Gandhi & MLK: Useful Lackeys for the Ruling Class
Behold the sacred cow of non-violence. What is it exactly? Most people associate it with Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr. I am not exactly a lover of violence, and as for politics I think anything achieved through peaceful means is a victory. If anything you save a lot of money on bullets and explosives that way. Yet non-violence has been upheld to a level of sanctimony so high it ends up becoming a powerful weapon in the hands of those who have no compunction about using violence.
Ask yourself: could it be that there is a reason why the media and academia bid us to worship Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. while virtually ignoring the struggle of people like Malcolm X or Fred Hampton, and of course totally ignoring or villifying people like Fidel Castro, Danny Ortega, Augusto Cesar Sandino or Ho Chi Minh?
Why, for another example of a blatant double standard, are the Palestinians supposed to be constantly and collectively condemned for random acts of violence when the Israeli state routinely levels buildings and shells overcrowded neighborhoods?
Of course, it’s not difficult at all to see why the establishment loves to preach non-violence to us proletarians—when overturning and crushing governments that are hostile to its interests, non-violence goes right out the window. Did the US, for example, incite the rebels of Afghanistan to resist the government with non-violence? History tells us that they clearly did not.
Non-violent resistance, which is not really resistance at all, has essentially become an order by governments and the ruling classes to disarm and put oneself at their mercy to do what they will. Knowing that these forces, including those in the US, are becoming increasingly accustomed to using violence, who would make such a foolish choice?
Non-Violence Is Ineffective
Put simply, non-violence as a tactic and principle is absurd. For one, what is the end in itself? Resistance, reform and the revolutionary overthrow of a despotic or otherwise undemocratic government. Victory is the end. Seeing that there is virtually no government on Earth that believes in non-violence in the pursuit of preserving itself, why should those who take issue with the government’s policies be forced to play by a different set of rules?
If a particular government is in fact an open dictatorship, the call for non-violence is suicide. Does anyone honestly believe, for example, that non-violent resistance would work against the US occupation of Iraq, or against the government of modern Russia? Did non-violence work for G-20 protesters in Pittsburgh? Non-violence tends to only work when there is some kind of liberal tendency amongst the ruling class or at least a powerful segment of the population in a particular country. For example, it worked for the Indians because there were enough people in Britain, including those in the upper classes, who were shocked by the violence used by the British. The United States had a large population of northern liberals who, despite harboring their own racist tendencies even to this day, simply could not tolerate the horrifying abuse of African-American Civil Rights protesters. It would not work in a country like modern-day Russia, where resistors are often beaten, arrested and even killed, and few ever take notice. More still may think the victims deserved it for not minding their business and going with the flow. It would not work in Turkey, where historically peaceful protests have faced everything from tear gas and clubs to knives and even snipers.
What right do the liberal academics and pundits have to insist that the dissenters in these countries limit themselves to non-violent tactics? Liberal intellectuals love their martyrs, but they are rarely willing to put themselves in the line of danger. When they do get a rude awakening, as perhaps some did in Pittsburgh or at other Iraq war protests, their response is more moral condemnation, that eternally idiotic and useless “speaking truth to power,” as though somewhere there is some higher force that will mediate and punish the government for its thuggery.
Non-Violence is Pro-Imperialist
This brings us to the next point; how non-violence is disarming and rendering the American left helpless against the government and the neo-fascist thugs who have been gaining in popularity since the election of Obama. From time to time I love reading the blog of David Neiwert, who may very well be one of America’s best experts on the radical right and the militia movement. Neiwert has a new book out entitled The Eliminationists, which documents years of increasingly violent rhetoric coming not only from the radical right, but also the more mainstream Fox News variety. Many of Neiwert’s articles on what he calls “Eliminationism,” that is a form of political rhetoric that calls for the physical destruction of political opponents, are available to read on his site.
Neiwert is right to highlight the fact that political discourse in the US has become far more violent, to the point where conservatives tend to see their liberal opponents as inhuman monsters who must be exterminated to save the country. The problem is that when one reads enough of Neiwert’s articles on the subject, one is left with the question as to who is he appealing to? If the right is becoming increasingly violent, not only in its rhetoric but its actions, and there is plenty of evidence that this is true, to whom should the poor progressives appeal to? Obviously there are the law enforcement organs, but the fact is in the US there are mostly liberals and the conservatives, and only the latter have politicians who listen to them.
If progressives don’t want to find themselves the victims of more domestic terrorism, there is only one way to deal with the thugs on the right—show them that their tough-talk isn’t going to be tolerated, that they are going to be called on their actions. I know that folks like Neiwert don’t approve of this, citing that the right has been and is increasingly portraying itself as a persecuted group, but this is inconsequential. They are going to whine about persecution anyway, even if they are winning. Far better it is that they whine while they are losing.
Lastly, non-violence in the face of violent reactionaries is appeasement, if not tacit collaboration. It is an indisputable fact that in the years after Hitler rose to power, there were many figures in the European ruling class who breathed a sigh of relief, hoping that he would destroy the bogeyman that was the Soviet Union. To that end, they gave Hitler virtually anything he wanted. Yet there still was one more, less sinister reason why the European nations did not take on Hitler. People were tired of war, with the memory of the hell that was the Great War still fresh in the collective mind. Hitler succeeded largely because nobody called his bluff. When he marched into the Rhineland, giving the troops orders to retreat immediately at any sign of French resistance, there was none. When he demanded the Sudetenland, they gave it to him, and then Czechoslovakia as well. When he attacked Poland, the French did not launch a devastating offensive on Germany’s open Western flank. The end result is that more than fifty million people lost their lives because people were not willing to expend a few thousand. Non-violence couldn’t stop a Hitler, but just the opposite. If people insist that resistance to US/EU/Russian imperialism must always be non-violent, they are essentially encouraging collaboration.
It would be untrue to suggest that the working class has never won any significant gains from peaceful, even legal means, but the fact is that the most important gains were usually won by violence and often sacrifice. Whereas the liberals insist that we make ourselves martyrs in the name of non-violence, it is far better to make martyrs of the ruling class and their military/police thugs.
Many people might question the wisdom of that approach, but I remind the reader that a martyr’s worth is tied to how many people idolize him or her. When the ruling class is overthrown and the means of propaganda dissemination are in the hands of the working class, there will be no weeping for the generals, the CEOs, and those moral cowards who insist we make ourselves willing targets for despotic regimes.
Non-violence, much like anarchism, is yet another childish idealistic creed. Great advances have been achieved through non-violence, but far more have been achieved through revolutionary violence. In fact, many of the successes of non-violent resistance, for example in India, could have been achieved violent means as well, and with far less loss of life. Would India have gained her independence from the British if there hadn’t also been hundreds of violent mass uprisings to coincide with Gandhi’s tactics? Would Martin Luther King Jr. have been so successful had it not been for figures like Malcolm X, or the Black Panthers, that reminded white America that if one form of resistance didn’t work, there were plenty willing to resort to other forms?
Such a conflict might have been bloody, and as always some innocents would get caught up in the crossfire. But when we look at the real costs of ongoing institutional racism in the US today, which does in fact still have extremely lethal results for African Americans and Latinos, one cannot help but think that a more decisive resolution to the problem would have in the long run saved far more lives.
Far more important is the fact that those who have elevated non-violent resistance, which should be seen only as a tactic and not a strategy, to the level of a religious creed, would have progressive forces accept failure and defeat for the sake of an idea that is not shared by the other side. As alluded to before, the ruling class has no qualms about violence when it is used in its favor. It is only when they are on top that they want peace and stability.
There can be no logical reason why, in the conflict with a side that not only endorses and uses violence, but possesses superiority in the means to conduct violence, the resistors should adopt a policy of strict non-violent resistance. Non-violent resistance as a creed is submission and tacit collaboration. Though the sides may not be equal, and the establishment far more powerful, it is far better to throw a punch than to get put in a headlock on the playground. Trust me, I’ve been there.
Donald Trump’s sons are facing a media firestorm this week after photos of them posing with a dead elephant, leopard and other animals they shot on a safari in Zimbabwe surfaced online.
The photos show Donald Jr., 34, and Eric, 28, embracing a dead leopard, posing behind a slain civet, and standing next to a dead elephant with its chopped-off tail in Donald’s hand. The pictures were first posted on the website Hunting Legends, where they are now hidden behind a password-protected firewall. The tabloid news website TMZ has posted them.
The photos raised criticism from animal rights and conservation groups. “If the young Trumps are looking for a thrill, perhaps they should consider skydiving, bungee jumping, or even following in their anti-hunting father’s footsteps and taking down competing businesses — not wild animals,” People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) said in a statement to E! News.
“Whilst it is bad enough shooting an elephant for pleasure, posing with the tail of such a magnificent beast that you have just cut off with a large knife is a gross and unpardonable action,” wrote the publisher of the U.K.-based Wildlife Extra news site. “It may not be illegal, but it shows a total disregard for any wildlife and unbelievably poor judgment from someone who is meant to be a business leader.”
Father and “Celebrity Apprentice” host Donald Trump told TMZ, “My sons love hunting. They’re hunters and they’ve become good at it. I am not a believer in hunting, and I’m surprised they like it.” Both of Trump’s sons are involved in his real estate empire and appear on his television show.
Donald Trump Jr., defended his actions on Twitter, saying none of the animals they hunted were endangered and many faced issues related to overpopulation, and that the hunting fees the brothers paid help fund conservation efforts. While he says he did not release the photos, he tweeted “I have no shame about them either.”
He also tweeted that nearby villagers “were so happy for the meat which they don’t often get to eat.” But Johnny Rodriquez of the Zimbabwe Conservation Taskforce told The Telegraph that the areas near where the men hunted are sparsely populated by humans, so the meat was unlikely to benefit the locals. “Because of the state of the country, there is also very little transparency about where the money these hunters spend goes,” he also said. “If they want to help Zimbabwe, there are many better ways to do so.”
Elephants are not endangered, but international trade in their body parts, most specifically their ivory tusks, is prohibited under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. This also limits, although it does not completely restrict, hunters from bringing home elephant trophies from their hunts. It is not clear if the Trump sons collected trophies from their kills or merely photographed them.
Tony Stark may be brilliant, but Thor of Asgard earns his rightful status as Marvel’s mightiest Avenger by smashing through the Shakespearean stuffiness of Kenneth Branagh’s misguided origin story to deliver a genuinely satisfying sequel. Sweeping, smartly paced, and frequently laugh-out-loud funny, Thor: The Dark World feels much more in tune with the playful tone of The Avengers than its own predecessor, thanks in large part to dedicated performances by a supremely talented cast and director Alan Taylor’s talent for seamlessly blending awe-inspiring action with lighthearted comedy.
Having recently defended Earth from a massive interdimensional threat as part of the Avengers, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) returns home to restore the balance of peace to the Nine Realms as his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is sentenced to an eternity in an Asgard prison. Meanwhile in London, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) is doing her best to move on when her eager assistant Darcy (Kat Dennings) discovers an anomaly that defies the laws of physics. Upon further investigation, Jane is transported to the place where Odin’s father Bor had once hidden a powerful, formless weapon — known as the Aether — after defeating the Dark Elves and preventing their malevolent leader Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) from using it to spread darkness throughout the universe.
Now infected with the Aether, Jane soon reunites with Thor, who transports her back to Asgard in the hope of healing her. But he’s already too late, because Malekith has awoken from his centuries-long slumber and knows that Jane is the key to his plot.
With an important cosmic event known as the Convergence drawing near, Malekith wants to use the Aether to accomplish what Bor had once prevented. Using his evil assistant Algrim (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) to gain access to Asgard, Malekith launches an all-out invasion of the kingdom in a determined bid to recover his weapon. But Thor has other plans, and with the help of his allies on Asgard and Earth, he must destroy the Aether and make sure that Malekith is defeated once and for all.
In 2011’s Thor, Kenneth Branagh endeavored to instill an air of nobility in a film genre typically known for featuring chiseled heroes in spandex suits. But despite his best efforts, the movie suffered from lackluster action, a muddled script, and awkward attempts at comic relief. Two short years and one wildly popular blockbuster (The Avengers) later, however, prolific television director Alan Taylor (Boardwalk Empire, Mad Men, The Sopranos, Deadwood) and screenwriters Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus, and Stephen McFeely prove that you can teach an old god new tricks with a crowd-pleaser that succeeds at widening the scope of the first film while simultaneously giving the sibling-rivalry subplot real gravity. Somewhat unexpectedly, the massive melee that kicks off Thor: The Dark World feels more like Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy than anything out of the Marvel universe. It’s a smart move that not only plunges the audience right into the action, but also offers Taylor the chance to immediately display his comfort working on a larger canvas. And as the movie returns to Asgard, the writers shift their focus to the seismic tensions between Thor and his renegade sibling Loki, allowing the charismatic Hiddleston to once again steal virtually every scene he appears in.
If the writers can be accused of making any misstep, it’s the fact that they once again fall back on the tiresome world-destroying-weapon-and-the-villain-who-covets-it scenario. Although, to be fair, Eccleston is genuinely chilling in the role of Malekith, and Taylor keeps the action moving at a satisfying pace that distracts from the comic-book clichés of the plot. His efforts are perfectly complimented by top-notch costume design by Wendy Partridge (Blade II, Hellboy), who outfits the Dark Elves in some eerily unsettling armor, and a rousing score by Brian Tyler, whose compositions summon an appropriate sense of majesty without ever growing overbearing.
From Anthony Hopkins to Zachary Levi, the cast of Thor: The Dark World all perform admirably in their roles, nailing the jokes and heroics with equal conviction (special mention goes to Stellan Skarsgård and his tighty whiteys for providing the film with some of its best comic beats). It all adds up to one of the rare sequels that surpasses the original in just about every way imaginable.
We thought “Batman and Robin” would forever prevent superhero films from aping ’60s-era camp.
Taiki Waititi didn’t get the memo.
The director’s “Thor: Love and Thunder” veers dangerously close to full-on Pow! Bam! Zoom! If you thought Waititi’s “Thor: Ragnarok” pushed the MCU’s comedic elements too far, you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet.
And it’s a terrible choice Waititi abandons mid-movie. By then, it’s too late.
We reunite with Thor (Chris Hemsworth) in the middle of a God-life crisis. He’s bored, distracted and unable to rouse himself for anything save superheroics. We learn this from a cheeky backstory told by Waititi’s Korg, the craggy creature whose increased presence is a sign of Waititi’s clout.
Translation: No one on set told the director he’s pushing the silliness too far.
The story itself is feather-light and beneath the once-mighty MCU. We learn that Thor’s old flame, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman, game for all the silliness), is suffering from Stage 4 cancer, a plot line played for yuks early on.
A vague promise made by her old beau transforms her into Thor (Lady Thor? Mighty Thor? Thorina?), a female Asgardian who wields Thor’s old Mjolnir. The new Thor, along with old-school Thor and King Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson, having a blast between the goofy asides) must battle a new threat, Gorr the God Butcher.
That’s Christian Bale, giving a performance that doesn’t belong in this movie. He’s terrifying, a monstrous brute who rises above his limp back story and motivation. Tonally, he’s all wrong for “Love and Thunder.”
What were Waititi and co-writer Jennifer Kaytin Robinson thinking?
Who thinks it’s funny that Thor speaks to his weapon as if it were a new lover jealous of Mjilnor? And the less said about Russell Crowe’s appearance here, the better.
Pow! Bam! Cringe!
Need more tonal screwups? A key plot point focuses on kidnapped children, something the screenplay often plays up for snickers.
Waititi’s wonderful “Jojo Rabbit” turned Hitler into a comic character and squeezed laughs out of Nazi terror tactics. So he knows how to balance uncomfortable material with humor.
He fails at the task here. Completely.
Since this is Marvel Phase 4 we know the woke won’t be left behind. We’re reminded that King Valkyrie is a lesbian, twice, and another character’s back story involves two Dads who procreate.
Just know these details are vital to the story and, if left out, would see the entire film collapse upon itself.
Somewhere along the way “Thor: Love and Thunder” realizes you can’t reconcile the farcical first half with Gorr’s menace. So the film all but throws the humor out, focusing on the Thor/Jane relationship and generic superhero mischief.
That’s just as jarring, and the switch doesn’t come with bravura action scenes or anything that trumps “Raganrok’s” spin on the MCU.
In fact, “Ragnarok” proved superior in so many ways, and that’s before you realize “Love and Thunder” squanders a Guardians of the Galaxy group cameo.
How is that even possible?
Maybe Waititi has Patty Jenkins Syndrome. The “Wonder Woman” director delivered a grand superhero romp in 2017, and then followed it up with one of the worst films in recent memory, “Wonder Woman 1984.”
Did her ego get too big for the set? Was she given too much authority behind the scenes? We’ll never know, but it’s fair to ask similar questions of Waititi after watching “Love and Thunder.”
Something went seriously wrong between “Ragnarok” and “Thunder,” and the mystery behind it might be more entertaining than the film itself.
HiT or Miss: “Thor: Love and Thunder” is a crushing disappointment, doubling down on “Ragnarok’s” comedic beats without the wit and style to make them soar.
Monolith Soft has made plenty of bold claims about Xenoblade Chronicles X. It’s talked up the size of the planet as being five times that of Xenoblade Chronicles, stated that any landscape you see is there to be explored, and promised that there are not only dozens of hours of legitimate gameplay, but hundreds. Often that sort of talk is based on half-truths and bluster, yet in this case it’s absolutely true. This is as grand an RPG adventure that we’ve ever seen, and is an integral part of the Wii U’s library.
It is also, despite the minor addition of X to its title, a very different beast to its predecessor. There are underlying mechanics and structures that are similar, some recurring species, and veterans of the Wii title will have a happier time early on adjusting to its complexities, yet don’t consider this to be a shiny HD iteration of the original’s core content. This is an entirely fresh title from Monolith Soft, and as a result should be immediately appealing to RPG fans with a Wii U that relish a heavily involved adventure, but also those that fell in love with the last-gen effort – or its New 3DS re-release – and want something new to tackle.
Before all else you create your character, and the toolset to do this is actually rather decent, though Monolith Soft is yet to truly master facial animations. We do rather like the idea that ‘Special’ hair basically means ‘random spike’ that makes the character look like they’ve rolled out of bed, but there’s ultimately scope to create a man or woman that’s either serious or bizarre. Our character has fashionably long hair and a Nightwing-style eye mask, while we combined the boyish superhero look with the daftest and most overly masculine voice available. We went for a goofy option, then. There are some nice moments for fans in this area, too, with Shulk’s voice-actor being an option, though your chosen voice only barks occasional commands in battles.
The story then begins with your protagonist being found by Elma, a key character in the plot. You’re in a corner of Primordia, the area of the Planet Mira most commonly seen prior to launch and the location of New LA, the human settlement that’s sprung forth from the wreckage of a dramatic crash already seen by those following story trailers. That first trek towards New LA is a wonderful moment, with the scale of the world and its handsome landscape being immediately striking. Visually the world of Mira is a significant improvement from Monolith Soft’s previous work, showing a substantial leap not only in utilising hardware capabilities but also in design flair.
The story that unfolds is fairly nuanced courtesy of the overall mission structure. Core Story Chapters represent the key moments of progression along with multiple twists, and within themselves portray a struggle for survival, with mysterious foes of various kinds plotting the demise of the human race. Yet that overarching storyline – which we won’t spoil – is only a small part of the overall narrative at play here.
The true setting and tale is constructed partly through your own exploration and freedom of play, and in a loose structure in which Monolith Soft prods you towards completing some necessary grinding. The next level below Story Missions are Affinity quests, which can’t be cancelled after they’ve begun – which early on can lead to occasional frustrating roadblocks if you struggle to find specific items, for example – and below those challenges are a huge number of Normal and Basic missions. Those latter two types are shorter and more flexible, and you’re allowed to stack up to 20 of these lesser missions at a time to tackle at your leisure.
Story Chapters often require you to reach a certain character level and to discover a percentage of specific regions, for example, and likewise Affinity missions will necessitate a level and – sometimes – a degree of affinity with a specific character. A lesson we learned, too, is that unlocking these key missions or the smaller equivalents can also require some old fashioned networking and exploration. New LA itself is split into multiple segments, and simply running around can trigger discoveries and allow you to stumble across missions not visible in the BLADE mission panel – that’s the organisation you join that’s at the heart of the storyline.
What all of this delivers is an experience with an intoxicating degree of freedom. Occasionally there are disappointing moments, such as an Affinity quest that requires you to find particularly rare items – swallow your pride and seek help in walkthroughs when stuck, we had to look around resources from the Japanese release. These can cause legitimate agitation, yet when you find a flow and start to naturally engage with the game’s world it’s a hugely rewarding process. Filling in the map of the enormous and seamless planet Mira is a wonderful sensation, and the moment you discover a new area or continent is always a thrill. You gradually come to recognise characters, too, and what may begin as another simple low-key mission can occasionally evolve into what would be – in many games – a notable part of the story.
The effect of this is a steady development of the lore of New LA, the planet Mira and its varied inhabitants as dozens of hours roll by. You may explore a mysterious beacon and discover a new alien race that becomes an ally of New LA, or set off an entire sub-story about xenophobic humans that want to rid the city of alien races that have immigrated in order to forge alliances, share technology or seek protection. We’ve come across plotlines that spread over multiple standard missions and address themes such as religious beliefs clashing with logical reasoning, desperation at the plight of the colony, love stories and even material greed. Not all subplots hit the mark but many do, and it’s an extraordinarily broad and dynamic world as a result.
Key to this sense of place is broader exploration, of course, and with that comes plenty of combat. To start with the former, early on you’ll be on-foot a great deal, and an early priority is simply to stretch out onto the planet’s various territories – or those you can reach, anyway – and lay down data probes. These probes provide some of your Fast Travel options, but also unlock information on surrounding areas and generate consistent resources at regular intervals. In their basic form they generate money and Miraniam – the latter being a vital natural resource – but can be spruced up with different types of probes earned through clearing missions and levelling up. This is a meta-game of its own, as you assess different probe sites, determine the best mining options and even aim to chain types together.
This is the primary function of the GamePad’s map, ultimately. Though a small mini-map is on the main TV display the controller is a key part of the journey here; whether assessing the map to figure out unexplored sites or to view vital information on the hexagonal segments of the main view, it’s an effective way to utilise the extra screen. The downside, though, is that the very idea of useful off-TV play is a no-go; even though it’s technically an option, it’s an awkward implementation that means you’re lacking vital tools and information. Likewise using the Wii U Pro Controller still means the GamePad should be nearby, reminding us of a similar habit when playing Pikmin 3 with a Wii Remote and Nunchuk. Ultimately we stuck with the GamePad and TV combination, and this is a game that definitely makes the Wii U’s chunky controller feel natural.
It’s to the credit of Xenoblade Chronicles X and its intoxicating world that we discovered just how poor the GamePad’s battery is, however. When trekking across Mira’s five enormous areas we saw the controller’s blinking red light of doom very often, with a few hours at a time passing remarkably quickly. Either get a better battery for your GamePad or plug it into the mains, otherwise you’ll be scrabbling for the power as often as we were.
When adventuring through Mira, meanwhile, you’ll also be involved in plenty of combat. With levelling up so integral to the experience your focus is often on a blend of finding new areas and picking fights with local animals or established foes of your level or under. Early on it’s necessary to be pretty careful, as stumbling across a powerful villain can see you knocked out and back to the most recent landmark within a moment. After dozens of hours you can afford to be bold but, in the early stages, much time is spent taking long routes around deadly enemies.
Once in combat there’s a return of the real-time Arts system seen in Xenoblade Chronicles, albeit with a slightly different dynamic and without a secondary layer of attacks and buffs as per the Monado moves. In this case Arts are more closely tied to your Class type and even what weapons you have equipped, with the latter being a factor when you finally get into a Skell. Buried within menus are multiple progression trees for combat classes that can dictate how you set about fighting enemies deep into the game; in general you can be an all-rounder, a combative fighter leading the line or a supportive sniper from distance. It’s certainly possibly to rank up in multiple classes, yet we focused on one once we’d found a favoured style.
With each segment of the tree having its own set of 10 levels to gain you learn individual sets of Arts, and beyond that you can than choose from a wider list of them and use ‘Battle Points’ to level them up for your character and those in your party. That adds a layer of extra choice even within a chosen Class tree, as you can opt for moves that buff and debuff the enemies, stack your active batch with moves that are offensive and direct, or a mix anywhere in-between.
Finding a style and mastering your Arts, and their placement in your HUD, is imperative to success. The real-time system, for those unfamiliar with Xenoblade Chronicles on Wii, involves using the D-Pad to select Arts as the battle rages. Where this entry shakes up the combat is in the tempo and visceral impact of the battle; your automated attacks as you position yourself around the foe can be alternated between melee and guns, each with cooldowns. While considering that and selecting Arts – perhaps sweeping behind the enemy to use an attack most effective from that position – there are also focus commands that you issue or are barked by your colleagues.
It becomes imperative to listen to your teammates; they may Topple the enemy and ask you to use melee attacks, and the related Arts will flash – just for a few seconds – to indicate that they’ll have greater impact. Successfully executing the move can buff or give health to the team in addition to applying more damage, and also sometimes prompts a rapid quick-time button press to boost the move and your team further. This all happens consecutively and quickly, while your brain is scrambling to react to the flow of the battle and consider strategies.
The effect is undoubtedly exciting when involved in tense, evenly matched battles, delivering a dramatic form of real-time strategic action. When levelled up and blasting away weak indigens – the animals and wildlife of Mira – the quickfire nature is beneficial, while on the flipside climactic battles can stretch on for 15-20 minutes and beyond, with all of the aforementioned mechanics coming into play as you frantically juggle all of your responsibilities.
The sense of scale only increases, too, especially once you pick up your first Skell. Typical of this game you’ll probably be past the 20 hour mark before you even have the opportunity to pick up one of these mechs, and even that is preceded by a set of tasks that included a borderline ludicrous – and irritating – set of quests. Skell proficiency has its own levelling system – of course – and early on it’s wise not to behave as if you’re in an indestructible Transformer. If a Skell is destroyed you lose one of three ‘Insurance’ policies to get it repaired, and after that you’re paying a lot of money to get the machine back.
Initially you can’t even fly the Skell – that waits until far later in the game, around the 40 hour mark and beyond in our case. It can transform into a ground-based vehicle from the off, though, and its impressive leaps allow you to reach new terrain and thus explore more of the world along with all its related benefits. Its combat mechanics are also unique, in that its Arts are accessible and varied depending on what weapons you buy and equip, from rocket launchers to beam swords and more extravagant items beyond. Skells also have a wonderful ability to ‘Bind’ foes at useful moments, paralysing them for 10 seconds while your teammates weigh in.
Once flying Skells are unlocked you truly feel fully equipped to approach the end game and the most deadly foes. Even so, the latter story missions are resolutely locked until you level up a great deal, and perhaps rightfully so. The joy should be in the exploration and adventure, the unscripted and flexible nature of the game’s storytelling, to the point that Story Chapters are simply part of the end goal, not the primary and overriding purpose in themselves.
Everything we’ve covered are the offline aspects, in which you tackle the vast planet that’s refreshingly clear of invisible walls, embark upon diverse challenges and get to know – and team up with – a sprawling cast of characters. Monolith Soft has integrated plenty of online features, however, which serve as background noise for the most part. For one thing your choice of BLADE Division early in the campaign places you within that group on a global level. There are eight choices that largely reward different exercises – discovering territory, winning battles, completing missions, collecting items etc – depending on their focus, so you can choose one to match your style; importantly you can change career at any time with no real impact on your character.
In the online segment, though, this translates to Division Rewards, and if you’ve opted for the ‘Conquest’ option when booting the game up – other options allow you to stick to online play with friends or focus on the solo campaign – you can embark on special quests. In one form timed Squad quests appear regularly when out in Mira that can be tackled by you and your compatriots from around the world, and earning Squad Tickets and Medals opens up the ability to head to a special console and choose unique arena challenges. These can be Time Attacks (where you try to set the quickest global time with your AI team) or specific Squad Missions (with AI or online teams) that are unlocked with a Division’s progress. Time Attacks can be replayed and are ideal for harvesting experience points, while the varying Squad Missions are a one-time clearance.
Taking on these Squad Mission challenges with others online can certainly be fun, but also lucrative in terms of experience points and materials. We were also able to test out one ‘Nemesis’ battle, which involve enormous creatures that appear as limited-time challenges to tackle co-operatively online or with your AI partners, in Skells of course. The one we attempted was an enormous dragon-like level 60 creature; needless to say it didn’t go well. These are evidently a pinnacle of challenge and reserved for those levelled up to a significant degree, but could undoubtedly provide significant add-on value once all other content and levelling up is done.
Disabled prior to publication of this review were SCOUT Reports, which seem like a fancy phrase for Miiverse posts; Nintendo clearly didn’t want early leaks flooding the social network. The concept of leaving helpful messages around the world will be nice to see in action.
Away from the direct online action you can choose to see or ignore notifications showing the achievement unlocks and progress of others in your Division, and better yet avatars of strangers and friends alike will appear around the world. These can be recruited into your team of four for 30 minute windows, and on at least one occasion a tricky story mission was cleared with a little extra help from our online friends.
When you consider the sheer depth of Xenoblade Chronicles X and its structure, right down to developing competing Arms Manufacturers and looking after party member’s equipment or buying them their own Skells, you’re faced with an extremely complex experience; sub menus seem to have their own sub menus. Compared to its predecessor this entry doesn’t quite introduce mechanics or present them as clearly, partly through UI design but also due to the fact it’s simply got more layers and details to address. Nevertheless, all of what we’ve outlined above – and more besides – does start to fall into place eventually, though we suspect most players will have spells of head-scratching and confusion.
As noted in our preview, at times complexity can make way for over-complicated aspects, at least until you figure out the tricks of the trade. Occasionally fetch quests – including some that are mandatory to progress the story – can be problematic, and there are also difficulty spikes in battles. Thankfully Story missions will reduce the difficulty of a boss after three failed attempts, yet even with this mechanic there can be bottlenecks that block progress for a time. It’s not a frequent occurrence, but poorly thought out battles or overpowered surrounding minions that weigh in on a scripted battle can lead to long stretches of repeated battles; multiple hours can be lost in overly difficult segments that don’t feel particularly fair. Thankfully you do at least keep experience points earned during lost battles, which is helpful in the everlasting quest to level up that bit more.
These setbacks in the experience are the exception rather than the rule, it should be said, and for the most part the world, its inhabitants, dangers and ecosystem seem well tuned to allow steady, methodical progress. We have no reason to doubt claims there are well over 100 hours of content here, and it’s to the credit of Xenoblade Chronicles X that it seems worth the time; not only to see the story to its conclusion but also to play through the many optional Affinity and standard missions. Add online co-op battles and this is a title with a staggering volume of content.
We should close with recognition of the presentation values, too, in which Monolith Soft has gone well beyond the standards it set with its last-generation effort. We’ve already praised the Mira setting a great deal, yet its strength is in visual beauty in addition to its underlying sense of life. From mountainous Earth-like territories with sparkling waters and fantastical forests, to a sprawling arid desert, an alien territory of white earth and a foreboding volcanic region, even the five respective areas have diverse miniature eco-systems and changes in landscape within themselves. On top of that there are some terrific creature designs, with some that are alien in nature and others that are stylish evolutions of real animals. While some textures and character animations are a little messy up close, the wider world looks outstanding. When traversing Mira, particularly airborne in a Skell, this is visually unlike and beyond anything else on Wii U.
Sound design also deserves a nod; the soundtrack is very different from the grandiose and orchestral efforts of Xenoblade Chronicles. Yet the mix of rock, occasional rap, dramatic balladry and occasional returns to a sweeping orchestra fit the futuristic sci-fi setting and storyline well. The voice acting is far more hit-and-miss, though, with some good efforts and others that are rather cringe-worthy in their excessive approach to the artistic brief. Granted, it’s not easy to voice a creature such as the vegetable-like Nopon without sounding silly, but at times attempts at camp humour don’t succeed. Ultimately, though, the voice acting serves its purpose and gets the job done.
Xenoblade Chronicles X is as sprawling, diverse, complex and entrancing as we hoped. It utilises the Wii U’s capabilities not only to produce a beautiful world, but shows how something as simple as a map on the GamePad screen can be invaluable. What’s most impressive is the dynamism and impression of freedom in play – level caps and grinding are naturally part of the equation, yet they’re managed within a structure where even small missions or Affinity quests greatly enhance the narrative and sense of place. To truly experience the story of this human colony and the vast planet Mira requires exploration and patience, and Monolith Soft has found an impressive balance in bringing its vast range of gameplay systems and mechanics together.
Occasional bottlenecks are infrequent and easily overcome in the broader experience, and overall Xenoblade Chronicles X delivers a hugely impressive RPG adventure. It’s an enormous accomplishment for Monolith Soft and an irresistible part of the Wii U library.