Things I wish I knew before I started Xenoblade Chronicles X

It's a big world out there

In a year filled with huge, open worlds, Xenoblade Chronicles X's total landmass is the largest of them all, and its systems are unbelievably complex. The problem with Xenoblade is that it's not always obvious what does what, as the game explains some of its largest, most convoluted concepts with a few lines of text then expects you to figure things out on your own.

Once you understand the game's pacing and structure, it turns into an experience unlike anything this year, but it can take hours upon hours of trial and error to get there. So I've jotted down a few pointers to help get you acclimated to your new home planet as quickly as possible. Some of these tips will assist you in the initial moments, while others will be more relevant a dozen hours in - but if you keep these in mind, you should be able to navigate your surroundings without getting too lost.

Read the manual

This seems like a weird suggestion to make, as many games are completely ditching manuals in favor of easing players into complex concepts with guided tutorials and interactive instructions. Xenoblade Chronicles X is not that kind of game. You'll find over 50 pages of information in the on-disc manual, and all of it is required reading. While Xenoblade throws up a splash screen every now and then when you're faced with a new layer of systems, they only offer a cursory glimpse, often leaving out tons of important information. If you want a deeper understanding of everything from combat, to shops and quests, to the online functionality, make sure to take a few minutes and read the manual.

Take your time

Mira's a big place, and it's got a lot going on. It's easy to feel overwhelmed by all the different missions, monsters, and concepts Xenoblade throws at you in the opening hours of the game. Don't sweat it. Just take your time, soak in the sights, and do what interests you, whether that's following the story or faffing about planting data probes. Practically everything you do earns you experience, too, whether it's fighting monsters or simply wandering into a location you've never visited before. Eventually, you'll figure out Xenoblade's unique rhythm for yourself, and everything will start falling into place.

Grab every blue crystal you see

As you explore Mira, you'll find blue crystals dotting the landscape. Pick these up at every opportunity, as each crystal is essentially a random item drop, and you'll need to stock up constantly. Sometimes you'll need them to complete a quest, and much of what you pick up can be used to upgrade your equipment. You can also 'spend' an item to register it in the Collectopedia, and the more items you register, the more bonuses you can earn. So yeah, if you see a blue crystal, pick it up. Always.

Pay attention to your teammates in combat

If one of your party members shouts a command (also known as a 'soul voice'), its corresponding ability will start flashing on your ability bar. Once you see it flash, activate it to give your team an HP boost and special stat buffs. And if you're surrounded by enemies, press the Start button and direct your crew to focus their fire on one enemy at a time. Working in concert with your squad will often mean the difference between victory and defeat, so stay aware and respond accordingly.

Don't forget to upgrade your skills, equip arts, and customize soul voices

There are three different things to level up in Xenoblade Chronicles X. First, there's your character level, which determines your overall stats and what items you can equip. There's your class level, which grants you access to a variety of different arts (combat abilities) and skills (passive buffs). Finally, you also have a BLADE level (which I'll go into more in a few slides). Leveling up, exploring the world, and completing other actions in the game will grant you ability points you can use to upgrade how powerful your skills and arts are. Thing is, the game doesn't really tell you when you've got new abilities to peruse or when you have enough points to upgrade something, so make sure to pop into your menu every now and then and change up your loadout.

And, if you're feeling up to it, take a peek at your soul voices and customize them to your liking. These will grant you various stat buffs when certain conditions are met during battle, and you're given a lot of freedom in choosing what they do. Don't worry too much about it though - you can get through the entire game without messing with any of it.

If you get beaten too badly in a boss fight, you can lower the difficulty

Sometimes you come across a boss that completely demolishes your party. There's a pretty easy way to get around this - just lose three times in a row. The game will then ask if you want to temporarily lower the difficulty to get through the fight. There's no in-game punishment for choosing this, and as far as I know, you're not locked out of any rewards or content either. So if you just want to plow through a particularly difficult fight, you can take the easy way out without fear of reprisal.

And don't be afraid to change your class

Your created protagonist can choose from a variety of different classes, and these all affect how you approach combat. Some favor offense, some are more well-rounded, and others take on a more secondary role, favoring party buffs and other skills to let your team handle the dirty work. Once you hit each class' max level (of ten), you'll unlock the next, more specialized class in line. You can switch classes at any time, and there's no punishment for doing so, so mix it up if you start to get bored with your current set of skills.

Don't sweat your Division choice too much

And that's about it. Divisions don't really mean anything significant. A Pathfinder can do everything an Interceptor can do, and you're not locked out of any abilities. While there is a specific set of Division quests you can complete, you can switch your Division at any time by visiting the BLADE Barracks without any negative effects. Don't waste too much time trying to decide - just pick one that sounds interesting and keep playing like you normally would.

Know what the different types of missions do

'Normal missions' are a bit more involved, story-wise, and are usually found by interacting with specific people. These will unlock a variety of things, introduce you to new alien races, or even introduce new gameplay quirks or customization options. Then you've got your 'Affinity missions', which you can undertake with specific party members. These do everything from unlocking new characters to bring with you on your adventures, to fleshing out your squad's backstories. Lastly, there are story missions, which require you to complete with a variety of other tasks in order to access them. You'll want to take on a variety of missions in order to level up, earn money, and unlock more of what Xenoblade has to offer.