XEL – Review
Follow Genre: Adventure, Action
Developer: Tiny Roar, Assemble Entertainment
Publisher: Assemble Entertainment
Platform: PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PS4, PS5, Switch
Tested on: PC

XEL – Review

Site Score
5.0
Good: Provides an accessible adventure experience
Bad: Poor storytelling and voice acting, Way too much boring walking
User Score
0
(0 votes)
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One of the most classic and beloved genres in video game history must be the adventure game. It’s you against the world, with a sword in your hand, exploring mysterious dungeons and enemies are lurking everywhere. XEL is a game that initially was also going to be something like that. However, it’s sometimes dangerous to create a game that has essentially the same mechanics as some of the greats (Zelda), because people will definitely know what a good adventure game looks like, and they will constantly compare it to what you made.

Story

XEL starts off with a spaceship crashing on a peculiar planet. The main protagonist doesn’t know who she is due to memory loss, but she is greeted by a small robot. The robot explains she finds herself on XEL, and she starts exploring a space that seems to be a combination of nature, metal scrap, and junk. Soon she discovers that nothing is truly what it seems, and a mystery starts to unfold itself…

While this story set-up initially sounds pretty nice, it’s not presented well. XEL is full of reactions to situations that you’d find in the storytelling of Dora the Explorer or other kids’ shows. Sure, there are some emotions visible, but most of it is rather shallow and poorly written. Real-life panic would look like somebody looking confused and scared as they stumble over their own feet. In XEL it seems more like an “Oh no! Anyway,” type of reaction, as our protagonist will calmly continue with what they were doing. This makes the story feel somewhat hollow, as the emotions conveyed look as if the characters are not interested in what is going on.

Graphics

We do like how XEL looks. The design team has put plenty of effort into the graphics, crafting a beautiful world that shows why people compare this to Zelda games. There’s the color palette which has dreamy, soft colors, and they also fit the theme of each place (a fire environment is red) where one or two colors are dominant. Animations in the game are very decent, though the cutscenes and the mouth movements in those cutscenes feel outdated. Compared to the in-game graphics, the cutscenes are simply quite a step worse. There are also some general bugs present, including people floating instead of walking in populated areas. Overall though, we can appreciate XEL’s graphics for sure.

Sound

One of the best qualities of XEL is probably the sound design, and especially the music. The music is cinematic in a way, often supplying the right background track for the situation at hand. Most of the music has something New Agey to it. Walking in a forest-like environment gives you something calm and uplifting, a dungeon is mysterious and atmospheric, and a boss is a bit more active, just how it’s supposed to be. The sound effects are also quite enjoyable, where the environmental effects such as crickets are utilized at the right time, as well as footsteps, doors opening, or boxes getting smashed. The only thing that’s not so nice, in line with the story, is the voice acting. Where the story is poorly written, the voice acting is also largely bad and uninspired.

Gameplay

In its core design, XEL is like any run-of-the-mill adventure game with action elements. You got a set of weapons, such as a sword and a shield, that you can use, and you can dodge or block incoming attacks. There is no jump button (jumping happens automatically when going from edge to edge), which is a conscious choice some designers make. In XEL though, this choice feels a bit weird as you are often looking at platforms at the height of your groin but seem to be unable to climb up, like a toddler who is still in development. Aside from that though, the game has some other, major flaws.

While running around and smashing crates or enemies in a hack ‘n slash fashion can be fun, it also quickly grows tiresome due to the lack of other attacks or enemies than the standard ones. The biggest frustration, however, is walking around from A to B with long stretches of nothing to do. The game’s pace gets absolutely destroyed by this and the world starts to annoy you after the first hour of gameplay or so. Everything that’s good about XEL slowly disappears in the rearview mirror, leaving a bitter taste in your mouth. Most of this could be solved by actually giving you fun things to do while walking, such as some challenging enemies as an example.

The combat is also mediocre as you sometimes can’t avoid a certain attack or are just smashing the attack button yourself without giving it much thought. All of this truly is a shame as we can see there’s a solid base for a nice adventure game underneath it all. There simply hasn’t been enough attention to the overall level design and the combat mechanics or even the user experience for this game to work in its final state.

Conclusion

XEL is a pretty-looking game and has nice music, but that’s largely where the good stuff ends. The story is poorly written and the gameplay gets boring fast, leaving you with a disappointing taste of what could have been a great game. In the end, if you as the player are not having fun, it’s not a good game. If you’re looking for a fun adventure game, there are far better titles out there.

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Find me on youtube to see some playthroughs! https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCuBrlulGywcb0EiYWBnA1ng

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