The Switch has seen no shortage of JRPGs of late. But since its launch last December, it’s Monolith Soft’s Xenoblade Chronicles 2 that has offered the most epic and imaginative world to explore. It’s also the most generous game on Nintendo’s system, too, boasting an impressive 100+ hours of adventuring with the base game and a ton of small but regular content drops courtesy of its expansion pass. Now Xenoblade Chronicles 2 has just got a little bigger. Entitled Torna – The Golden Country, this new adventure tells a brand new story, making it the first Nintendo DLC to match the scale and duration of The Witcher 3’s Blood & Wine. Sadly though, it’s an expansion that pales in comparison to CD Projekt Red’s bewitching offering.
Set 500 years prior to the events of Xenoblade Chronicles 2, The Golden Country puts us in the shoes of Lora, an important character that until now, players had only seen glimpses of in flashbacks. In a nice nod to fans of the series, Lora’s Blade – a sentient being that also acts as a living weapon – is Jin, one of the chief villains in the original game. In other words, it’s very much fan service, as The Golden Country helps flesh out Jin’s backstory, revealing how he became the leader of the shadowy organisation Torna, which in this timeline is still also a real place that’s built on the back of a living Titan.
While this would make this a prequel then, the contrast of character’s relations to one another is something that you only really get to understand and appreciate if you’ve played through the base game’s story. It’s an add-on that’s very much preaching to the converted, as despite being available as a stand-alone retail release, its referential story beats mean that The Golden Country isn’t particularly newbie friendly.
Ironically though, the more focused structure and welcome refinements to the battle system actually make this expansion a far more accessible experience than the base game. Especially if the thought of a 100-hour RPGs sounds too daunting. Rather than exploring the whole of Alrest, you’re limited to just the titular kingdom of Torna as well as a younger version of the lush green Gormott.
The sense of scale as you run on the backs of these Titans are incredible, as all creatures great and small roam the wild lands, with clearly indicated levels hovering above them so you know whether or not you can take them down. That said, the greens, sands and waters of Torna look a bit too unremarkable compared to the Titans we’ve explored in the base game – fans might be a bit disappointed to see that there’s nothing here that’s quite as breathtaking as the vistas from Uraya.
This time around, party management has also seen some welcome streamlining. Instead of managing a huge roster of Drivers and Blades (with the latter wildly varying in aesthetics and unlocked via an infuriating, randomised system) The Golden Country sees your party quickly comprised of core characters who will stay with you for the duration. That might feel like a limitation for those who like their customisation options, but at a shorter play length, this more streamlined approach is welcome.
Switch Art it up
What also mixes things up is that your Blade is no longer just a fancy buffer for your Driver. Thanks to the all-new ‘Switch Art’, you can now also take control of them by swapping them into the ‘vanguard’ role, which also gives them different abilities. This essentially gives you nine playable characters, though you are limited to only swapping between the Driver and Blades of the same team, while you can only switch the Driver to control out in the field.
These preset party compositions also make it easier to trigger the battle system’s rhythms of chain combos that had previously been much more confusing and elusive. For The Golden Country, these prompts also feel better communicated from an improved UI to help maximise your damage output – if you’re just mashing the first Art to come out of its cool-down, you’re doing it wrong. Whether it’s following QTE-style prompts or watching an animation closely to trigger a cancel, timing button presses are of utmost importance.
But even with these tweaks, there’s a fair bit of nonsense carried over from the base game that you’ll still need to put up with: how a boss collapsing after a lengthy battle inevitably fades into a dramatic cutscene of a whole other fight which feels completely disconnected from your gameplay input; how you need to rest at night in order to level up; how your Blades’ Affinity chart doesn’t upgrade unless you visit the page first and finally, the number of intricate systems that are buried in menus that you’re not likely to find much use for until you’re forced to later down the line.
Sides become Mains
There’s also the many side quests you’ll come across from the NPCs, which are all collated on a new Community diagram for you to keep a hold of. Content-wise, there are plenty of these, but unfortunately, most of them are little more than uninspired fetch quests, with their only saving grace being that you might occasionally have already gathered the necessary materials, allowing you to clean up some of these tiresome quests right away. Another disappointment is that Blades don’t have their own unique side quests — and there’s no heart-to-heart bonding with them either — meaning that these anthropomorphised weapons never truly get fleshed out as characters.
While the story, on the whole, isn’t particularly long, it ultimately ends up taking a backseat to these generic side quests, which turn out to be mandatory if you want to progress through the main narrative. For players already happily stopping to talk to every NPC with a quest to dole out and getting sidetracked to complete them, this may not be a problem, but for a se the lack of freedom here
However, if you just want to get on with finding out what happens next, it’s hard not to resent having the next plot point gated until you raise your Community level to an arbitrary standard, not to mention kill the pacing. Ironically, the need to grind in the late-game that tends to plague JRPGs feel less of an issue here. Even without deliberate detours, leveling up in this expansion is relatively quick – we were already at Level 40 in about 10 hours.
Is Xenoblade Chronicles 2: Torna – The Golden Country any good?
Despite being available to buy as a separate stand-alone experience and packing content that could easily fill an entirely new RPG, Xenoblade’s idiosyncrasies make The Golden Country an experience you’re only going get the most out of if you’ve already played the base game. For fans, this is a substantial expansion providing new characters, a new continent to explore and plenty more to comfortably fill your boots. Considering the retail copy includes a downloadable code for all the expansion pass content, it’d be a waste not to.
Another caveat: We reviewed The Golden Country using the digital Expansion Pass, which will not run without already having the base game installed. If you do want to play this particular story and are short on storage space for your Switch, then you will definitely need to buy this retail copy with the physical game card. If you’re after some solid (if unremarkable) portable adventure-ing, you could do far worse.