‘Dragon Ball Xenoverse 2’ (Xbox One) review: A second brawl through history

‘Xenoverse 2’ offers a little bit of everything

“Dragon Ball Xenoverse 2,” much like its predecessor, is an odd game.

It’s a 3-D arena fighting game at its core, but more of a button-mashing brawler rather than an in-depth experience such as “For Honor.” It has RPG- and MMO-like qualities — you can level your character and open your game up to other live players — but neither style stands out in any particular way. And then it screws with the timeline of the popular “Dragon Ball” franchise, introducing characters into times in which they shouldn’t be and given you control over a character that doesn’t exist in the anime or manga.

And, just as with the first game, “Xenoverse 2” works. Its strange amalgamation of gaming genres offers a little bit of everything, with the effect being a game built for “Dragon Ball Z” fans first and gamers second. So, for those who grew up watching Goku save the world (and more) time and again, you’re going to find something to enjoy here.

That being said, non-fans may find the heavy use of fan service and the lack of a structured play type a bit off-putting, so be aware.

Like I said, “Xenoverse 2” first is a fighting game, and it’s about as chaotic as any powerhouse episode of “Dragon Ball Z” you may have seen. Set in massive arena-like settings pulled straight from the anime, your custom-created avatar will embark on adventures fixing the timeline from ne’er-do-wells who want to rule the universe … or destroy it … or create a new one. Just like the show, it doesn’t matter. What matters is when fight and Ki starts flying around the screen.

Still, a primer is in order. Most of the first part of the game centers around your character helping to correct anomalies that keep popping up in the original “Dragon Ball Z” timeline. Iconic fights — Goku and Piccolo against Raditz, Goku against Frieza, etc. — are remixed, with the villains generally being powered up or assisted by someone who shouldn’t be there. It helps to have more than a passing understand of the “DBZ” universe. You could get by without it, but I feel you’d miss much of the charm of the game.

As you progress, you’ll see familiar faces from the first game, and events will begin to make sense (somewhat). And in a bit of surprise, there are even a few more adult themes — particularly loss and the grief it spawns — being explored, something “DBZ” tends to gloss over. But if you’re looking for silly nonsense rather than something that might make you tear up, there’s plenty of jokes here.

It doesn’t take long before you control your created character, and it takes even less time before you start fighting against anything with a heartbeat (and some things without). Your standard attack generally will be punching, and while plenty of situations can be solved just by mashing buttons, you’re going to want to learn some of the more advanced combos. Which, because they’re linked to other meters, particularly Ki (think of it as your energy level) and stamina.

When you find that simple attacks aren’t cutting it anymore, you’ll need to swap over to special moves and abilities. These moves are tied to your Ki and stamina, meaning you’ll have to keep an eye on those meters if you want to use them more than once in a while. You do have the ability to equip certain items that can boost those elements, or you can built your character to maximize the abilities you want to use.

Each level grants you skill points that you can pour into six different stats, including strength, life and Ki. While my character’s build focused on strength and life (because I’m a button masher who’s terrible at more intricate fighting games), it didn’t take long before I realized that putting some points into other stats would be necessary. Since your ability to evade attacks is tied to a meter, for example, it pays off to boost that regardless of your build. Same goes for Ki: The more you want to use special attacks, the more Ki you’ll need, meaning you’ll need to put more points into that stat.

To be honest, though, while the game allows you to specialize your character, the game feels built around being a jack of all trades with one favored method of fighting. By game’s end, I had a more balanced character than I had anticipated because that’s what was needed to progress.

But once you get your build going and you figure out how you want to fight it out, you can start messing around with the fun stuff: special abilities. The game offers a vast variety of abilities from which you can choose, granting you an equally wide array of ways of dealing with any particular problem in your way. Equipment can boost your Ki, make you stronger and the like, while you can learn and equip abilities at your whim. Ki attacks not doing much damage? Swap out that Special Beam Cannon for something a bit more physical (perhaps Yamcha’s Wolf Fang Fist?). The customization is pretty deep in terms of raw numbers, though most abilities fall into the same few categories.

The game also comes with some online components. You can engage with live gamers in player-vs.-player modes, or you can team up if you’re facing a particular tough challenge (or just feel like the company). The interface to connect to another player is a bit cumbersome, but it’ll stick once you do it once or twice.

Technically, I didn’t run into too many issues, but one in particular stands out: The camera is terrible, especially if you’re up against a wall. It feels like it’s tracking the wrong character sometimes, instead of focusing on your character. It’s easy to overcome when out of battle, but a sudden shift in perspective can change a fight real quick. Other than that, the game handled smoothly (even if the load times could get a bit obscene at times).

In the end, “Dragon Ball Xenoverse 2” is a lot like its predecessor, and I’m OK with that. It’s mainly a fighting game, but it offers a slew of other activities to keep you entertained, and most at least are in-depth enough to warrant your time investment. And it bears repeating: This is a game made for “Dragon Ball Z” fans, so it would help to know something about the anime before going into a game that centers on changes to the show’s timeline. If you’re interested in a “DBZ” game full of the quirky nonsense that makes the show so much fun, along with the chance to beat up some of the universe’s strongest fighters, you’ll find yourself at home (if out of time) in “Xenoverse 2.”

Three “Yeah, it’s the same character; so what?” stars out of five.

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