When it comes to creating an expansion for an RPG, it is hard to satisfy almost everyone. This is inevitably a problematic thing to get right, and Nintendo hasn’t indeed inspired much confidence after the lackluster expansions for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Despite all that, I feel like Torna – The Golden Country is a solid attempt at not only just expanding the story from the base game but on top adding a lot more meaning to it by giving some characters sufficient development.
Torna – The Golden Country is a prequel to Xenoblade 2 that offers us further insight into the world of Alrest. Despite serving as a prologue, this expansion is best played after completing the main game because otherwise, it wouldn’t really make much sense for the story. Those who have completed the game know about the characters and the myth surrounding this world so to get a more adequate idea of the story elements and better enjoy seeing the backstory of some of these characters, chronological order is the way to go here.
Set 500 years in the past; the narrative focuses on Jin’s descent into darkness and leads to his confrontation with Malos. The relationship between the two leads – Jin and Lora – is briefly touched upon in this expansion and while you might be already familiar with them, it helps to know more about their past. It never feels like this was an afterthought for the expansion since the writing is clever enough to integrate it all into the story really well. The substantial impact of the story beats and twists are lost if you play it as a newcomer so this is why it is more satisfactory to finish the main game first.
Monolith could have utilized this opportunity to fix some of the issues present in the main game, but I don’t think they were effective in trying to accomplish it with this expansion. For starters, the combat system seems significantly enhanced but still suffers from a difficult tutorial that makes it confusing to figure out most of the basics in the start. You will gradually begin comprehending what the combat has to offer, but the way every aspect needs text-based explanation feels overwhelming at the beginning, which was equally an issue with the main game. That said, the revamped combat system offers more ways to exercise your power and with far less clutter, so it is a welcome improvement overall.
The other issue is the main game was full of fillers or quests that ended up merely sending you on various locations to fetch items, and sadly Torna – The Golden Country is no exception here. It achieves the same thing and adds filler content to pad the game’s length as the narrative takes a backseat. Even though I absolutely adored the main journey that I had to undertake during the story, the optional content was repetitive and terrible. There is a new mechanic implemented with the community building system, partly inspired by the Affinity Chart in the first 2 Xenoblade games, and this is frequently used as a roadblock to halt story progress.
In this expansion, after completing a given quest, the quest giver will join the player in their travels as part of an ever-growing community. A level up system links it all in place which depends on the community’s population. Once you gain a certain number of community members, the story will finally progress stopping any unnecessary grind. These artificial blocks, that hold back progress, are what unfortunately bring down the overall enjoyment factor of this expansion. Rather than focusing on delivering a highly polished experience, I feel that Monolith decided to make it as big as possible and since it took just one year from announcement to release for this expansion, this could have been a reason for it.
The other improvements made to the game are for the rendering engine, where minor tweaks enhance the overall image quality. The visuals look better but only if slightly. I don’t think the difference is big enough to consider it worth mentioning here. Other tweaks are primarily made to the UI and combat. Swapping between characters is efficiently handled with one button press and these controls work flawlessly. It improves the flow of the battle by allowing you to switch instantly during combat. There is a total of nine party members allowed in a team at a time while you can set up three different teams making it a total of nine characters and three teams. The attacks are still performed automatically but to add some depth, you can now switch between a ‘Vanguard’ who takes the front place in battle and a ‘Read Guard’ who acts as support in the back.
The main story vibe that I had with the expansion is one of a journey. You can perform new activities like start camping out in the wild. While camping is new to this expansion, the activities that you can do during camping are not new and were already present in the main game e.g. Inns or Crafting. Their usage now feels more relaxing and natural to the journey. Even though I am not a fan of the side content, I had to admire some of the work done to at least improve the appeal of them by making the quests more relatable to the characters. It adds a motivation to handle all these mundane tasks, even if they feel dull.
Torna – The Golden Country is clearly one of the best expansions released by Nintendo and it surpasses The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild’s season pass content with ease. If you remain a fan of Xenoblade Chronicles 2, it would be a mistake to ignore this expansion. But if you are hoping the issues that you had with the main game are now fixed, keep your expectations low and thoroughly enjoy the ride.
Xenoblade Chronicles 2: Torna – The Golden Country Review (Switch)
Game Reviewed on: Switch
Game description: Xenoblade Chronicles 2: Torna – The Golden Country is an action role-playing game developed by Monolith Soft and published by Nintendo for the Nintendo Switch video game console. As part of the Xeno series, the game serves as a prequel to Xenoblade Chronicles 2.
Final Score - 8.5/10
Fans of Xenoblade 2 shouldn’t miss out on this expansion, however, it is difficult to recommend it to newcomers or those who didn’t really enjoy the main game. The content offered here is going to be more of the same, but with several notable improvements to the combat, exploration and progression system.