We’ve seen so-called open-world games several times before on the App Store, like Ravensword and parts of Avatar. However, there were always limitations like loading screens, set paths, or a general lack of depth. Xenome takes this concept to the next level by removing most of these drawbacks, creating an experience that sets a new standard for handheld open-world games.
Before we delve into our review, it’s important to note that the game only runs on the iPhone 4, iPad, and 3rd generation iPhones and iPod Touches. An update to make it run on second-generation iPod Touches is in the works. However, the developers have stated that other devices will likely never be able to run the game.
In Xenome, you play as ‘The Scientist’, a mysterious human who is unfrozen after 250 years only to find that the world has experienced an earth-shattering apocalypse. The second you walk outside, you are pulled into the fray of a war between two factions. As you proceed through the story, you’ll discover your identity, how the world came to be in its current state, and why you can read the mysterious story-ridden fragments scattered around Silica Flats. We won’t spoil the plot twists, but be prepared to do a large amount of reading.
The classic “which way do I go” situation.
Silica Flats is impressively large for a mobile game, clocking in at about the size of a small zone in World of Warcraft. There aren’t any loading screens, so you are free to roam throughout the desert wasteland. The graphics are pretty good and the draw distance is absolutely superb. While textures are quite low-resolution, the stylized art is well tailored to create a unified atmosphere. Some of the key landmarks include destroyed billboards, sunken cities, and broken bridges. In short, nothing feels tacked on.
More impressively, Xenome is a truly open game. There aren’t any invisible walls, so you can hop across the rooftops of huts to sneak into an enemy base or climb up cliffs. To alleviate travel times, there are “pingers” located around Silica Flats. Once visited for the first time, these allow you to instantly jump to any other pinger you’ve come across.
The variety of character customization is immense in Xenome. First is the wide selection of gear. Much like green items in WoW, many pieces of gear are similar with different stat boosters. There is also a shop where you can sell unwanted items and use money to purchase higher-end gear and weapons. Items purchased from the store often give The Scientist a bit of visual flair as well, such as shoulder pieces that spurt out streams of green gas behind you.
On the other end of the character customization spectrum lie your abilities. These come in two flavors: level-based and XNA. The former are active abilities for use in battles that unlock as you level up. However, more interesting is the XNA system. Certain enemies have a chance of dropping a keystone, and when given to a Chemist vendor along with some money, you can unlock special XNA talents. These are, generally speaking, the best in the game. Passive talents can be unlocked through this method as well.
One of the great things about the gear and talent system is that you can use them to benefit your style of play. For example, if you’d rather pick off enemies with a sniper rifle, you can boost your precision shot ability. On the flipside, physical brawlers can increase their damage or regenerate their health. While the system is deep, it’s also very approachable, with tutorials worded so players at all levels of RPG experience can understand it.
The controls in Xenome aren’t perfect, but they’re handled decently. Controlling the Scientist is mapped out across two joysticks: one for walking and another for the camera. Next to the right joystick are the jump and auto-attack buttons. You can target enemies and NPCs by tapping on them, and untarget them by tapping elsewhere on the screen. A menu bar can be brought in and out of view through a button at the top of the screen.
This used to be a BP.
Now, we know you’re likely thinking auto-attack is lame, but it makes sense for the game. Depending on your distance from the enemy, the game will automatically switch between ranged and melee attacks. You still have control over your talent bar, which is plenty enough to handle.
Xenome is does suffer some in the quest variety department. Many quests feel tacked-on, following the formula of ‘here is some story, but now while I have your attention, go kill X, find Y, then talk to Z.’ There are some quests where you need to kill story-crucial bosses and collect fragment information, but generally speaking they doesn’t vary much beyond this.
Despite this, Xenome certainly doesn’t feel like a grind. With a rich storyline, about a dozen hours of gameplay, and a true feeling of freedom, there isn’t much not to like about this game. In fact, if this trend keeps up, the ‘iPhone’s WoW’ may be coming sooner than we think. In other words, do yourself a favor and go buy Xenome now.