As a premise, DragonBall: Xenoverse seems to deliver everything the hardcore DragonBall fan might want.
We’ve had every possible retelling of the plot of the anime from every possible angle, we’ve had just about every character that you could think of as a playable fighter in one game or another. The logical step that Xenoverse takes is to introduce a world where the plot is purposefully changed, and where you create a character of your own design to go and set things right again, allowing you to step into the world of DragonBall with your own creation.
Your character can be one of 5 races: Majin, Namek, Frieza race, Human or Saiyan, and can also be one of two genders. This choice determines the basic fighting style of your fighter, as well as racial perks, and what equipment can be worn by them. Physical characteristics are purely for show. A player can only have one character until they beat the main plot, at which point they can make up to 8. The character creation feels both limiting and expansive at the same time. You will certainly be able to make your character stand out, but after a while of seeing every other character walking by with your hairstyle; you might be a little putout. Clothing influences character stats and can also give a visual distinction as a player wishes.
The story begins when Trunks wishes with the DragonBalls that a mighty warrior could be sent to aid them. Trunks works for a time travelling organization known as the Time Patrol, whose mission it is to set out and right wrongs that are occurring in the space-time continuum. What this means in practice is, major events in the DragonBall series are altered, and your character must step in to rectify them again. This provides an interesting series of what-if scenarios, but it often feels as though not enough is done with this interesting premise.
Aside from main story missions, there are 55 side quests that also provide the player with alternate scenarios to fight through, with varied objectives and hidden missions. These sidequests provide the major means by which new abilities are gained: a list of items and skills are possible to gain from each level, and they drop depending on chance and player score. This adds a fun collecting element to the game, but it can also often feel like a grindfest in places.
Other modes include a World Tournament and an ordinary Versus mode. The main setting of the game is in a central hub world that contains shops and various characters to interact with. When playing online, other players characters will inhabit this world, and you can hire them to aid you in battle for a cost. The online functionality is nice, but at present the network stability is not very good and you will queue or get booted often. Offline, the world is simply inhabited by AI controlled custom characters. In this world, you can also meet famous DragonBall characters, who you can employ as your trainer, and by following them and building a relationship with them, they will pass on their skills and knowledge and aid you in battle.
Onto the bulk of gameplay: the battling system. It resembles the previous DragonBall game, Battle of Z, to a large extent, with some modifications. The player flies around in a large open area, and has environmental hazards to contend with in a 360 degree space. You can have up to 3 allies with you, and the enemy can also have multiple forces on the screen at one time. Combat alternates between chasing down the enemy, using physical combo attacks, special attacks, and ultimate attacks. A system of stamina for movement and blocking and ki energy for special attacks is in place. When it works, this system is quite fun and very frantic and full of energy. However, too often it is either too easy, when you have the upper hand, or too hard, when 3 or more enemies are all attacking you at once. It can often feel quite unbalanced and unfair, and the easiest way to win is to find one winning strategy and use it for the rest of the game.
Xenoverse can be quite engaging, and gives a great feeling of what it must be like to be in the DragonBall universe. However, it is tripped up by a small collection of faults, which stop it being an amazing game. The character roster has some noticeable omissions, there is often a lot of grinding, the balance can be unfair and the online mode has major issues. Some of these issues can be patched, others cannot. It is the habit in DragonBall games to develop series, and all I can say is that I hope Xenoverse 2 learns from the mistakes of its predecessor, because with a few minor adjustments, this could be a fantastic game.