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ELEX II – Review

A few years ago, one of my friends was telling me about this game he had discovered, a game that was so different from everything else he had played. It mixed a post-apocalyptic world with technology and magic, and a vast open-world to explore. You could collect items, forge them into new weapons and armour, and toilet paper, of all things, was a luxurious commodity. It sounded like an amazing concept, but sadly, I didn’t look much further into it.

Developed by Piranha Bytes and published by THQ Nordic, ELEX II follows on a few years after the original ELEX game, and Commander Jax has resigned to living a secluded life, his previous deeds long forgotten after peace returned to Magalan. This peace, however, doesn’t last particularly well, and without a common enemy, the free people have once again started fighting over resources and territory, completely unaware of the threat summoned by the Hybrid before its defeat. As strange alien orbs start raining down on the planet, the warring factions are blissfully unaware of the changes being made, and with the guidance of an unexpected benefactor, it’s up to Jax to unite the factions against the unknown threat.

Where ELEX had the player choosing between three factions to possibly join, ELEX II brings two extra to the table, but it also allows you to complete the game without doing so, but this will be a lot harder seeing as you won’t have access to the more advanced skills and equipment. The Berserkers once again make an appearance – a faction that has forgone technology, focusing on medieval-style weapons and magic harnessed from ELEX-turned-Mana. The Clerics, a faction of highly religious zealots, use ELEX to revive lost technologies, unleashing devastating war machines and powerful technologies, but after the events of the original ELEX title, their numbers have dwindled. The Outlaws, still licking their wounds, focus ELEX into body-altering substances, and these “chems” have a variety of effects on someone who takes them, often getting faster or tougher to kill.

The Albs – the previous antagonists – are a lot more peaceful since the Hybrid no longer has control over them. They favour high-tech items, such as lasers or shields, and consume raw ELEX that grants them psionic powers rather than magic, capable of healing themselves or unleashing lightning attacks so devastating they would make Emperor Palpatine nervous. Finally, the Morkons have emerged from their hiding places – tunnels long thought destroyed by the comet all those years ago. Twisted and evil, they worship a bloodthirsty and cruel god, using horrific rituals to increase their combat prowess.

As with most Piranha Bytes games, your choice of faction, or lack thereof, will directly influence your overall story experience, with each offering its own unique quests, items, and skills. Certain factions, namely the Outlaws or the Clerics, will also require you to fulfill specific tasks before you can join up with them, so you’ll want to try and have an idea of who, if anyone, you’re going to side with before you get too far into the game. The last thing you’ll want to do is complete the quests for The Brotherhood only to find out you wipe out your beloved Rail Road allies.

Roleplaying games are typically my favourite genre, and ELEX II seems to mix and match the best aspects of various titles. You’ll find yourself gathering items to craft new equipment, gemstones to enhance your weapons and armour, potions and food, and loot that would fill the mightiest of dragons with an insane amount of jealousy. Magalan is full of secrets to discover and items to steal, but many of them have specific requirements before you can use them. You’ll often find yourself carrying a specific weapon around for hours in the hopes that at some stage, you might just reach the strength and constitution levels required to wield such a powerful piece of equipment – I managed to find a nice brutal battleaxe early in the game, and I am still well off being able to actually use it.

Your attributes are broken down into 5 categories, S.D.C.I.C, which doesn’t quite have the same ring to it as being S.P.E.C.I.A.L, but it’s effective nonetheless. Strength will obviously influence how much you can carry or the power of your melee attacks. Dexterity allows the use of ranged weapons. Constitution will grant you more health points. Intelligence will help with your crafting, and Cunning will give you better social skills. These are all just as important as each other, so where you can, you’ll want to balance them out, but I understand how tempting it can be to dump your attribute points into one or two choices and stupidly slaughter your opposition.

While this all has the makings of an incredible Role Playing Game, particularly when you consider post-apocalyptic medieval sci-fi themes, there are a couple of drawbacks, and these seem to carry over from the original. First and foremost, the game is beautiful. The world is remarkably well rendered and offers a huge amount of interesting locations to explore, but this is made rather difficult with a somewhat counter-intuitive and janky control scheme. Most of the controls make sense, but there are a few things that just didn’t seem to fit right while playing on the Xbox Series X, such as the jetpack using the left trigger, but looking along your ranged weapon used the left bumper. The camera is user-operated, but I found that quite often it’d move into a position that was difficult to recover from, and Jax wasn’t quite as responsive to my button commands as I would have expected.

When they’re not talking, the character models are immaculate, but once they open their mouths, their teeth stand out like sore thumbs, and more often than not, Jax looked like he had a big lump of something rolling around the back of his mouth. It doesn’t just stop with the awkward visuals though, and the voice acting doesn’t feel as passionate as it should for the situation at hand. During one cutscene, the voice work felt so nonchalant that I found myself wondering if Jax really was worried about the location of his son, or if he was just saying it to try and choke a couple of million dollars out of a news broadcaster for an exclusive interview.

Even early level enemies are immensely powerful and they’ll often kill you in a single blow, and all of this makes ELEX II exceptionally difficult to enjoy early on, but if you can look past these small cracks and work your way through the learning curve that the enemies offer, ELEX II is a gem. It offers so many avenues to explore, countless hours of gameplay, and an impressive variety of ways to complete your mission. The open world is yours for the taking, whether that be with magical powers, cold steel, or a hail of lead, you can do whatever you want. There is no right or wrong way, and just like Dark Souls, there will be people who hate it for its difficulties, but if you can actually give it a chance, you’ll find it to everything you want in an RPG, and more.

The Good

  • Beautifully crafted open world to explore
  • Multiple ways to play with no right or wrong way
  • Effortlessly merges Sci-fi, Fantasy and Medieval in an RPG

The Bad

  • Cumbersome controls
  • Extremely difficult early game enemies.
  • Emotionless voice acting.

Written by: Mathew Lindner


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