Elex II Review – With a Rebel Yell

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GAME INFO

Elex II

March 1st, 2022
Platform PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X
Publisher THQ Nordic
Developer Piranha Bytes

I've tried writing the opening to this review of Elex II about eight different times, each time going back over it and having to rethink it. I'm not even sure why because reviews are, by definition, opinion pieces. They are always subjective, with the reviewer simply having to explain why they think what they think about a title. Elex II is a game that I like against all odds and logical reasoning. As I look at my bullet-pointed notes and rummage around the ever chaotic thing I call a brain, I wonder why.

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Honestly, I think I know why; Piranha Bytes. If you looked up "eurojank" in the gaming dictionary (is this a real thing?), it would understandably tell you to play any game by the developer. I've played every single one of them. I would say that issues people likely had with the Gothic titles continued, even if polished, in the Risen trilogy and have continued in Elex. It's not that I don't think Piranha Bytes have learned anything in the previous twenty years. They have; I don't think they care.

That's a good thing. Piranha Bytes is a small studio that cares about the games and worlds they create, and they do things that they find fun and interesting. They've been doing open worlds long before it became mandated by the industry for all new titles, which means their worlds often feel a little more lived-in than the latest That Ubisoft Game. The lived-in feeling is usually in the form of notes, exploring what happened to the nearby skeletal remains and giving you hints on where you could find something new, or it will simply be visible as you explore.

Sticking with random, why is Mr. William Idol Esq here in Magalan? I couldn't shake off the feeling that Magalan is now somewhere in the real world, much like how Horizon Zero Dawn takes place in a post-apocalyptic Colorado. Does Elex and now Elex II take place alternate-reality Konstanz? Also, as much as Whisky and Pills is a decent enough track, I expected William Broad to belt out Rebel Yell, which would also be thematic for certain factions. Was there a reason? God no, but it made me wonder if Billy is - much like The Sweet - bigger in Germany than he is here in the UK.

How does any of this help make the case that you should be playing Elex II? Honestly, I don't know. Still, any game that has me considering the nationality-based variance of rock music fan bases is fine by me. I'd also say Germany has better taste in music than the US and UK, whose people listen to space music and whatever else they are listening to enduring these days. Still, I suppose I should talk more about the game beyond the world being quite rich.

Before I do, I should explain that a fair amount of the world you can explore is brought forward - with adjustments - from the first title. Lands to the west are no longer explorable, but the east has been introduced, bringing a new faction and areas to explore. The areas brought forward have been dramatically changed, with deserts have been terraformed into lush areas, snow has overtaken the old volcano, lava, and ash fields surrounding it.

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But what can you do? The story has you facing a horde of alien invaders. It just so happens that the aliens have decided to drop a massive tower on the top of the hut of Jax, the protagonist from the first title. Never the most brilliant move, evidently the aliens in Elex II didn't play the original title and haven't realised that Jax, despite now being as brittle as a Jacob's Cream Cracker, is still a dangerous person to make your enemy. Only they've infected Jax with an alien disease, though the game forgot to show this in a cutscene that quite literally did not occur in the part of the map where I was.

Once you get over that perplexing issue, you find a few others. Sometimes the audio won't match the text; sometimes, it simply won't play; other times, I've had the text skip. Fortunately, you can read the dialogue of any current quest so that you won't lose out. Still, Elex II is a bit too buggy. As strange as it seems, these bugs sometimes help the charm of a game like this. Think of it as the Bethesda effect; they've always been buggy and baffling but don't have the excuse of "eurojank".

Wait, back to what you do in Elex II. As Jax, you will travel around Magalan interacting with each of the factions, having either the option to join them or win them around some other way. The aim is to stop the petty factionalism and unite the tribes in a great fight against the alien invaders. I have to appreciate the variety of missions, the interactions you have with different characters - even the smaller and stranger ones - and even that you have a far-too-binary moral choice aspect.

As you may expect from a game where you're fighting alien invaders and multiple factions, there's a lot of fighting. If you've played the first Elex, you'll be aware of the janky combat. Not only is it janky, but it's also incredibly unforgiving. I've already mentioned how weak Jax is, but that's not doing it justice. Jax is so soft at the start of Elex II that I wouldn't fancy him in a fight against a moth. Not one of the SpindlyStabMoths flying around this world, just a regular one. Mainly thanks to the lack of a lock-on, that your swings (I like melee weapons) can easily miss your opponent and that the moth can fly.

What doesn't help matters is the plodding pace and progression. The reality is you need to do a lot of fighting (read above for issues) to gain experience to level up. Questing alone will not make you strong enough to get the experience, attribute, and learning points to face even the regular monsters roaming around the more challenging areas of the map. Want to fight a troll? Good luck with that if you're early in the game, don't have enough attributes to carry a stronger sword or gun, and are mortal.

Could Elex II have gone a bit quicker at the start? Yes, it could. You get the jetpack very early, and until you've upgraded it a fair amount, it's not much more than a hearty fart. Sure, it'll give you a bit of a lift, but it won't take you to the top of the nearby radio tower where somebody on the Steam forums said there's a special weapon that you won't be able to use for another few lifetimes. Once you get it going, though, the freedom is fantastic, and I think they should be mandatory in almost every open-world game. I want to fly.

That's the impression I get from Elex II and most Piranha Bytes games. The studio wants to fly, and it puts a lot into making games with almost all the correct elements, often just held back by that magical component. Could the studio be a little bigger to spread the workload and improve the polish? I would say so. No matter the issues, and I've said more than I have positives, I can't help but say I like Elex II. For anybody who hasn't played Eurojank titles, or the buggier of Fallout releases, risk it on a discount. If you have and like those games but could put up with pacing that's a little more glacial, you'll love this.

PC version reviewed. Copy provided by the publisher.

Products mentioned in this post

Elex II
Elex II
USD 59.99

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7

Elex II is a baffling game. The combat is clunky and can be very difficult, and the game has more than a few bugs, with other issues like a glacial pace. However, the game is genuinely interesting to explore and fun, for all its problems - and there are many. The story and its turns are engaging, and it's impossible not to see the care and enthusiasm from Piranha Bytes. Elex II is Eurojank, and I can't help but enjoy it because of (or despite, take your pick) that.

Pros

  • An interesting world to explore with a fair amount to do, little of which feels like filler guff
  • The stories - and quests - can be interesting and worth following
  • Visually, I find the world itself appealing and good to look at...
  • Jetpack!

Cons

  • ... however character design is pretty damn poor
  • Combat is still very janky, awkward and imprecise
  • Character progression can feel glacial
  • Some mechanics, such as lockpicking, are awkward as hell
The links above are affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, Wccftech.com may earn from qualifying purchases.
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