When the first Elex game was launched in 2017, it was a janky, buggy, far from perfect RPG that eventually won the heart of gamers who appreciated its in-depth systems and lack of hand-holding throughout the runtime. It presented a punishing world that fuses both sci-fi and medieval elements. Although it was very inconsistent in tone, performance, and execution, it was an endearing experience from developers who are known for not-so-high-quality games that still somehow garners a solid fanbase.
Four years later, Piranha Bytes is set to release Elex 2, the sequel to one of their most ambitious titles as a studio. Does it improve upon the numerous frustrating aspects of the first game or is it more of the same?
With a star-studded lineup of releases in January alone and the rest of 2022, does this one belong to stay with the giants? There is a lot to hate about Elex 2. But, I just can’t stop playing it.
A Rough Start
Right off the bat, Elex 2 does not give out a good first impression. The game is set several years after the events of the first one with the defeat of the Hybrid. There’s a new threat endangering the peace in Magalan, and Jax now has to unite all the factions to help fight a common enemy.
It is an interesting narrative that potentially lends itself well to the political discourse between the different factions that may or may not want to just shoot at each other’s faces.
Unfortunately, all momentum is scrapped with the first cutscene spending so much unnecessary time spitting out uninteresting exposition that basically says it’s been years since you saved humanity, people forgot you, you’re very weak right now, and you should start from scratch.
The next thing I knew, I was in one of the most generic-looking forest areas pushing forward with nothing but a broken pipe as a weapon (get comfy with this pipe you’ll be using it for a while). Here, the game teaches you about combat, exploration, looting, and healing. It was also the time I told myself “oh no.”
Combat only really involves a dodge, one attack button which you can either press for a light attack or hold for a heavy attack, a shield/ parry, and healing through potions or food. It is as bare-bones as I have described it. You will eventually obtain ranged weapons and magic, but it is all hampered by an unforgiving starting difficulty that makes it harder to level up. And you will need to level up a lot in order to use better equipment. More on that later.
Before anything else, I should probably warn you that the opening features two pre-rendered cutscenes. The first one I already described, but the second one comes out of nowhere so incredibly fast that it might as well be a jumpscare. This is your head’s up that the Elex 2’s audio mixing is laughably bad. Normal gameplay has really loud sound effects and music that I immediately suggest turning both down to 60% and 70% respectively. Pre-rendered cutscene audio, on the other hand, is in a different league. This is your friendly neighborhood headphone warning.
There is something that happens to Jax in the game’s opening that infects him with something throughout the story. This devolves into nothing more than an occasional blue light flashing on-screen coupled with a sound that is a mix between an upset stomach because of hunger, and one that you would hear on a toilet. This will happen constantly throughout the game.
Right then and there, I was already thinking of giving up on the game, but then I kept seeing all this praise about the first Elex saying it’s one of their favorite old-style modern released RPGs. That Piranha Bytes games have so much charm and things to love amidst the problematic aspects of each title. So I chugged through. Was it a horrible experience? Yes. Did I want to stop? Not exactly.
One Step Forward, Maybe A Couple More Back
After going through the initial area, Elex 2’s Magalan opens up for the player to explore wherever they want, whenever they want. The open world is huge in which you can run through without a single loading screen in sight.
The game’s presentation is a bit of a mixed bag. Textures only really have a slight upgrade from the first game, four years ago. It’s not bad by any means, although it’s not anything breathtaking. Character models received a noticeable downgrade especially when it comes to their faces. They look and feel more like a mannequin than ever before. Although, the lip-syncing is significantly improved alongside good voice-work.
The game’s UI just feels cheap. Compared to the sci-fi look of the original, Elex 2 just has bland boxes with bland text and bland images. Everything from the map to the dialogue box is all so cheap-looking, you would think it’s a beta build.
Both the inventory and the quest menu are a confusing and cluttered mess that is in need of work. It just looks like someone wrote an outline of all the questlines in the game on a google document with Arial font and said “Yup, this is it right here.”
The environmental design, however, is a step up from the original in terms of the scale. Remnants of old structures and ruins paint a better picture of what happened before and are coupled with new alien-like environments to spice landscapes up with a bit of variety. The world design is not exactly jaw-dropping, but it did get an “oooh, what’s that?” from me every now and then.
Exploration is incentivized with unlocking new fast travel points and places to find new gear or scrap to sell. You might even find a side character or two.
This is also the first time in an Elex game where there are children NPCs. At first, this worried me. But I later found out that the children are actually one of the more interesting characters in the game. Some of their side stories are interesting to pursue with a child-like wonder tone compared to the melodramatic and borderline annoying nature of the adult characters.
Seriously, it is very hard to find a likable character in this game. Almost everyone you encounter tells you to back off. And there’s no shortage of f-bombs in doing so. There’s this one particular instance wherein as soon as you walk into a bar, the guard doesn’t let you in because he thinks you look ugly.
That’s not to say there isn’t anyone that stands out. There are a few that you meet later down in the story that does bring out the personality of the game. Players of the first game can also expect a few returning characters.
Luckily, the Elex 2 allows for freedom in terms of how you interact with the world. The choices you make throughout the story such as dialogue options, which faction you’ll be joining, or the people you’ll be helping or not helping out will affect corresponding outcomes. Unfortunately, the first dozen or so hours will not exactly showcase this properly. You’re merely doing side tasks as a glorified chore person to progress the early parts of the story.
Trial By Fire Gameplay
Exploration in Elex 2 feels like a chore at times. It doesn’t help that the framerate barely tries to keep up with everything. I played on a PS5 and yet it felt like the game struggled to even reach 50 fps. Other technical issues such as geometry pop-in and distracting screen tearing in cutscenes and indoor areas are noticeable but nothing game-breaking.
On the bright side, you will be receiving a jet pack within the first hour. This version is significantly more fleshed out than its original iteration in the first game. It’s more than just a glorified jump button that trivializes exploration most of the time (although it still very much does this), you can now implement upgrades to use it in combat and improved maneuverability around the open world. You can finally fly with a jetpack!
Unfortunately, the thing has a fuel capacity equal to a gamer’s willingness to touch grass. Even if you pump out a dozen upgrades to its tank, it still struggles to bring Jax above a medium-sized cliff. Also, the jetpack sounds like a can of whipped cream being sprayed. I’m not joking.
The game is difficult at the start. You will barely have any skills, weapons, armor, and equipment to do anything. Your attacks will feel more like a love tap while you take in hits like you are begging for it. Jax is a marshmallow trying to wrestle with rock monsters and dinosaurs. A lot of the enemies early in the game will one-tap you. And even if you are several hours in, there is still more punishment to come.
The only way to survive is to either run away or keep chipping out tidbits of the enemy’s health bar till it eventually flops to the ground. There is a lot of patience involved in Elex 2. A large part of your experience is learning the progression systems and the other will be fighting against the janky nature of the gameplay. Enemies do telegraph their attacks far better than they did in the original which makes it a bit easier to dodge and block although they can still lunge at you with unfair lock ons and bugged hitboxes.
You can scavenge for better gear but you have to have the right levels to use the more powerful ones. There are five attributes you can level up. Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence, Cunning, and Constitution. Each one can increase your health, attacks, mana, social skills, and critical hits but they are also connected to learning new abilities through different teachers around Magalan. Whether it be combat, smithing, socializing, or survival skills, you will need to seek out these mentors and reach the right level requirements before you can even pay them to teach you.
Get used to just running around and picking up whatever you can find while also using very dull equipment. Progression in Elex 2 is a slow burn and one that will test your patience. But as soon as you inch your way to a better weapon and get to buy yourself one of the better armors, that Raptor that used to play with you a few hours ago? You can now whack it down like it’s a prehistoric punching bag.
Slowly But Steady
There are constantly new ways Elex 2’s world will hold you back from feeling powerful, especially in the first ten or so hours. Do you think you have a good enough sword? You can now explore those ruins you saw before but oops, there’s a giant troll guarding the gate with a health bar that has way too many red boxes for you to even count. You can go out and fight but it’ll either be the slowest whack-a-mole simulator or the fastest death of your play session.
The game does not hold your hand whatsoever. You can either figure it out or be stuck because you’re too weak to progress. Every progression requires another set of progression to progress. Do you want to upgrade the damaged sword to a powerful sword? Go out there and look for three copies of the weapon and then you can combine them to make a better one. But oh no, you need a smithing skill. Okay, go to a smith and ask him to teach you. But oh no, you need a specific number of a particular attribute to allow yourself to be taught. And the list goes on.
It’s a tedious grind to obtain minuscule upgrades for Jax and you have to do it a couple more times to see any significant change.
That goes for story progression as well. You can choose to do whatever quest whenever you want. There are instances wherein you’ll be doing a side quest then suddenly your companion will approach you and talk about their problems so you’ll be given an option to help them. Think Mass Effect loyalty missions minus the interesting side story, quest design, and unique scenarios. These are for the most part just go here, kill that, talk to them, collect this type of quest that will take no more than 10 minutes.
Speaking of the companions, you’ll be joined by them throughout your adventure. You can only take one at a time and each of them has a special skill or weapon type they use. I’m just going to say it, they’re horrible. The companion AI is so broken that they will faint more times than they will hit an enemy. The only useful thing about them is to use their presence to aggro enemies while Jax gets a bit of breathing room. Other than that, they’re barely any help. Sometimes they don’t even draw their weapons. They just watch you be abused by multiple mobs.
The fact that there is a skill dedicated to buffing Jax when he is adventuring alone already signals that these companions were an afterthought at best.
So I just spent most of this review trashing Elex 2 and yet I still claimed that it’s a game I couldn’t put down. Given that this is my first experience with the franchise and a Pirahna Bytes game, I went into it with the lowest expectations after seeing unimpressive previews and trailers.
I spent my first few hours hating on the game. I had notes with the likes of “the robots audibly spoke one, zero, one, one one, zero, zero to each other in front of me”. The story is filled with ridiculous moments like that and it sometimes takes itself way too seriously for its own good. As soon as I saw one of the enemies in the open world is named “Bad Guy”, I just put down my pitchforks and embraced the absurdity of it all.
I began to respect the game at how it is undeniably and unapologetically janky to its core. Stiff animations, laughable sound effects, tedious progression, awkward character interactions are all building up to this one explosive crescendo of pure camp and charm.
The first ten hours (or more) of the game is a frustrating crawl that has you inching your way towards a somewhat decent state. When an upgraded shield looks like a giant frying pan, I knew I was doing Elex 2 a disservice by being way too critical. You will be fighting a steep uphill battle with the game’s progression system but it is damn satisfying to see those enemies you used to run away from flung out of the screen in a ragdoll fashion after you hit them with a strong attack.
Final Verdict – 6.5/10
Piranha Bytes saw that and said nope, we’re doing our own thing. Elex 2 is technically, thematically, and completely flawed in almost every aspect. But the sheer commitment the developers have in making sure it keeps its unique identity to set it apart from a lot of recent AAA releases is nothing but commendable.
I am in no way saying this game is worth the full price. Maybe a few months down the road when a sale hits and you’re looking for an old-school RPG to keep yourself busy, then I can recommend this.
Elex 2 is not a must-play for newcomers. The story requires a bit of prior knowledge to be fully appreciated but I also found it fun figuring out the history between characters through small tidbits of dialogue.
Even though we’re giving the game an above-average score of 6.5, it is one of the strongest 6/10 offerings the market has had in recent memory. The game is one framerate and geometry bug patch fix away from being the first good bad game of 2022.
This review was made in an Elex 2 review code for PS5 provided by the publisher.