Back in 2017, I played the original Elex. Within the first couple of hours, I was exhausted at the learning curve and the difficult combat scenarios the game threw at me left me confused and aggravated. “Who is this game even for?” I would keep asking myself over and over until I just couldn’t handle it anymore. The combat was janky, the graphics were subpar, the world felt basic with no real connection to be made and I ended up putting the game away for good without ever beating it. In my eyes there was no way that this game was going to get a sequel let alone sell to an audience. Well, let me be the first to apologise to that audience – I’m sorry. I just didn’t give it the time that it deserved. Piranha Bytes, the studio behind the game and others such as Gothic and Risen, are known to make games that are pretty much cult-classics and have some of the most passionate fans around. Apparently they are all more patient than I was.
Skip ahead to 2022 with the release of Elex 2. To be honest, I was ready to tear this game apart and within the first few hours I wasn’t far off from doing that exact thing but I wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice. We have all heard the statement “your game lives or dies within the first five minutes” because this sets a tone for the rest of the game except that rule is thrown out the window with this developer and they are finding success. Elex 2 needs to be nurtured. It needs to be brewed for several hours before tasting. What I’m trying to say is that you need to let it sit and cool off for a while or you’re going to get burned.
Elex 2 returns to the world of Magalan but this time with a new threat from the skies. The map will feel familiar to returning players with some changes from the result of the previous game. Jax, the protagonist from the first game, makes his triumphant return as he is ambushed and on the run. Unfortunately, Jax gets bitten by one of these new enemies and fears that the infection might turn him into one of the beasts himself. He seeks the aid of an old ally and must bring together as many past, present, and unknown relationships to take down this new force. That’s it. That is the story of Elex 2 – bad guys rain down from the sky, man finds allies, and there is a war. Sound familiar? That’s because it is basically the plot of the first game except now you know about Elex and the power it holds but what you don’t know is that there is now Dark Elex and you are infected with it. How about we cue up the “new item discovered” sound now because things just got interesting. It is your responsibility to round up as many people as possible that are willing to meet in one place, fight by your side and get along. Easy enough, right?
Being thrust into a game with nothing more than a piece of cloth as your clothing and a lead pipe, you are basically being told that this game is not going to hold your hand and you need to create your own story. That’s what these games are all about right? Creating a story from personal discovery and exploration. I will admit, this game does a much better job at guiding you through the first few steps than its predecessor even came close to doing but I still feel like they missed the mark with luring new fans in. The first hour of this game is a slog and tells a very bland and uninteresting story through choppy cutscenes, ugly transitions and awkward conversations. These awkward conversations sometimes make absolutely no sense and end up ruining the continuity of the story. For example, one of the main story plots at the beginning is you trying to find your son, which, spoiler alert, you find right away and bring to another town where you talk to a man about still looking for your son but your son is right beside you. Other conversations can have NPCs be super nice to you and then get overly angry out of the blue. Emotions run high in Magalan apparently. Getting back on track, sure, you get a taste of combat, a little bit of dialogue choice, and looting – yes, there is a ton of looting that is very inconsistent with what you can and cannot pick up – but nothing early on really compels you to think this is a world that you want to explore. It is almost like they made the introduction for those that already knew what to expect from these types of games. Kind of like when you move back to your parent’s house into your old room after years of being away – there is a sense of nostalgia but also a bit of discomfort. New players won’t feel the connection but someone who has played before will feel it and still cringe. I applaud the developers for leaning on what has worked for them in the past but only hope that new players can make it further into the game.
All your favourite factions are back including the Berserkers, Clerics, Outlaws, Morkons and the Albs but it truly is up to you how you want to play. Don’t like any of them? Go solo and figure it out as you go. That is actually the beauty of this game and the unfortunate part of it at the same time. On the one hand you are creating a story for yourself and it can be a really rich experience finding old and new characters that you empathise with. Once you find your first companion to tag along with you for the ride, it opens up the game entirely because now you have another force in combat to aid you. Having a companion truly makes the game experience a hundred times better and more accessible. You have the opportunity to team up with an NPC pretty early in the game if you can sweet talk your way into it. On the other hand you can miss out on 75% of the content the game has to offer because you made a bad choice, went the wrong way and didn’t explore. This is why these games have a specific fanbase.
At what point does the game actually become enticing and addictive to play? It really comes down to feeling powerful enough to conquer enemies, creating your own combat flow that works for you and understanding everything the game has to offer. Sounds easy enough and what a typical RPG is about but to be honest this can take anywhere from 5-10 hours and that’s putting it lightly. The learning curve is a steep one and fans of the original game are going to love that about this one. Combat is hard and unforgiving at first. You are weak, you have no armour, you can barely swing a lead pipe a couple of times and there are giant beasts lurking around every corner. Oh but guess what? You are given a jetpack like last game. With all of this advanced technology and looting they give you a jetpack but not even a better weapon than a lead pipe, an odd choice. No worries though, don’t want to fight the monster that is about to one-shot you in the face? Just fly away and run for the hills and hopefully that hill has a new shiny weapon for you – but it probably doesn’t. Combat is probably the most difficult element to adjust to in this game. This is not a hack and slash type experience and those that remember Elex remember this rule well – these enemies hit hard and you do not. Well, not at first anyways. Get yourself a Butter Knife and the game changes drastically (you will understand once you find the weapon, don’t worry).
You can equip swords, axes, guns, bows, and even use spells. Let’s not get started on how clunky the inventory system to handle the organisation of all these items is in this game – it is atrocious especially when you are trying to sell items and then the inventory decides to scroll on its own. In most RPGs the combat reacts to every button press you make but these games have their own timing mechanic in place so you can’t do that. Swings are drawn out and can be timed much like having a rhythm to a beat. You can hold attacks for longer pauses in swings and they will hit harder but leave you vulnerable to attacks. You just have to learn your enemies and learn your environments – that is the biggest adjustment. Have to defeat a giant troll that is way above your level? Remember passing a group of NPCs that were just on the hill behind the troll? Time for a little aggro magic and voila – goodbye troll. Once you figure out how to simplify combat to your liking then the game becomes much easier to handle and that is truly when I felt like the game began for me – I had to find my groove, learn the good and bad ways of doing things and come to an understanding that I created my own successful systems.
There are tons of quests that will earn you experience points. Quests can be anything from finding an item, killing enemies, crafting, escorting an NPC, having a conversation, or really anything you can typically think of from your standard RPGs. Some quests can be confusing because they tell you to come back days later without a timer or prompt to know how much time to be exact. You just have to either sleep and count the days manually or come back randomly hoping that the days have already passed. Other quests have you do investigations that seem like they will let you come to your own conclusions with good or bad results but unfortunately they always come to one solution, which breaks the entire idea of creating your own story. One specific quest is you going to watch a Billy Idol concert… in the middle of the night… with beasts and monsters surrounding you – seems logical, right? The enticing element is the dialogue choices you make as you are completing these quests. Your choices always have consequences and can cost you Elexit, the currency in the game, or morality points in whatever direction you choose to go. Want to be a good guy that can talk their way out of hostile situations? Want to be your own boss and destroy everything you see not caring who stands in your way? Every choice has a consequence. People will either love you or hate you depending on what you do and how you approach every situation.
So, you know those really beautiful graphics you see in games when you level up and it becomes a memorable experience for you? Keep your expectations low here because it looks like someone kept the placeholder UI format for your “New Level” and patted themselves on the back for an 8-hour work day. The UI is minimalistic throughout this game and could use a lot more love that’s for sure. So, these experience points allow you to level up and upgrade your strength, constitution, dexterity, intelligence, and cunning. Each stat category is important depending on what you want to do in the game. Want to wield the heaviest, most hard-hitting weapons in the game? You will need strength for that. Feeling more like a tank these days? Some constitution levelling can help with that. Maybe you want to be deadly from far away? Dexterity has your back. Possibly you dabble in the Clerical arts of magic? Time for some intelligence then. More of a lover than a fighter? Looks like you want to be Cunning. With every level up comes a skill point as well. You can spend these on training your character to become better at almost anything they do. Want to be able to build your own weapons, craft your own potions, or socket your own gems? Find the right NPC in the world and learn that skill using your skill points. Want more stamina, better spells, or maybe you just want to be a better thief? No problem. Also, don’t worry too much because you can easily find where to upgrade these skills by marking it on your map from the Abilities menu. Whatever player you choose to be, which can also be a mix of a bunch of them or all of them, is exactly that – the player you have crafted and chosen to be.
Let’s be honest with ourselves, Elex 2 is a tough game to categorise in terms of a review. There is a lot to love and a lot to dislike. For anyone new to this developer and their type of games, the learning curve is steep and the introductory stages are not engaging or captivating. The graphics don’t blow you away and combat can be frustrating causing a lot of deflating moments. Where Elex 2 shines is its staying power – if you can get to that point. Find a better weapon, get yourself a companion, and choose a build that suits you for your combat style. This is a game that rewards you for staying and learning its systems. It breaks the rules of any other game I have played in terms of needing to pull you in within the first five minutes let alone the first five hours. Unfortunately, I still feel like this game pertains to existing fans and the beginning really hurts the chance of landing a large new fanbase. There is a lot of polish work still to be done in Elex 2 but my second visit to the world of Magalan was well worth it this time around.