Dear reader, picture the late ‘00s. The Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 were in full swing, and weird, janky action games were coming out left and right. Dreck like the ill-fated Golden Axe remake, or X-Blades, or that Bomberman: Act Zero monstrosity was getting released by the droves — the bar for quality was low and the flood of nonsense was never-ending. Developer Piranha Bytes appears to have invented time travel, because they are hell-bent on bringing you back to that era with Elex II.
A fusion of worlds
I did not play Elex I, but caught wind of how interesting the story appeared to be. Fusing together fantastical staples from different worlds is an interesting choice — you have Star Trek Borg-likes that value efficiency above all else with the Albs, naturalistic barbarians that can sling magic around, post-apocalyptic Mad Max-style Outlaws that are all about those drugs, and an environment that shifts from biome to biome in nearly seamless and interesting ways. Combined with some decent monster designs and you have a world that, for better or worse, feels intriguing to explore. Sad to say, this is the limit of my praise for Elex II.
The story begins with retired Commander Jax, fresh off the defeat of the world-threatening Hybrid. The game opens on his retirement, in a broken-down hamlet in the ass-end of nowhere. Out of the blue, a comet crashes down into his house, destroying it entirely and summoning waves of purple Kool-Aid-infused monsters that serve as the game’s tutorial. Jax gets scratched, causing him to suffer a power loss back down to level one, and the game opens up to the player. The nearly fatal attack doesn’t explain the shift in graphical quality from the cutscenes to the gameplay, however.
More questions than answers
When I say the game opens up, I mean it really opens up. I like open-world games as much as the next guy, but you have to have more than zero guard rails in the beginning hour of your open-world RPG. This game had me asking “why?” a lot as a result of the lack of said guard rails. Example: why does the second NPC I talk to (as part of the main story, no less) give me a quest to go fight something several levels above me? Why does the game not tell me this is a side-quest? Why is there no indication that the quest is too difficult for me aside from traveling to the quest area and getting murdered? Why do I have to holster my weapon to loot bodies? Why can’t I learn even the most rudimentary abilities of a desired skill line without a trainer?
Even when the game tries to clarify things for you, it falls flat. Elex II tells you that if you’re struggling, you should join a faction. If you choose to join the Albs, the technological machine nerds, you should be aware that you can’t access their skill trainer until you fully join the faction. You can’t join the faction unless you suffer through a very long questline that requires you to be several levels higher than you are (unless you let your NPC friend carry you, which requires a lot of dodging alongside healthy amounts of manual saving and loading.)
It took me six hours to finally join the Albs, and my reward was yet another quest before I could learn basic magic — and this time I had no NPC backup. I had to jetpack in, grab an item, and warp out before I got instant-murdered by the patrolling giant. When I finally unlocked Elex Magic – Ice Fists, it turned out that it was fairly weak, even against at-level opponents. Not worth the trouble at all.
Hostility towards players is a bad look
Elex II actively obfuscates information that is necessary for the player to navigate its expansive open world. It’s one thing to immerse yourselves into a game that doesn’t reveal everything right away, but it’s another to have set-in-stone roadblocks with no warning of higher-level enemies or obstacles and not give you the tools to deal with it. The map doesn’t even show points of interest until you’ve already found them. As another example, I can’t even discuss the crafting system, because I could never find a trainer to teach me how to craft. I had to spend a very lengthy amount of time locating fast-travel teleporters in a given area because they aren’t marked, and emit no noise or light until you’ve already activated them.
Sometimes quests will be level-appropriate, but will take you through territory that is heavily guarded by powerful monsters. You can sneak around, but stealth is either not properly implemented or broken, because even being a baseball stadium away and crouched, enemies would miraculously lock onto me and chase me down.
Often I would enter a room or building, and before I knew it, some random NPCs decided that was an act of hostility and barged in to slap me around. Other RPGs would indicate that you’re trespassing, but Elex II decides that the best way for you to find out is through trial-and-error.
Technically speaking, Elex II looks like a game from 10 to 15 years ago, it has crashed multiple times for seemingly no reason at all, and it’s full of these multiple irritating design choices that actively waste the player’s time. The story was interesting — but not nearly interesting enough to make slogging through the technical problems worth it. The entire time I spent playing Elex II, I could not shake the feeling that I had played something like it already — back when I owned a 360.
4 / 10
|Interesting story setting, fusing multiple genres decently well
|Decent environments, good verticality with jetpack travel
|Last-gen graphics and design philosophies
|Technical issues, crashing, slowdown, audio glitches
|Actively obfuscates information, such as “Is this quest level appropriate” or “Where can I train skills”
Gamepur team received a PlayStation code for the purpose of this review.