The All-Sprinkles Sundae Gets Another Scoop

HIGH The reveal of what’s going on with the villains.

LOW Trying to fight anything but the lowest-level monsters with a sword.

WTF There are two different monsters, both called “Rippers”.

ELEX II opens with a dangerous move — the first game was a sprawling, open-world adventure unique in the freedom it gave players to approach its story and world at whatever pace they chose. This even extended to the ending by offering a large number of options determining how the world of Magalan would be reshaped in the aftermath of the campaign. This freedom of choice was a major selling point.

The first thing ELEX II does? It lets the player know that their choices were irrelevant since there’s a canon ending now, whether they like it or not. This might feel capricious or alienating to fans of Elex, but the developers have a story they want to tell, and it’s good enough to justify stripping away some past agency in order to make sure it gets told.

An action-RPG truly ambitious in concept, ELEX 2 builds on everything the previous game accomplished while also improving everything including the combat, the storytelling, main character Jax’s iconic jetpack and more.

The story picks up ten years after the ending of the last game, with the first hour offering a bracing dose of cynicism. As the credits rolled on ELEX, Jax had convinced three factions to unite against a common foe and discovered that an even greater enemy was on its way. He then spent the next ten years attempting to convince people to prepare for the onslaught, but had no success. This left him a bitter, broken man, and to top it all off, he gets bitten by an alien in the opening sequence which provides an in-universe justification for why a legendary general has suddenly dropped back down in experience to level 1.

With all this taken into account, it’s up to the player to power Jax back up, rebuild old alliances, and find a way to push strange purple aliens — dubbed “Skyands” — off of the planet. This feat is accomplished, predictably, by a lot of combat.

While there are plenty of quests which can be beaten via dialogue choices and skill checks, ‘A’ is the first letter in ARPG for a reason, and Jax will spend most of his time fighting a variety of monsters and soldiers.

Most of the first Elex‘s menagerie returns here, and the graphical improvements made to the coterie of disgusting mutants and huge monsters are something to behold. ELEX looked fine for its time, but the developers have taken what were interesting concepts for monsters and rebuilt them in stunning detail, letting the player get a good look at every dripping fang and bulbous fold. The new enemy class is similarly impressive — the Skyands have their own variety of mutants, all built around a purple/white color scheme with plenty of curves and spikes. They’re instantly arresting, and look nothing like the rest of the monsters, which does a great job of reinforcing just what their invasion represents.

Unfortunately, ELEX 2‘s monsters fare better than the combat. In a crucial failure for an action-RPG, the fighting just isn’t great. Ranged combat is generally fine as there’s light lock-on aiming and plenty of amazing weapon types to try out, but it never feels more than functional and there’s no sense of impact. Shooting a creature doesn’t rock it — the shots just tick off damage until they die.

There’s also little weight to the melee. The developers have added parry-based staggering and stamina bars in an attempt to create a more complex battle flow than ELEX‘s hacking and slashing offered, but it doesn’t work. Human enemies block continuously unless they’re actually attacking, leaving players with no options but to parry their attacks or do power moves to break their defense. It’s slow and repetitive, and this setup completely fails whenever there are multiple enemies attacking at once — which is most of the time.

This combat model simply doesn’t allow for crowd control in any meaningful way, and if Elex II wasn’t meant to be played with an AI partner constantly by Jax’s side, melee builds would be completely non-viable. Heck, there are whole classes of flying enemies that never stop pelting the player with projectiles from afar. Anyone attempting to play a purely-melee build absolutely needs to have at least a few ranged weapons ready to go at any moment.

As just mentioned, ELEX 2 does offer a partner system. There are a wide group of recruitable characters, each with their own backstory and questline to be completed. In addition to a handful of familiar faces, there are new partners, each one hailing from a different faction. They do a great job of building out the world and give the player a chance to understand where each group is coming from. Well, except for the Morkons — they’re a death cult so cartoonishly evil that even the partner representing them can’t take their absurd goals seriously.

Quests offer experience and information about the world, but most importantly, a chance to decide what kind of ending Jax is working towards. In contrast to the previous hot/cold slider representing whether the player felt closer to logic or passion, ELEX 2 offers a creative/destructive dichotomy that asks whether the player is prioritizing destroying their enemies or building a stable world. High-destruction runs offer the most powerful weapons, while playing for creation gives the player the chance to avoid fights and turn enemies into allies.

Beyond this basic twist on the morality meter, there’s an interesting amount of political wrangling in the narrative. Two different factions — the Outlaws and the Clerics — can only be joined if the player infiltrates another faction first, making betrayals a core component of the story. There are also power-plays going on within individual factions and wars going on between them, giving the player plenty of opportunities to put their thumb on the scales one way or the other. It’s worth spending time in every area and truly getting the lay of the land before deciding exactly how things should shake out.

While it might not mean much to newcomers, it’s remarkable to see what an amazing job the developers have done with rebuilding the world and showing the passage of ten years between stories. While most of the map is the same, the action has been moved a good deal east. All of the old landmarks and fast-travel stations are in the same places, but the world is almost unrecognizable. A desert is now a lush forest. Great sheets of ice cover what was formerly volcanic stone. A giant crater has been transformed into a city. As always, these areas are a breeze to explore using Jax’s jetpack — it’s the greatest gift to open-world traversal I’ve ever seen.

ELEX 2 outdoes its predecessor in every way. The story is more interesting, the character writing is even deeper, and the threats are far more colorful and deadly. While the ending promises a third chapter to come, I only hope the devs fix the combat next time — perhaps they should just ditch melee entirely? Ranged weaponry is the only thing really working here, so perhaps double down on that and focus entirely on guns, arrows, and spells — it works well enough in games like Mass Effect, so why not try it in an open-world context? ELEX 2 is just one failed element away from being a truly great game — unfortunately, that element is ‘Action’ and it’s an Action-RPG.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Piranha Bytes and published by THQ Nordic. It is currently available on PC, XBO/S/X and PS4/5. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the XBX. Approximately 60 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode. The game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: This game rated M by the ESRB, and it contains Blood and Gore, Strong Language, Suggestive Themes, Violence. The ESRB really dropped the ball on this one — the gore and swearing notes are accurate, and yes, there’s some relatively chaste romance, but they completely missed out on all of the alcohol and drug use. The entire game is built around various factions using body enhancing chemicals one way or another — whether it’s Albs using Elex to make them invincible, or Outlaws cooking drugs to up their stats for a few minutes at a time, drug use is all over this game. While it’s coded as a negative thing, players are still encouraged to use them. No kids near this one, please.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: I played almost the entire game without sound and encountered zero difficulties. All dialogue is subtitled. Subtitles cannot be resized. Enemies approaching from offscreen are marked on a radar, so you likely won’t be surprised.

Remappable Controls: No, the game’s controls are not remappable.

Daniel Weissenberger
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