It’s been a while since we delved into the inventive sci-fi world of Magalan and its standard bald video game protagonist, Jax, in 2017, and while the landscape has changed, much has remained the same. I wish more had changed, to be honest, because the remnants of the original Elex are most of what makes Elex 2 a disappointment. Overwhelming and sometimes confusing character writing undermines an interesting main quest scenario, graphical glitches sabotage an often beautiful post-apocalyptic world, and horrific combat tears everything else down.
I’ll get this out of the way first: I can’t say anything positive about the fight, and that makes it very difficult to recommend Elex 2, even though it does everything else right. It feels clunky, inaccurate, and annoying. The hitboxes are ridiculous. Many enemies will repeat those icy, downright silly attack animations that make it almost impossible to tell when it’s actually dangerous to stand near them. Jax, who has already saved the world once at this point, can still be killed with two hits from a random roadside pest. They at least offer helpful skull icons on each enemy’s health bar this time around to let you know if you’re fighting something that’s currently out of your league. So I had fair warning that the stray rodent that just murdered me was supposed to be a certified badass.
Elex 2 gameplay screenshots
Combat in Elex 2 isn’t bad because it’s too challenging – believe that from someone currently in love elden ring. It’s just poorly constructed. The poorly balanced stamina system makes it difficult to transition smoothly between offense, defense, and maneuvering, even after you improve your stamina regeneration much later. This creates an almost turn-based feel, and not in a good way. I attack, then step back and watch the bad guy swing clumsily into the air, then I get to run back and attack again. Standing your ground usually gets you killed, as even simple enemies are flush with hitpoints, and it takes Jax dozens of levels to feel more resilient than a wet sheet of paper. Much like the original Elex, the lack of ammo and mana potions makes it very difficult to opt for a purely ranged build – although being able to craft your own ammo helps a bit. In addition, when you team up in close combat, there are too few effective options.
Shields are pretty much useless until much later, with some of the early ones only allowing three direct hits instead of two. I often had to farm money for potions to get through tough encounters, which is a drag. The only thing that’s improved over the predecessor’s combat system is that you don’t have many encounters where you’re treated to an off-screen firing squad with 360-degree noscopes, forcing you to melee troops around a cliff forever to kite to break them line of sight. That is beautiful.
The reason this is particularly disappointing is that I’ve seen other studios improve tremendously on this type of hardcore Euro-style RPG over the past few years, without losing the things that make this subgenre unique. The Witcher 2, as much nostalgia as people have for it, also had a terrible combat system – but CD Projekt Red fixed it with grace and fluidity for The Witcher 3. The Spiders Technomancer also had an abysmal battle. But his next game, GreedFall, was a big step in the right direction, tightening up hitboxes and attack windows, fixing enemy attunements, and offering more interesting defensive options. We live in a world of “post-Eurojank” RPGs, and yet it seems like Piranha Bytes, the developer of Elex, is the only studio in this wheelhouse that still hasn’t caught up.
Don’t get me wrong: there are things in this RPG era that are worth preserving. But many of the ideas that Elex 2 seems to be sticking to aren’t among them. Why do I need an animation of my character bending down to pick up every single looting item in the world? Why does every quest have to involve being sent on an errand that inevitably involves another errand by a third party, as if they’re just trying to buy time? Why do I have to convince a supervisor to give her workers a raise, run across town to tell them about that raise, and then run all the way back to tell the supervisor that the workers are happy? There are so many little bits of archaic design that cling to everything that it feels like something got stuck in your sock if you’ve been playing another modern RPG recently.
While it’s by far the biggest, combat isn’t the only issue here. A decent amount of dialogue ranges from good to good, but certain characters often sound like they were written by aliens. They will say and do things that don’t make sense. They’ll spit out one-liners that will make me wince so hard my face hurts. “Hey! C-can I go now?” says a frightened prisoner on a recording I found in some ruins. “Oh, yes, sure,” replies his captor. “You can go… Go crawl up your own ass, you dork!” I spit coffee all over my screen and I didn’t feel like it was meant to be bad enough to be funny. At least the writing can be quite entertaining at times, in a fluffy B-movie sort of way.
And then there are perplexing logic flaws, like the fact that you can’t get into the main Berserker settlement without running a few small errands, even when accompanied by Caja, a high-ranking Berserker Warlord and your child’s mother. If you ask her why she can’t just vouch for you, she says something about avoiding rumors — a line of dialogue I’m pretty sure came straight from an entirely different conversation. It’s like the idea of taking her as a companion was added later in development, and they didn’t want you to skip any pointless tedious tasks, so they had to come up with an explanation.
It gets worse. At one point, I raided an underground base full of enemy spies working against the faction I was trying to join. I’ve decided to kill them all, which you’re allowed to do. That was cool. But somehow someone reported this as a crime, even though it took place two stories underground with no witnesses and no blessing – no, encouragement! – the authorities. Weirdly, I had to pay a fine to the very same guy who put a bounty on my head for knocking her out. Something like this happens regularly.
eye of the beholder
Magalan certainly looks good when there are no weird glitches and distracting pop-ins, which seemed to get worse when I used alt-tab a lot on PC. It’s about the same setting as the original Elex, but it’s changed a lot in interesting and dynamic ways. The berserk ending of Elex has been made canon, and as such the central desert now blooms with new life thanks to the post-apocalyptic medieval druids LARPers and their magical world seeds. Most of the Mad Max-style Outlaws faction were taken over by the Berserkers, creating new architectural and fashion styles that mix pelts and amber necklaces with junk and old car tires. If you haven’t played the original, you might lose some of these changes, but Elex 2 does a good job of bringing you up to speed most of the time.
I really liked all that clever world building. It was interesting to find out what a lot of characters, like the femme fatale outlaw, Nasty or the distrusted Albs, the bad guys from the first Elex, had been up to since I’d last seen them. And the new factions, particularly the death-worshipping Morkons, have their own interesting ideals and aesthetics. The new threat, the alien Skyands, also has some very unique and downright cool designs for their soldiers and warbeasts, and a few unexpected secrets. I just wish I liked the gameplay enough that I could appreciate them without constantly annoying myself.
The big, shiny, new toy to play with in Elex 2 is an upgradeable jetpack. And I’ll admit it’s fun and rewarding to take it from the modest utility it had in the first Elex to something you can eventually upgrade and use to fly around like Iron Man. It just doesn’t make up for the fact that the other progression systems are coupled with an obnoxious combat system that gets marginally more tolerable the more skill points you throw at it, but it never crosses the line of fun. Exploring this world can be great, to the point where you have to fight something or talk to someone.
https://www.ign.com/articles/elex-2-review Elex 2 Review – IGN