|INSTALL||25.56GB (PlayStation 5)|
|RELEASE DATE||March 1st, 2022|
|PLATFORMS||PlayStation 5 (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox Series S/X, Xbox One, PC/Steam/Epic|
It’s not often that I don’t entirely finish a game that I planned to review. I always try to at least complete the story if there is one – but sometimes it just isn’t possible (Like with my review of Ace Combat: Infinity a while back – I couldn’t finish all of the story missions due to how that game was set up.)
Other games ended up requiring me to literally involve cheats to get through them.
ELEX 2 is going to be one of those games where I can’t finish the story for the review. I’m falling off of it, hard.
To start, I never played the original – I only know that it wasn’t too well received overall, although it does have its following – like any media, really. Just about anything will still have its fans, no matter how much it might be panned by others.
That said, the game’s reliance on knowing the original story isn’t really a problem. It’s a direct sequel – that’s to be expected. ELEX 2 even does a pretty decent job of getting you up to speed with the original game’s events.
The problem is that ELEX 2‘s story just isn’t doing enough to grab me. I love RPGs as a whole. I love Sci-Fi. I love magic dumb stuff. But ELEX 2 feels generic across the board.
It’s just…kind of boring. Which is truthfully kind of impressive considering its blending of things like Star Trek, Mad Max, and literal magic. And Billy Idol (Yeah he just…exists. In this 100% fictional story set on an alien planet – Billy Idol just randomly exists. Even Jax doesn’t understand it.)
You see the trailer and maybe think “Hey, this looks like a cool, high-energy sci-fi + fantasy game!”, but what you actually get is a glacially-paced, sci-fi + fantasy snoozefest.
The overall acting is…fine? It just feels like its from a game in 2008. It’s serviceable. I also actually like that conversations can feel a bit branching – and that your choices can at least seem to effect other things, particularly how characters may react to you. If you’re a huge jerk, then people aren’t exactly going to like you very much, y’know? Characters even react when you just do weird stuff – like taking items off the shelves, even if it’s not “stealing”.
I especially like the way quests can feel like they branch out or weave into each other. It feels extremely natural. There was a quest in particular that I got from the Morkons – it tasked me with finding a warrior that was missing. Turns out, I already know him – he’s a merchant in the Fort. Problem is, I can’t get him back to the Morkons until I get the goods he needs – and I can’t do that until I figure out a way to open up the Upper District again.
And guess what? A lot of these quests I was already working on before I actually got the one to go find the guy. Nothing broke. Nothing went wrong – it was a completely seamless experience. It even felt like that was the way it was meant to go – but the reality is, I could have gone to the Morkons long before I ever even met that merchant.
I could have opened up the Upper District of the Fort and never even met him in the first place.
I could have never done any of it – and things in the rest of the story would change accordingly. It feels very aware of what you do, in a way that doesn’t feel entirely artificial. As another example: There’s a small quest you can get for the Clerics. It tasks you with retrieving a document from a chest. You talk to the person who owns that chest and get the key for it.
You then open the chest – there’s the document. Alongside it, however, is a bunch of currency and a gemstone that you could use to upgrade your weapon.
Here’s the rub: Taking it isn’t classed as stealing, so you think nothing of it, right? Most games work that way – as long as it isn’t stealing, no one cares and you can complete the quest.
But here? The NPC who gave you that quest now reveals that the entire thing was a test to see if you’re trustworthy. You can fess up, be honest – but now he doesn’t trust you and won’t give you the information you needed without you revealing something else that you learned earlier in the quest.
You can try to lie, but that likely won’t work either.
You can also just not take the extra stuff to begin with.
It’s this depth of choice & the way the game’s story seems to morph around it that feels really impressive. There are a lot of permutations of things that can happen.
Still, while I can praise the depth of the dialogue trees/quests – I can’t help but feel that the overall writing and pacing of said content works to drag the entire experience down. Everything is just so stilted. I found myself just skipping over dialogue after a while because it just wasn’t interesting enough to listen to after I already finished reading the subtitles before the line was even remotely finished.
I might enjoy it more if things were just hilariously bad (Like Resident Evil‘s almost B-movie-esque caliber delivery), but it’s not – at least not consistently.
Look. I’m going to try and keep playing – I’ve been playing for over 20 hours now, and while the quality of writing and overall pacing hasn’t really improved, I’m willing to still give it a chance. If I happen to finish the story, I’ll update here whether or not my opinion changes.
The game looks…ok. You’re going to notice a running theme here – and that theme is “bland”. Like unseasoned potatoes – they’re…fine. Some people even enjoy the taste of a plain potato with nothing on it.
The overall artstyle leaves a lot to be desired. Jax is your generic, buzz-cut, white military man – and the rest of the characters don’t fare much better in terms of standing out. There’s a bit of a “same face” problem going on – on top of the fact that everyone I’ve met so far has the character of a piece of soggy cardboard. That doesn’t mean they have no personality, mind you, just that their personalities are very one-dimensional.
There are varied biomes in the world that are fairly visually distinct, and the various factions do at least have unique looks to them.
In terms of actual performance though – this is a PlayStation 5 game, but it runs like an early PS4 game. The game seems to be trying to hit 60 fps, but barely manages to hit 30-40 fps. That’s honestly disappointing, considering just about every PS5 game I’ve played so far has run at a solid 60 – even Cyberpunk!
At the very least, even if the framerate is rougher than you’d expect, the game loads fairly fast – whether it’s on boot, or when fast traveling/reloading after a death. It’s not instant like some games, but it’s certainly quick.
Also, the actual world of Magalan can be quite pretty…as long as things aren’t bugging out on you. The architecture is lovely and unique, and the overall world can certainly be lovely – it’s just a shame that things can’t seem to run consistently.
I also just wish there were more to actually find in the world. As open as it is, the world is pretty much devoid of anything that feels worth exploring, outside of the main cities that act as faction hubs. There are small little “towns” scattered about, sure – but they’re usually made up of reused assets and have very little of actual value to find within them – some healing items/food and maybe some money if you’re lucky.
The Last of Us had a similar problem – lush environments with a lot of little paths you could follow, but that ultimately led to nothing – maybe some ammo every once in a while. It’s disappointing.
It would be really nice to go off the beaten path, find a strong monster to beat – and be rewarded with a strong, usable weapon or some good armor instead of just…$20 and some dryer lint, you know? It never feels worth it to explore.
This, right here, is where the game suffers the most.
Like how I said the voice acting feels like something out of a 2008 game, the overall gameplay feels like something from early 2006. And not in a good way. It’s slow, clunky, & obtuse. It honestly, at times, just feels like it doesn’t respect the player’s time.
I’m all for a game not holding the player’s hand throughout the experience (It’s part of the reason I love No Man’s Sky, for instance), only tutorializing things by setting up experiences in which they have to use the game’s mechanics (NOT stopping the game with a text box). But you have to have more than absolutely nothing there to keep the player on the right path. ELEX 2 offers the player nothing in regards to telling them when a quest may be too dangerous for their current level.
Using No Man’s Sky as an example: Your opening moments there are you, crash-landed on an alien world in a nearly infinite universe. The game tells you nothing, other than the fact that you need to get your ship repaired – you check what’s busted, and then go get the materials you need. Once it’s repaired, you’re gently guided to a place where you can get the blueprint you need to get yourself a Hyperdrive. After getting the materials for that and getting it built – you’re pretty much ready to take on the rest of what the game offers. You’ve learned just about everything you need to know about how the game works.
That’s not really the case in ELEX 2. You’re just thrown into the game and told to fight an enemy, and then avoid a few more.
It tells you nothing about how you have to first sheath your weapon in order to loot corpses or interact with anything.
The map has no points of interest marked until you’ve already found them. Things like fast travel points (You know, super important things that make getting around the world easier?) make no noise and have no lights until after you’ve activated them – on top of not showing up on the map until then. The minimap has no visual feedback other than shapes to indicate objectives – there’s no actual “map” to it, so you can’t really tell where that objective might be.
The quest log is all but useless outside of telling you “These are the quests you have”. Oh, and you’ll be able to tell which of them are even new!
The glossary, which you’d think would have useful tips/definitions for terms or something, is more like a barebones bestiary – it only tells you about important characters you’ve met, or enemies you’ve beaten.
I’ve got no qualms with a minimal UI. In fact, I love it – the less information being thrown at me on the screen at one time, the better (Split/Second is one of my favorite examples of a nice, minimal UI – everything you need is right in the screen space around the back of the car – where you’ll be spending most of your time looking anyway, freeing up the rest of the screen for many more explosions). But minimalism isn’t just the absence of information – it’s condensing that information down to its most important parts and delivering it in a way so as to be more easily digested/taken in.
Minimalism tells you everything you need to know with very little. Things like color-coding work very well in that regard – having something as simple as a 3 or 4-tier color code for quests could go a long, long way to cleaning things up. Green for properly-leveled, yellow for slightly above your level, red for something that’s way out of your league. Maybe add a 4th gray color for being over-leveled.
Having points-of-interest pre-marked on the map, so that the player could highlight them with a marker. Having the minimap actually show terrain. Making it more clear that I can’t equip the weapon I just picked up.
Sure, if I see an enemy health bar that has a lot of segments to it and a skull on the side, I’m going to assume that’s a tough/dangerous enemy, but I’m also going to assume I can still beat it without dying instantly because you gave me the quest to fight it while I was, apparently, woefully under-leveled – to the point that said enemy one-shotted me.
ELEX 2 also has a bit of an enemy problem. It suffers from the same issue that beat-em-ups often tend to: where you have a bunch of different colored variations of the same enemy that maybe has one slight difference. Only here there seems to be no discernable difference. You begin to notice very quickly that while the enemy you’re fighting might look different, its attacks are nigh identical to another enemy you fought an hour ago.
Nevermind running into similar enemies that were on the path to other quests. It’s like you have this big open world, but you don’t want the player to venture out into it by hiding/not having information available to the player so that they could make informed decisions about what to do and where to go.
I’m fine when a game lets players wander into an area they aren’t supposed to be for their current level – I love that, actually. The fact that an enemy instantly killed you is usually good signposting. What isn’t good signposting is when you fight a bunch of enemies that you beat easily, only to run into an enemy that immediately kills you in the exact same area.
That’s just confusing.
Even lockpicking – something that is usually pretty simple and straightforward in a game – has absolutely no explanation. I’ve picked a few locks in the game and still have no clue what the hell I’m actually doing right or wrong. There’s no real feedback. At least in something like Fallout, when you’re doing it wrong, the lockpick will vibrate along with the controller. Keep doing it wrong and the pick will eventually snap. Do it right, and the lock starts to turn – the closer you are to the “sweet spot”, the more it turns until it either stops, signifying you need to move the pick some more, or it unlocks.
ELEX 2 has nothing of the sort. You just move the lockpick left and right and seemingly hope for the best – there’s apparently something to do with finding the right pattern for the pins, but the game never tells you how it works from what I’ve found. I only know this after looking it up online.
And that’s really a problem in the entirety of the game – archaic design choices that feel like they come from 2006, back when people were still learning how to do any of this stuff. Why on Earth is there so much back and forth in quests? Go to this person and get the quest, then go to this person to Do The Thing™, then go back to the original person to tell them that you Did The Thing™.
Why not just let the quest complete upon Doing The Thing™, like nearly every other game in the last 14+ years?
Why is the combat so slow? Why does it feel like stat points barely matter? Why do I need to find specific trainers just to put points into skills I want to use? Why does it have to be such an ordeal just to get some of these trainers?
Why did I steal that item when all I wanted to do was talk to this character instead? Why am I paying a fine for a crime that happened with no witnesses – to the same person that told me killing those enemies was A-OK in the first place? (Thankfully, after a reload that didn’t happen again)
This kind of game (EG: The Witcher or Spiders’ Greedfall) has come a long way since Gothic 3, but Piranha Bytes seems stuck in their ways and determined to hold on to some of the worst parts of them.
I love the original DOOM as much as the next person, but imagine if DOOM 2016 played like it (IE: Not being able to look up and down, not being able to aim or use alt-fire, no glory kills, no jumping.) while keeping all the other modern advancements (Like visuals). That would feel weird, yeah?
I’m not saying you have to reinvent the wheel or anything, there’s certainly a place for keeping at least some of the old ways of doing things in a game like this, but ELEX 2 feels like it’s keeping all the wrong ones. Even Oblivion let you at least fast travel to every main town from the get go – and that game came out in 2006.
There’s also the problem of just how slow everything in the game is. The pacing of dialogue. The painful combat (That I had to turn down to story difficulty in order to make it even remotely enjoyable.) The glacial walk & sprint speed. Even the cool-as-a-concept jetpack takes a long time to become really useful as more than just a way to stop a long fall.
Everything just takes forever. Want to equip a new sword? First you have to have the right combination of stat points. You start with 10 in everything – most of the starting weapons you find early on have requirements of about 20-30, and there are usually 2 stats you need (Like Strength & Dexterity).
You get 10 points per level up – and can increase that to 11 with an Ability. Sounds like a lot, yeah? It is, for a while. Until you hit 30 in an attribute – then it takes 2 points per level. And then 5 points per level after 60. And might I add, leveling up is slow. It takes 5 points in an attribute to equate to +1 in a given skill (IE: Adding 5 points to Strength will increased Melee Damage +1).
This is a very grind-heavy game. You have to work for just about anything you want – be that upgrading weapons (You need spare versions of any weapon you want to upgrade, plus the resources like Scrap and the right Ability), crafting potions, or even just buying armor. The next level of armor that I can use right now costs 10’s of thousands of currency – even with discounts from abilities.
I haven’t had that kind of money at one time in my entire 20+ hours of playing. I could buy 1 piece of it, then another in maybe 5 more hours.
It feels like too much, honestly. I don’t feel like I’m building the character I want, but being forced down a specific path just to use a weapon I like. Everything has such high requirements – which feels limiting. And there doesn’t even seem to be a way to reset your attribute points.
Truth be told, I’ve never played a game where skills/abilities were so heavily locked behind stat walls like this – even Cyberpunk isn’t this harsh. For something that feels so open and branching in every other regard, this is a surprisingly blocked off mechanic.
I don’t really see much here to keep you sticking around after you roll credits. Unless you just really enjoyed the grind.
Even the trophies/achievements seem to be a bit of a slog, requiring you to join each of the factions as well as refusing to join them at all, which is going to take multiple playthroughs – once you’ve joined a faction, you’re pretty much locked in. Even though you can still do quests for the others, you can’t join them.
Sure, the branching nature of the plot could make for some different outcomes when coupled with the game’s morality system – I just don’t know if it’s enough to warrant more than 2 full playthroughs when everything just takes so long to really get going. I’ve been on my 1 playthrough for over 20 hours now and most of that was filled with slowly walking to one NPC, then slowly walking to another – followed by slowly walking back to the original NPC.
Especially when an increase in combat difficulty just means “this enemy takes longer to kill than these ones, even though they’re essentially the same enemy”.
A new game plus where you could start – not necessarily with your stats/gear, but with your map filled in – would be a nice touch. But I get how Piranha Bytes’ games work: they want you to start out weak and then get stronger. NG+ where you start out strong runs counter to that – even though there are ways to do it, just look at games like Dark Souls or even Nioh, or even games in other genres, like Deus Ex: Mankind Divided.
Still, outside of seeing what the other side of the morality system would offer, and maybe seeing what siding with the other factions is like (IE: Other endings or seeing how those choices may influence the rest of the story.) – there isn’t much else to the game that I could really justify multiple 30+ hour playthroughs for.
I think the game’s biggest issue is that it might be too ambitious. One constant with it is having a cool concept that ultimately is executed poorly.
The branching, fluid nature of the game’s story, but its slow pacing and poor writing. The blending of sci-fi and magical fantasy, but not really doing anything with it. The jetpack that takes ages to become useful and is hard to use properly.
So many things that, if executed just a bit better or more consistently, could be great. So many small problems that have long since been solved in other titles and just work to hinder the player’s experience. Some guidance in the early game, with a better, clearer UI, and this could be a much, much better experience.
I don’t give out Skip ratings lightly. In fact, I’ve only done it once before. But I considered it, heavily, for ELEX 2. Ultimately, though…I did enjoy at least some of what was on display here. I can see potential for something great – but it misses the mark pretty badly.
If you’ve enjoyed Piranha Bytes other games in the past, like Gothic or Risen, or even the original ELEX – then you’re very likely to enjoy ELEX 2. It’s certainly an improvement over those.
But if you’re looking for something a bit more…modern feeling? If you were hoping that this was going to have a Witcher 3-like jump in quality from the last game? You’re going to be sorely disappointed and I can’t in good conscience recommend this to anyone outside the hardest of the hardcore Piranha Bytes fans. So, if you’re even remotely interested in it – I’d recommend giving it a rental instead, and then deciding.