Review: Elex II Delivers on Its Jet Pack Promise, Little Else

Screenshot: Elex II

2022 is really shaping up to be a great year for video games. Games like Elden Ring and Horizon: Forbidden West look like early game of the year contenders, and are both open world games that lived up to their immense hype. And then along comes Elex II, an ambitious open world role-playing game that, at times, feels more like a game from yesteryear than a game that released within days of Elden Ring or Horizon: Forbidden West. And even though Elex II isn’t going for AAA gameplay, I couldn’t help but think about the other games I could be playing instead.

Elex II is a third person open world role-playing game. It’s brought to you by the developers of the Gothic  and Risen series—and of course, the original Elex. For a developer that has so much open world role-playing game experience, you would think that by now Piranha Bytes would have a firm grasp on this open world role-playing game thing—and they do, for the most part.

Screenshot: Elex II

I have to say, right out of the gate I was impressed with Elex II’s visuals. They’re not the best, but its wide open world mixed with its coherent and appealing design had me excited for the prospects of this sci-fi plus fantasy mash-up. But as I started out my journey through the world of Magalan, the graphics—though pretty– were not enough to save Elex II from its intensely mediocre gameplay.

Elex II feels like a game that came out around the Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 era. And indeed, if it had, it might have even been a cult classic—maybe. See, even by previous generations’ standards, Elex II’s gameplay can be summed up with one word: janky. That’s definitely a term I try to avoid using, because it’s usually too broad. Most modern games have an amount of polish that most people who play games have come to expect. Elex II, in almost every aspect—from the animations to the combat—is of extremely poor quality.

Screenshot: Elex II

Despite the intro of this article making comparisons to Elden Ring, I went into Elex II with an open mind, and lowered expectations. I wasn’t expecting a AAA masterpiece, but I was expecting a fun game with engaging missions. Instead, I was bored and frustrated throughout most of my time with Elex II—which is not a combination for fun. It doesn’t help that everything you do—from the movement to the combat—feels stiff.

Combat in Elex II can be described as somewhat soulslike. There’s a stamina bar that limits how many times you can swing, or roll dodge. Since Elex II mixes sci-fi with fantasy, there is a fair amount of melee and ranged weapons to choose from, but in the technological and more fantastical varieties. While all of this sounds great in theory, it falls apart as soon as you swing your first pipe. Weapons have little impact, and just aren’t very fun to use. I don’t mean just melee weapons—I mean all of them. Even the ranged weapons aren’t very fun to use.

“But, there’s a jetpack!” you say. True, and it’s upgradeable. It does allow for some great freedom while exploring the world of Elex II, but the starter jetpack is only useful to get up small ledges—like a jump with a hover. It’s understandable that you’re not given complete freedom to fly around Elex II’s open world map right off the bat—but honestly, I think I would have enjoyed Elex II more if that was the case, because I never felt like I was in the right place for my level.

Elex II doesn’t do a great job of telling you where to go at whatever level you’re at. Even when following the main storyline, I constantly found myself in over my head—especially in the first hour or two of gameplay, where playing truly felt like a chore. Elex II just doesn’t do a good job of telling you where you should b at any given level.  Often I would be heading to the quest marker for the next quest, and then I’d find myself fighting triple-skull leveled enemy monsters. Luckily, even without an upgraded jetpack most combat is avoidable if you just want to get to the next story beat, but with a story that tends to be generic, finding out what happens next was never much of an impetus beyond the need to complete this review.

Screenshot: Elex II

I didn’t play the first Elex, so I was a bit confused coming into its story, and the game doesn’t really do much to prime you for for your activities in Magalan. You play as Jax, the guy from the previous game who once again saves the world from an apocalyptic threat. This time around it’s the Skyands—invaders who want to destroy the people of Magalan, and shape it in their image. Or something. I’m not entirely sure because I found it hard to invest myself in Elex II’s long, tedious conversations between characters that are as three dimensional as a sheet of paper. This is notably problematic because Elex II requires you to form alliances—and make choices that can affect these people and their factions.

I really think that Elex II suffers from the time it released. I don’t just mean that it comes on the heels of two game of the year contenders, but I also mean the fact that it was released this year and not a decade ago when it would have made the most impact. I’m not saying Elex II is an irredeemably terrible game: it’s playable, and even manages some pretty graphics—but there are just better games to spend your time on. If you’re a fan of the first Elex, and want to see how the story continues—even then, I’d recommend waiting for a discount.

 

Elex II is available now for PC on Steam and for PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5 as well as Xbox One and Xbox Series S|X.

 

 

 

 

A Steam key was provided to us for this review.

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Antal Bokor

Antal is video game advocate, retro game collector, video game historian, and small streamer.
He is also the editor of the Games and Tech section but does not get paid for his work at 3CR.
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