Elex 2 Review: An Edgy, Bug-Ridden Sci-Fi Fantasy
Elex 2 by Piranha Bytes is ambitious and sometimes fun in a truly weird way. The things it gets right are well done, and it mixes genre styles into an interesting, compelling world. You can fight aliens with toilet brushes or flit away from ogres by way of jetpacks.
It's hard to deny that Elex 2 will certainly appeal to those who played the original or are looking for a twist on RPGs of the late '90s and early 2000s. But it too often gets in its own way, letting a multitude of bugs overshadow what could make it great with just a bit more polish.
Elex 2 Review: An Edgy, Bug-Ridden Sci-Fi Fantasy
Elex 2 continues the story of Elex, expanding on that game's lore and story in some engaging ways. It takes place on an distant planet where different human factions fight to survive and must put aside their difference to unite against an alien threat. Without spoiling anything, you do so alongside a prominent player from the original, adding more threads that make playing Elex first more important.
The setting itself is a blend of sci-fi and fantasy that works well most of the time. You can fight with shotguns, swords, alien weaponry, and magic against ogres and space dogs. There are Mad-Max-style murder and emotion-deadening techno cults. And the world itself is wrapped in a very dark and edgy writing style. Though Grimdark isn't normally my style, the mixture of these story and setting elements is the most enthralling aspect of Elex 2.
On the other hand, the audio presentation is a mixed bag. The VO performances are well done and appropriate for the bleak world, but the rest of the sound design ranges from just acceptable to jarring. Some sound effects, like your companion characters' jet packs or a specific spider enemy's screech, are gratingly loud and repetitive.
The graphical quality on the PlayStation leaves something to be desired, as well. Firmly planting its flag in the territory of the "Just OK," there's much more impressive work to be found on the PS4 almost anywhere. The draw distance here is surprisingly short, clipping abounds, and the camera makes walls disappear when tilted. That's not to mention lighting bugs galore, where indoor lighting flickers on and off at random is just one of many issues.
The art style strikes the same middling ground; some things work, others don't. Because of its genre-mixing nature, there's a visual disconnect between futuristic technology and medieval weaponry. Most of the weapon and environmental design is appealing, but, for example, the armor options look out of place and silly, ruining the world's other immersive qualities.
Elex 2's gameplay reminds of PB's beloved Gothic series or even Bethesda's Elder Scrolls franchise. There are some great RPG mechanics here with loads of customization built in, and there are different factions that yield a variety of abilities, armor, weapons, and more. There's even a good/evil alignment system based on your gameplay choices. It's the groundwork for something truly enjoyable.
The problem is repetition and a lack of balance. Elex 2 is punishingly difficult at the start and as easy as it gets later on, and it has incredibly repetitive combat mechanics that feel like simplified versions of similar titles in the genre.
Much like many other third-person action RPGs, you have a dodge button, parry functionality, and light and heavy attacks. You also have a variety of weapons including ranged ones. However, no number of different weapons, spells can make combat feel exciting when combat simply devolves into spamming. It doesn't help that locking onto enemies is a chore and NPC pathing leaves much to be desired.
Elex 2 Review — The Bottom Line
- Rich, imaginative world that blends sci-fi and fantasy in a unique way.
- Invokes old-school PC RPGs.
- Engaging story if you don't mind its "edginess."
- So many bugs that playing feels like a battle itself.
- Severe lack of polish in the graphical and sound departments.
- Repetitive combat.
Despite the richness of its world, engaging story, and implementation of old-school RPG mechanics, Elex 2 works against itself at almost every turn. Because of its utter lack of polish. There have been some patches since the game's release addressing some of its bugs, but in my time with it, I experienced enough of them to not want to return. Random auto-save sticking was just one of the soul-destroying glitches I encountered.
Elex 2 will definitely appeal to a subsection of players looking to recapture the classic RPG magic of the '90s and 2000s. Though an absolute slog to play during my review period, I still found myself enchanted by the upsides peppered around its game-breaking roadblocks. Unfortunately, the pieces of gold brought to the table with its story and setting are overshadowed by Elex 2's more frustrating elements.
[Note: Piranha Bytes provided the copy of Elex 2 used for this review.]