With ELEX II, the Essen-based development studio Piranha Bytes wants to take you back to the multifaceted fantasy world of Magalan. Once again you slip into the role of Jax, whose fate you were able to shape in the predecessor, which was released in October 2017 for consoles and PC. The bald hero has been stripped of his powers before and has to start all over again this time. The following test will tell you whether the usual concept can also convince in the sequel.
The former beast of Xacor
Before we get into the plot of the sequel, let’s first briefly summarize the events of ELEX: The fictional planet Magalan suffers from the terror of the Albs. They promote the mysterious Elex, which was distributed by a meteorite impact on the celestial body to feed the mastermind behind the warmongers, the hybrids. The consumption of the unknown mineral provides incredible strength, but at the same time wipes out any emotions of the consumer. Only strong-willed creatures benefit from the effects of the blue shards, the rest mutate and increasingly lose their minds. In order to obtain the dangerous drug, the Albs set up so-called converters, with which they remove the Elex from the surrounding flora and fauna, which results in an uninhabitable wasteland and is therefore not well received by the rest of the factions.
ELEX II impresses with a great lighting atmosphere and successful shadow play.
© Piranha Bytes / THQ Nordic
Your protagonist Jax was once a powerful Alb Commander himself and feared under the title “The Beast of Xacor”. But his own will soon posed a danger to his followers, and they had him executed from behind – at least they thought they had gotten him out of the way. Because Jax miraculously survives the attack, but sees himself robbed of all powers and overwhelmed by emotions due to the Elex drain. Together with the other races you manage to raise an army and storm the ice palace of the Albs. After a man-powered battle, Jax faces the Hybrid. The head of the Albs turns out to be the scientist Dr. Adam Charles Dawkins. This announces the arrival of the knowers and after his death sends a signal into the vastness of space, whereupon a strange structure adorns the horizon of Magalan. The fight has only just begun, but the unification of the peoples was short-lived, because no danger seemed to emanate from the sky game.
Jax, who is now the father of a son, soon went into exile, where he stayed for six years. One day, a strange missile crashes into the renegade’s hut, destroying his belongings. On the run, your hero has to deal with a horde of Skyanids, which he can successfully shake off, but is bitten and loses consciousness. It quickly becomes clear that this is by no means a normal injury, because Jax wakes up without his powers in the care of the presumed dead Dr. Adam Charles Dawkins up. Of course, Jax has his doubts about the former hybrid’s change of heart, but he has no choice but to heed his advice. A resistance group must once again be raised to contain the Skyanid threat. And so you set out to once again unite the factions in the fight against the common enemy.
Unfortunately, the doll faces of the game characters are rarely convincing.
© Piranha Bytes / THQ Nordic
The storyline of ELEX II consists of four acts, which you complete by ticking off various main missions. This time, it is not the kingdom in the middle that serves as your refuge, but the high bastion. In an intact ruin, your primary client, Dr. Adam Charles Dawkins the properties of a new extraterrestrial substance, dark Elex. Unlike its blue counterpart, the dark Elex possesses a highly contagious effect, corrupting any organism that comes in contact with it – and now threatening to poison Jax’s mind as well. So your hero will have to put aside their skepticism about the suddenly helpful academic if they don’t want to end up as a mindless Skyanid. The story of ELEX II sends you through the entire game world and encourages you to extensively explore the varied regions. You always decide for yourself when you want to tackle which mission and therefore the campaign structure can best be compared to games in the “The Elder Scrolls” series. You can continue the story at any time, but you don’t have to. The full game world is open to you from the start and you determine the speed at which you advance the story. The course of the game is rarely interrupted by elaborately staged cutscenes, which loosen up the general events a bit, but feel a bit like a foreign body due to the sometimes abrupt cuts.
Of course, in addition to the main orders, there are also numerous side quests that breathe additional life into the game world. The secondary tasks range from simple bounty hunts to comical attempts to teach an android human consciousness. ELEX II is full of people looking for help, who often come up with their own, sometimes bizarre, story and act out of personal motivation. Accordingly, you also spend a lot of time in dialogue with the local peoples. Although the doll-like faces rarely allow for correct facial expressions and the soundtrack is rustic according to the studio, one cannot deny the entertainment value of the conversations at any time.
Magalan offers more than just forest. Also shattered settlements and ice landscapes are on the plan.
© Piranha Bytes / THQ Nordic
Of course, the faction election is back on board. This time you can even complete the story as a renegade, but you will then be denied valuable skills. Planet Magalan is populated by five factions: the Berserkers, the Outlaws, the Clerics, the Albs, and the Morkons. Except for the Morkons, all factions were already included in the predecessor and have evolved since then. In the meantime, the berserkers have taken over the former stronghold of the outlaws and made a number of members their own. This is also reflected in the attitude. The previously rule-compliant berserkers are now much rougher, to the dismay of some veterans. Like the Albs, the clerics are a very tech-savvy people who still had a certain dominance over Magalan in ELEX, but now hardly play a significant role and have to economize with their equipment. The remaining outlaws migrated from the former desert city of Tavar to the swampy crater city, where they now eke out their lawless existence. With the Morkons, a whole new path is open to you. Somewhere between S&M and black metal, the Morkons lurked in the catacombs of the old world, worshiping their dark god Ravaac. In ELEX II, the dark figures dare to surface again for the first time and cause plenty of chaos.
By choosing your faction, you place yourself in the service of the respective people. This means that you lock yourself out of future missions from other factions, but become familiar with exclusive assignments that you otherwise would not have been able to take on. It is up to you if and when you join a faction. You can already spend over twenty hours getting to know the different races and gaining experience points that lead to level ups. Those level-ups are essential for your survival, because they bring you attribute and learning points with which you develop your character from a sensitive weakling to a real muscle man.
Of course you can explore the world again with your jetpack. This time even with forward thrust!
© Piranha Bytes / THQ Nordic
A peculiarity of the “Piranha Bytes” games is also evident here. You can’t just learn special skills like picking locks or pickpocketing, you need a suitable teacher and the right prerequisites, such as a high level of cunning or dexterity. And don’t think that the masters pass on their knowledge for nothing! In the world of ELEX II, everyone is their own neighbor and so they also diligently manage their own pockets. However, every level increase is noticeable and feels satisfying. You will become noticeably stronger and the secrets of the game world will become increasingly accessible. Where an area was previously considered impassable because the monsters there would make short work of you, you can now sweep it from the pasture with powerful blows or targeted shots. This form of progression is incredibly motivating and lets you get through the tough initial phase.
The combat system of ELEX II is similar to that of its predecessor, only this time you do without forcing you to use delicate punch combinations in order to inflict the best possible damage. Where previously there was sluggishness, things are now getting a little trickier, because both your character and your opponents move at times unpredictably and somewhat unnaturally. While combat has never been the strong point of Piranha Bytes games, newcomers may be put off by the fiddly controls. The inventory also experienced a worsening improvement. Although it is now quickly apparent which equipment you have equipped, as your bag fills up, scrolling through the individual item categories can become a real agony.
Although the visual representation of the individual characters and their wooden facial expressions are not really convincing, the game world likes to provide dreamy looks. The landscapes of Magalan have a harmonious design and often impress with lush vegetation. In addition, there is an outstanding lighting atmosphere with dynamic shadow play, which means that the respective locations appear a little different at any time of the day. It’s hard to believe that this is just a modified version of the “Gothic 3” engine Genome. Unfortunately, the quality differences between the characters and the game world create a small incongruity that did not appear in the studio’s previous works.
Mediocre performance spoils the gaming fun
As you can read in many places, ELEX II has a problem with AMD Radeon graphics cards. Unfortunately, my relatively potent test system also falls under this category. The title was playable, but there were noticeable fluctuations in the frame rate – sometimes without a good reason. In the end, to counteract the violent fluctuation, I decided to limit the playback to forty frames per second and mostly did well with that, although a smoother experience would have been appreciated. There is an urgent need for improvement here, especially since the game does not suffer from such problems on the current generation of consoles. Musically, they again rely on an atmospheric soundtrack, which rather wants to create a mood than whistling catchy melodies in your ear and is therefore perceived more subconsciously.