ELEX II follows the continued adventures of Jax as he works to unite the disparate factions of humanity to confront another alien threat. The game opens on Jax returning to his home just before it is destroyed by the alien incursion. Despite the threats of another invasion looming in the sky, the people of Magalan have grown complacent since the last invasion. Now Jax must convince the different factions that the coming alien invasion is more important than their territorial squabbles, all while battling an infection that threatens to turn him into an alien creature himself.
ELEX II can be slightly frustrating to start out, especially if this is your first experience with ELEX or Piranha Bytes games. The mission window does not specify what level is required for each mission, and during the early stages of the game a masa rat sneezing can kill you. The key is to not get too upset about dying a couple dozen times. If a mission is kicking your butt, do something else and come back once you have a couple more levels under your belt. The combat gets significantly easier once you join a faction, but that will require a good deal of legwork. I spent the majority of the first chapter running back and forth between key members of the Berserker community.
Every mission looked to be straightforward at first but ended up being a seemingly never-ending chain of fetch quests or messenger errands. Your money, and consequently ammo, is very limited for the first 15 or so levels. As a result, you may try to stick to your melee weapons, but beware. Several enemies can hit you two or three times in a matter of seconds, which can still kill you even after you get the faction armor and skills boost if you’re not careful. It wasn’t until level 17 that I started to pocket a comfortable amount of shards and ammo. It will also take you several levels until you are able to start spending your learning points to acquire new skills. Due to the initial difficultly curve, it is vital to always keep a companion with you when you’re just starting out. They will be able to deal more damage than you, and they will also serve as a handy meat shield or cat toy to distract the monsters.
The gameplay is generally enjoyable. The quick inventory system allows you to quickly change weapons or use potions or food to heal. The combat is slightly clanky but is not too bothersome. There are several bugs that lowered the gameplay score for me. The game is not fully optimized, causing the frame rate to drop dramatically during combat at times. I have had problems with the aiming system when I am surrounded by multiple enemies. Once I was trying to finish off a ground enemy, but every time I aimed my weapon the AI would target the flying enemy instead.
The AI is also glitchy sometimes with your companion. I will be frequently running in circles trying to avoid a raptor and my companion is just standing in the middle taking in the scenery. Once, my companion completely froze and I had to fast travel to a different location to bring them back to reality.
The graphics and audio are pretty good. I have had minimal problems with textures dropping out. The audio keeps you on your toes. Even when there isn’t an enemy in sight, I swear I hear grass rustling or the sound of footsteps. The main complaint I have with the graphics is the mouth movements during dialog. I have to force myself to read the subtitles, because looking at the characters mouths while they are talking gives me an uneasy feeling. You can see way to far into the back of their mouths, and their teeth look to be disjointed at times.
Despite all of my complaints, I thoroughly love playing ELEX II. Every weekend since getting the game I have had to pry myself away from it to force myself to get some sleep. I think I easily played for over 30 hours right after it launched. One of the reasons for that is the interesting side characters and companions you can meet and adventure with in the world. After building up enough loyalty with your companion, they will add fun bits of conversation while you are exploring and will even interrupt your conversations with other mission characters. Fox is my personal favorite right now. He deals good damage in combat, has a great personality, and offers playful jabs at Jax.
The world is vast with lots to explore like abandoned houses and factory buildings full of sellable items and glimpses of past occupants. A few houses have creepy notes about the demise of the past residents. In one house I found a note from the child who used to live there about a baby monster they wanted to keep as a pet. It’s not explicitly stated, but I would guess the monster is the same one you are confronted with when entering the house, meaning it probably ate the child and their parents. One house contained a skeleton in the bathtub holding a toaster. Another contained three audio logs about his search for a cure to the infection. I won’t spoil the exact details, but it’s the darkest of any I’ve found so far.
At $59.99, ELEX II has good value. There are several factions to choose from and you can build your character to be either creative or destructive. Choosing different factions opens up different side missions. All of this allows for good replay-ability.
All in all, ELEX II earns an overall score of 4 out of 5 GiN Gems. ELEX II is a game I can easily see myself putting 100 or more hours into. The dialog is sarcastic and funny, the characters are interesting, and the world is fun to explore. I was quickly drawn in, and I don’t want to put it down.