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I’ve been looking forward to Elex 2 ever since it got announced.
I’ve always found Piranha Bytes to be an odd game studio. They’ve been around for decades, releasing their first game Gothic in 2001 and continuing their path ever since. They have an enormous cult following in Europe, with one of the most passionate and loyal fanbases I’ve seen for a game studio. It nearly borders on fanaticism sometimes. They are the king of what the scene calls ‘Eurojank’ games. What is that? Well, they tend to be deeply ambitious titles by small studios, trying to pull off a AAA experience with a fraction of the budget. They often have great designs let down by poor interface, clunky controls and mechanics, and of course, bugs. But hey, that’s gaming for you. If you believe some people, every game release is buggy these days. eye roll
I like these guys because they know how to craft great worlds. World and environment design is an often overlooked feature of open-world games, and Piranha Bytes usually does great. Yeah, they make janky games, but I struggle to think of competitors who do worlds as nice as Piranha Bytes. They have problems as a studio, but I enjoy their games.
It’s taken them five years to release Elex 2, the sequel to their 2017 version of Gothic 2 in Magalan. That was the bonkers, brutal, and sometimes brilliant RPG in Elex 1. These guys have the habit of repeating the same story structure for twenty years. I find it amusing how Ubisoft often gets flack by the gaming scene for making the same game over and over, yet other studios get a pass for it. Of course, Piranha Bytes is a studio of thirty people, so it’s difficult to compare. Even so, I went into Elex 2 expecting a similar experience. Piranha Bytes for all their ambition and talent have released games of differing quality. Gothic 1, Gothic 2, and Risen 1 were the height of their power, but there have been some real stinkers.
Was it worth the long wait? Have Piranha Bytes learned from their shortcomings?
Sometimes. This isn’t a full review as I’m not very far into the story, just a few viewpoints. Hopefully, I can answer some questions. It’s a weird game with an odd decision to release so soon after the AAA giant by From Software, Elden Ring. I have no idea who was behind that decision.
Elex 2 takes place several years after the end of Elex 1, a true sequel. Aliens have invaded Magalan, and ex-Alb Jax has a family to look after. After aliens destroy his home and introduced him to the equivalent of the Space Plague, Jax must try to unite the world once more against the alien threat. True to humanity, however, the varied factions are too busy trying to survive each other and their harsh world to listen to him. That’s realistic, at least. There are plenty of surviving characters from the first game, many will recognize you.
The story is nothing special, but I never found Piranha Bytes games to be great on the story front. I wouldn’t call it bad by any means. It just doesn’t do much for me. Regardless, after meeting with the ex-antagonist of the first game, you’re sent off on your merry way to build up strength, make allies, and explore. It’s the classic Piranha Bytes standby, and Elex 2 still holds up. Voice acting isn’t stellar, but it usually does the job. One of the biggest changes was a voice actor change for Jax. No longer the robotic Alb coming off his drug, Jax has some emotions now. It might be jarring at first, but I got used to him. Some of the voice acting is great, especially the kids in the Fort. Their interactions made me smile.
I have to bring up the dialogue because it’s a mixed bag that made my eyes roll. Most characters in the game are angry and whining, with the tendency to just spout endless profanity as if it makes them intelligent. It’s like holding a conversation with someone who has Tourettes. I found it jarring and it pulled me out of the game. There’s some great dialogue with some characters, but it takes sifting through a lot of weak conversations. I wish they toned it down, to be honest. Some companions are nearly insufferable. Looking at you, Nasty. There’s plenty of varied dialogue with different companions, both during exploration and questlines. It’s worth swapping out companions for that, and at least that’s well done.
I have to give Piranha Bytes some credit for their change to the beginning. Elex 2 is one of the most accessible RPGs they’ve made. Accessibility is a dangerous term for some, but this was a fantastic upgrade. One big problem with the first game was how difficult it was to get into. With a horrible starting zone, the clunky movement and combat, and how easy it was to die, it pushed a lot of people out of their comfort zone. Well, imagine that! You guys can change some things.
Elex 2 isn’t easy by any means. Enemies can and will still introduce Jax to their stomachs without blinking, but the beginning is considerably more approachable than previous iterations of their games. Melee combat has improved, and I found myself being able to hold my own better in the early game. I still had to avoid a lot of encounters, but this change vastly improved the experience for me. With improved menus, more fluid movement, and a better jetpack, I found myself getting into Elex 2 easier than previous Piranha Bytes titles. There are plenty of different weapons and abilities to use.
World and quest design is their bread and butter, and I’d say Elex 2 does a solid enough job. Much has changed in Malagan since the first game, and while we have many new areas to explore, there’s plenty of the original world in Elex 2 as well. The Tahar desert has been transformed into green fertility since the Berserkers and Outlaws took up shop under Rat. The remaining Outlaws have taken up residence in the Crater, a haven of villainy and thieves. The Albs have control of the old Cleric stronghold of Ignadon, while the cult, death-worshiping Morkons hold a vast underground kingdom beneath a ruined city.
There’s a lot to see and do, and Elex 2 has made considerable improvements in visual quality over the first game. I was impressed with how the water and terrain looked. Sure, it’s not quite a 2022 standard, but it looks nice enough. It’s a different visual design to the first game; more realistic. That’s come with a few people disliking it, but it doesn’t bother me. Some locations are better than others. While the Fort and Morkon bases are full of rich detail, I found the Alb and Cleric bases somewhat lacking. There are a lot of barren open spaces in those areas, and I’ve found comparing it constantly with the first game. The best of Elex 2 matches or eclipses the best Piranha Bytes have come up with, but it comes with the lows. The southern part of the map is a barren land, which I found slightly disappointing.
That sums up the missions for me so far as well. There are a lot of escort missions that come with plenty of nice dialogue and interactions, better than many escort missions in rival games. Fetch quests usually come with one or two twists to keep you entertained, and there are several things to be done before joining one of the major factions. There’s plenty of intrigue around, and I’ve enjoyed most of the quests.
The introduction Alb questline is fantastic and honestly should have been the opening of the game. There’s good character development, twists, and turns, and you get to explore the main locations on the map as well. I wish they incorporated it into the starting zone because it does a great job introducing the game. While the companion questlines feel repetitive, there’s still a lot of good. I haven’t advanced far enough into the game to get a measure of later missions, but I’ll make an update in a future article.
As of this article, I’m 25 hours into Elex 2. Do I enjoy it? Yes. It’s a solid game, and more approachable than the first. I criticize Piranha Bytes a lot for being stuck in their ways. That’s still mostly true, but at least they made an effort on this part.
Does it go far enough, though? I’m not sure. With its rough performance issues on consoles, pop-in texture bugs, and the change to the camera, it didn’t launch in the best way, though they have mixed most of these problems. Piranha Bytes are in a difficult, almost Catch-22 position. Go too far away from their design model, and they risk losing their fans. Do too little, and it’ll never compete. When you directly compete with AAA giants such as Elden Ring and Horizon Forbidden West, people are going to judge that. Elex 2 is made by a relatively small studio, but when you time your release in such a way, people will naturally make comparisons. It’s an old game in new times, and Elex 2’s launch numbers paled in comparison to the original in 2017. I’ve waited five years for a sequel, and I’m unsure yet how much it holds up. For £39/$50/45Eur, it’s quite the expensive title.
Above all, if you like Elex 1, you’ll probably like Elex 2. If the first Elex was too difficult to get into, the sequel makes several improvements that should help. I got into Elex 2 quicker than the first, and with the difficulty and economy tweaks (I’m finding it easier to make money!), it’s not as painful an experience. I like the game. It’s what I imagined it. Piranha Bytes has once again made a similar game, and that comes with the good and bad.