Thursday, April 7, 2022.
by Brent Roberts

ELEX II Box art In the entertainment world you have the big AAA blockbuster releases that have millions in marketing being pumped behind them for support, and then there are those titles that I'm calling "straight to DVD" which almost regarded as the neglected stepchild of the entertainment world. Upfront, it should be noted that ELEX II is 100% straight to DVD material, but does that make it bad? Some entertainment has become a bigger hit later on in its career. Can ELEX II do the same thing? Let's take a look at the latest offering by THQ Nordic and see whether or not ELEX II warrants the $59.99 price tag.

Before we begin, I should be upfront with you and tell you that this game has its flaws. When I say flaws, I mean this game has a LOT of flaws. Some comical, some nonsensical, some game breaking. Despite that though, ELEX II brings a lot to the table. For starters, the fundamental core of this game revolves around a dynamic choice/morale system. What really sets this apart is how it sticks to its dynamics. While some games will let you get away with things, I've had followers who admire me before a conversation and despise me afterwards, but we'll get to that in a moment. ELEX II wants you to make the hard choices. It won't hold your hand and even the random chance encounters with the side missions (there's a lot of them) will play a key role in shaping what kind of character you decide to become. This system is sort of faulted because the negative side is called "Destruction" and basically there's a meter that will tell you how 'bad' your character is. While this is very simplistic in its design, it's functional to a point. You can actually buy your way out of your Destruction. Yes, pay a large enough fine and that innocent person you murdered because they caught you stealing something in their safe will all be forgotten. Doesn't that though negate all morality? If so, then the fundamental core of ELEX II is flawed. Does that take away from the gameplay experience though? No. You don't know the outcome (unless you cheat and look on YouTube, but in doing that you're already exercising bad morals by cheating so the outcome has already been determined).

If ELEX II is a game that you think "There was an original ELEX?", it's totally understandable. Quick recap for you: In the first game, you play the role of Jax who is a military commander for a group of people known as the Albs on the planet Magalan. This planet was impacted by a gigantic comet that brought to the planet a mysterious substance known as Elex. This substance was sought after by multiple factions (Including the Albs), but for various reasons. The other factions fighting over Elex were the Berserkers (these people purified the Elex by converting it into Mana to gain access to magic), the Outlaws (these renegades only care about profit and using whatever scrap and weaponry they can find to make it happen and they use Elex to make more potent drugs), and the Clerics (this faction believes the comet came from their God, Calaan and use Elex to power their technology). These factions fought the Albs over Elex because of its properties, but for the Albs, the Elex was the focal point of their people. The Albs are cold, merciless, calculating and are the antagonist group of the game who are ex-Clerics that decided the best way to use Elex was to consume it directly, thus granting them exceptional powers and strength at the loss of emotions and free will. The game is about you learning about these other factions and making your choice as to how you will proceed and which faction you will join. Along the way you'll have companions (as you almost always do in games like this) and your choices will impact how the game unfolds for you.

In ELEX II, all four of the factions return (Berserkers, Outlaws, Clerics, Albs) but now you have a new faction to consider, the Morkons. This is nice and all, but only one new faction? Anyways, moving on... You have the ability to join each faction, but as you guessed it, joining one can close the door on others. There's also some more familiarity brought into the game from the original. In the original ELEX, your character Jax is shot down in the beginning of the game and knocked unconscious for a time. During this time the Elex was drained from his Alb body and he became weak (it's how the game justifies you building your character) and unable to contend with the newfound emotions that flood his body when it's off Elex (consider this the ultimate drug withdrawal). In ELEX II, apparently almost everyone on the planet has forgotten about you (yup you literally save everyone, and they say "Thanks, bye") and you have neglected your family and moved out to the wilderness to be alone and... fish, I guess? Anywho, your character has let himself 'go' in regard to physical conditioning (this is ELEX II's way of saying you're back to square one and aren't all powerful again) and you spend the game killing enemies, completing quests, reading books and more for experience. Gain enough and you'll level your character up which lets you upgrade your character's stats such as strength, dexterity, intelligence, cunning, etc. Along with that you gain the opportunity to learn abilities such as ranged or melee proficiency, lock picking, hacking, and even faction specific skills such as fireballs and chain lightning.

This all seems well and good and everything, however, there's a bit of a flaw here as well. When I did my playthrough I literally did NOTHING but side and companion quests, and by the time I was done with Act One I was already pushing over level 25 and was stockpiling skill and attribute points like crazy. Along the way though I discovered a secret; shotguns are your friend. To be more precise, the enhanced double barrel shotgun is a game changer. While I was doing these side and companion quests, I noticed there were enemies that had skulls next to their health, and just like you would imagine, one hit and it would be game over man, game over. I needed to figure out a way to beat these enemies and that's when I found the damaged double barrel shotgun on a Reaver (think of these as like the token enemy just thrown in there with so significance). The gun itself is powerful and when taken through the upgrade process can become quite lethal. Learning this I sank my learning point (LP) balance into these categories: Ranged weapon proficiency (and the corresponding branches of it), Weapon building (so you can build the best weapons in the game), Health (more hp), and when health was maxed, I went into Health regeneration. This was by far the best path I could find because I found three damaged double barrel shotguns (don't waste your money buying them) along my journey which I then combined into a singular double barrel shotgun. Three more damaged double barrels latter and I have another double barrel shotgun. Here's where the game's building mechanics take over.

You can then use the scrap you find lying around (that you're hopefully picking up) and combine that with some type of element, plus 2-3 regular weapons and create an enhanced version. Now I have constructed my enhanced double barrel shotgun I needed to try it out, so I venture north where some of the strongest enemies are. I go to a cyclops which has a skull icon, and I proceed to bring the pain. Because of the build I'm gaining about 50 points extra on my ranged damage, my enhanced shotgun is doing close to 200 damage already and the fire rate is unreal. You only get four shots but sometimes that's all you need. On the cyclops though it took a little over 2 full clips, but after that, nothing touched me. I found myself abandoning the quests and instead going right into these alien bases and focused on leveling up, and with my healing regeneration I almost became invincible. I then decided that with this new level of power I needed to gain as much XP from this as possible, so I sought out trainers and put my focus into experience increase, experience from reading books/letters etc, and skill and ability point increases. After that I headed back out to the alien bases and notice what was once giving me 500 XP was now giving me over 550-575 depending on the beast. Now the game was set in basically God mode. I had no enemy that could beat me. Health that never went away and I was leveling up like crazy (because the XP increases also apply to missions, so those 2000 XP you earn get a bonus as well), and it came down to trying and max out my character then. The story really didn't matter to me at that point in time.

Before I go on I have to mention a flaw with the weapon enhancement system that can work to your favor lining your pockets with a ton of elexit. Oh, yeah you have Elex and Elexit in the game, where one is cash (elexit), the other (elex) is a material everyone wants. Yet Elexit is made from Elex... it's confusing for no reason. Now, back to the weapon enhancement. Remember that shotgun I told you about that I made? In ELEX II when you have one of these enchanted weapons you will gain the most Elexit you can get per weapon, but ask yourself if you want to get rich quick, is that the best thing? Nope. Let's say you have an enchanted weapon that will fetch you 3500 Elexit, yet you have to make that with three regular weapons and each one of those pays you 1900 Elexit.

While considerably less than the 3500, the quantity is where you get rich. 1900 x 3 equals out to 5700 Elexit which is 2200 in straight profit. This is why making the weapon you want to use for the rest of the game is critical because then you can literally just start making these normal weapons in quantity and then getting wealthy. I hear you; you're saying that two of the enchanted weapons would net you 7000 Elexit which is 1300 more, and you're right. However, to get that second enchanted weapon you would need three more regular weapons which would be an additional 5700. You can start to see here why building these enchanted weapons is only good for the one(s) you want to use, but to get rich quick? Sell normal weapons. One quick tip I also learned, set the NORMAL WEAPONS to default to trash, along with every "other" item that you pick up in your miscellaneous inventory along the way (cigarettes, toy cars, claws, bones, etc.). The reason for this is because as you go around Magalan, you become like a hoover of items. You will acquire so much 'stuff' in your time it's like a George Carlin skit. You ONLY select the normal weapons to be trash because you use the damaged weapon versions to make normal ones, so you just keep making trash that makes you rich.

If you find it hard to make Elexit in the game use that principle, and then when you stop in villages or see merchants you can click one button to sell all your junk and just watch the currency roll in. What did I buy with my Elexit? Two things. Armor and shotgun rounds. I found three merchants that I could stop by and pick up a total of 700 shotgun rounds every day to the tune of 4,500 Elexit a cycle. I stockpiled my ammo constantly and always kept over 2,000 shotgun rounds in my inventory, which made ELEX II a walk in the park. This did make the game quite easy, but there were still moments of enjoyment. The big issue here is that the hitboxes in the game's combat system aren't very well defined. I've walked right up to a forest troll's leg with my enhanced shotgun, put the barrel to its leg, pulled the trigger and hit absolutely nothing. Then the troll got mad, turned and tried to embed me into the crust of the planet. Other times I'll see a flying beast off in the distance and I'll pull my shotgun out, pull the trigger and drop its health by 20% from over a mile away... with a shotgun... This made the combat system very repetitive because when faced with multiple enemies, just walk backwards. shoot and strafe side to side if projectiles come and you'll literally kill anything in the game.

If you're finding that you need some help and want to power level quick? Get yourself some Elex, Moonshine and bottles of Wine, and start making potions to give you skill and ability points (You'll need the chemistry level 3 ability first and a recipe which you get at merchants). The story did bring some familiarity because a lot of the companions you have in ELEX II are part of the original ELEX, and if you didn't play it, no worries, there are moments of flashbacks where they give you the cliff's notes treatment and you learn a little about the companion and their backstory and relationship to Jax in a short cutscene. In case you're already wondering, yes there are some repetitive companion quests (go here and kill everything) but they give you opportunity to grab some XP and loot, so take them whenever you can.

The biggest innovation of ELEX II has to be the modifiable jetpack. Yes, now you can play Iron Man as Jax since he now has a jetpack that can allow him to fly through the air so long as your rechargeable fuel tanks let you. Want to hover in the air and shoot down on enemies with your shotgun? You can. Want to fly across a massive chasm to another side? You can. Want to die horribly because you forgot to conserve a bit of gas in your fuel tanks for the landing from 100+ feet up? You can. Yes, this jetpack will quickly become your favorite mode of transportation and it's customizable where you can upgrade things like the range, speed, gas tank and even retrorockets. These little gems will be your saving grace and fire if you forgot to keep some gas in the tank to prevent you from becoming a stain on the ground.

When I was going through the game I did find the various lands to be diverse in their atmosphere and design, but sadly again, not to the level you'll find with other third person action RPG games, and that's disappointing. The graphics do not feel like something you'd expect to find on an Xbox Series X console. The detail in the character models and environment was lackluster and there were numerous glitches in the game's map section that was really disorienting. I was also treated to many graphical glitches such as rocks that looked solid but weren't, seeing the inside skeleton of my companion, and others that made the game feel like I would have enjoyed this more had it been released seven years earlier. With games coming out that provide breathtaking visual artistry, games like ELEX II simply can't compete.

All of this could have been overlooked if it wasn't for the biggest pain of ELEX II, and that is your inability to pick up items with your weapon drawn. Oh yes, you have to put your weapon away EVERY SINGLE TIME you want to pick something up. When you start to play and you witness just how much 'stuff' there is to pick up this becomes such a nuisance that it's singlehandedly the biggest fault of the entire game. Not the mediocre story, not the last generation graphics, not the clunky and unrefined combat system, none of that. The biggest flaw by a mile is the reality that your weapon has to be put way just so you can pick up anything in the game.

Despite all of this though, I really enjoyed ELEX II. As I was going through playing and thought that given all the negatives that ELEX II has going against it, am I still enjoying playing? The answer was a resounding YES. ELEX II is like the direct to video category that only becomes popular with a niche crowd, but that crowd loves it. Now the big question though, would I spend $59.99 for it? Absolutely not. I would for sure though, pick this up for $29.99 without thinking. ELEX II offers a continuation of the foundations that ELEX was built upon while providing you dynamic story options to choose your path, new characters and factions that enrich a narrative that thankfully continues. Faults and flaws aside, THQ Nordic created a game that was fun to play and, in the end, that's the only thing that matters.

**ELEX II was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 7.5 / 10
Gameplay: 7.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 7.0 / 10


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