I feel like I’ve been exploring huge open worlds for an age now. Climbing over mountains, talking to NPCs, getting countless fetch quests. Then I’m off killing countless rats or minor beasts to get item drops, experience points, and combat lessons, all in order to prepare for the bigger foes that are on the horizon. There’s something a little bit addictive to the open worlds that these gaming experiences bring, even when the journey through them is a bit predictable and the story doesn’t immerse. The promise of a new adventure just keeps dragging me back in though. ELEX II failed to blow me away in the opening moments, but it has enough about it to ensure the inquisitive mind has enough to explore.
The original ELEX first came to fruition in 2017 and provided an RPG that was able to mix futuristic and mediaeval fantasy, picking up some nice reviews and a host of new fans. The sequel adds to the world, bringing back all the elements that made the first game popular. It’s a sprawling open-world RPG that plays out across a huge map and some lush environments – but even then it can – at times – feel a bit empty. Let’s delve into the story first.
ELEX II puts you in the shoes of Jax and at the start of the game he is having a nice sleep in his house in the middle of the world. That is until aliens invade, destroying his home. You help Jax kill a few, then it’s off to warn others and help the world against this invasion. From there, it’s a case of making your way to numerous settlements, going on quests and enjoying many mini-quests that further the story along. I’ve liked taking in the story that ELEX II has told, especially spending some time with the characters that inhabit it. The world is set up into warring factions who you can choose to align with and this world mythology is enjoyable and well designed. The overall tone of the writing is good at times, especially regarding Jax and his journey, but some of the side quests fall a bit short; they are fun, but ultimately fairly throwaway.
The gameplay reminds of Fallout or The Elder Scrolls, particularly in terms of the RPG structure and character building. You start with nothing apart from the shirt on your back and some basic weaponry. You do however get access to a jetpack which is a great highlight, helping get you out of trouble as you launch into the air. It’s upgradeable too, allowing for longer boosts as you make progress.
The whole map is open to you from the beginning of ELEX II and it’s easy to follow the quest lines which help to keep you focused on what you have to actually deliver. But you’ll want to be warned that wandering off is a big no-no; at one point I came up against enemies that I wasn’t making a dent on, whilst they could kill me with one blow. It’s here where ELEX II feels slightly similar to Dark Souls in that respect. Weapons are interesting though, mostly because you can have almost anything you could wish for; from a one-handed stick to a rocket launcher. You don’t have to worry about inventory management or weight limits either, because Jax seems to be able to work magic in that respect.
Levelling up happens in the usual manner and there are no real surprises here. You can advance attributes like Strength and Dexterity if you choose, utilising skill points in the skill tree depending on how you see your own personal Jax life playing out. It’s a really solid RPG in those terms; one that will give you loads of hours of gameplay to play with. It is a tricky game though, and even when you think you’ll be able to cope, getting overwhelmed in fights is standard.
ELEX II’s visuals are good, although not the best I’ve seen; pretty solid throughout. The world that is ripe for exploration is nice though, and there are some beautiful places to be, but I found the character and enemy designs to be nothing more than just okay in relation to other open-world games. That said, and considering the size of the team at work here, when you put ELEX II up in context with other big triple-A games they have done a remarkable job. The soundtrack is good and the voice acting does a great job throughout too, joining up the writing well.
I’ll be honest, I didn’t expect much from ELEX II, especially after the opening moments, but this is an RPG that is capable of offering up a pretty decent adventure in a huge world, pushed along by plenty of hours of gameplay. There’s a decent story to be had, some good voice acting and writing, yet whilst the combat and quests sometimes feel a bit generic, it has to be said that the jetpack and range of weapon styles are both great additions.
ELEX II might struggle to find a market when it is put alongside other open-world games, but ultimately there is a lot of good adventuring to be found in this neat RPG.
ELEX II can be downloaded from the Xbox Store