ELEX II Review The Gift and Curse of Gothic.More than twenty years have passed since the release of the original Gothic – a real eternity by the standards of video games. During this period, entire genres were born and died, but Gothic is still remembered and loved. After so many years, they still return to it, they still quote it and make it an example.
The creators of the series from the Piranha Bytes studio have been trying to release new games for a long time, but no matter what they undertake, the result is still Gothic. Over the past few years, players have received a string of good, but very similar projects: Gothic with Inquisitors , Gothic with pirates, and ELEX – Gothic with jetpacks. Now the list of games has been supplemented by ELEX II . Still the same “Gothic with jetpacks”, but this time the jetpacks can fly horizontally.
Not even a citizen
The sequel takes place a couple of years after the end of the plot of the previous part. Before Jax, the hero of the first ELEX , had time to stop the war with the Albs, a new threat literally loomed over his head – a giant wormhole right in the sky. Feeling something was wrong, the protagonist tried to draw public attention to the anomaly, but for some reason no one took his words seriously. The leaders of the powerful factions decided to simply ignore both the obvious threat and the hero’s sound fears, shrugging off his outstanding achievements.
Frustrated, Jax moves away from everyone and becomes a hermit, but the forced rest does not last long. Soon, hordes of bloodthirsty monsters land on Magellan through a mysterious portal in the sky, the mere presence of which poisons the planet. To stop the alien invasion, yesterday’s savior of the world will have to reconcile the warring factions, gather his own army, study new opponents and become a legendary hero again.
The task is not easy, but it must be done by painfully familiar methods. The player will again have to look for allies, prove his loyalty, argue with the gatekeepers, go through a career growth from a beet gatherer to a guru of a swamp camp … To be fair, this time there are five faction camps, and joining one of them is not at all necessary. However, independence in ELEX II does not pay off too much: a lone player will miss both good equipment and many interesting tasks.
Not a single conversation about Piranha Bytes games is complete without complaints about the constant self-repetitions of the authors – this text will not be an exception. ELEX II is played in exactly the same way as the previous part. A lively rich world, a balance between long dialogues and the dangers of the wild, a characteristic feeling of complete freedom of action – if you miss the studio’s signature game design, then you will feel at home here. There are almost no major changes in the sequel, but there are enough minor fixes, and all the strengths of the original remain intact.
ELEX II’s most notable innovations are in flight and the combat system. The frankly boring jetpack from the original now (after a series of upgrades) feels exactly like jetpacks should in video games – you can fly horizontally and use any weapon in the air. Needless to say, it noticeably benefits the game? From now on, flying does not look like just an imposed gimmick: acrobatics finally brings at least some pleasure. And the special air battles that appear in the second half of the passage bring the gameplay to a new plane in time.
Battles on the ground have also been updated. The authors tried to slightly bring the unbearable action of the original in order, and partly even succeeded. Jax responds better to control commands, the rate of stamina consumption is much more adequate than before. Enemies are now able to lose balance, and their attacks are finally read normally. However, the combat system is still difficult to call at least acceptable: the key problems of the first part could not be fixed. Broken hitboxes, catastrophically bad artificial intelligence of opponents, weightlessness of animations and no firearms – all this is still in place. And if the battles in the air turned out to be at least dynamic, then you just have to endure fights on your own two feet, gritting your teeth.
My partner shoots at the wall for a reason – right behind it, a bandit is wildly waving an ax, who does not realize to use the doorway
Action not only feels bad – it also looks so-so. Animations of ELEX II give out the venerable age of the engine and in some places refer back to Gothic 3 . Somewhere the movements are too jerky, somewhere too long and almost always completely wooden. The graphics in general are seriously lagging behind modern standards, but the situation is again saved by the excellent visual design of the environment. Traditionally for Piranha Bytes, the game world is created by hand – this has a positive effect on the impressions. Huge cliffs and green meadows, deserts and waterfalls, ivy-covered abandoned factories and wire-wrapped fortresses: picturesque views well distract attention from the weak technical component.
But only until something on the screen starts to move. It is doubly painful to look at the faces of the characters during the dialogues, since every conversation proceeds the same way: lifeless models stand in pillars and look at the interlocutor somewhere in the mouth area. The camera lazily alternates between two angles, and at least some gestures are found only in cutscenes. And this is a shame, because if you close your eyes and focus on the texts, the lines are written just fine. Heroes have bright characters: they willingly share stories from life and various news, ask questions, joke. Companions of the protagonist are felt by living people, and the protagonist himself is not far behind. After the first game, Jax definitely became more sarcastic – this trait definitely suits him.
Very old camp
In all other aspects, ELEX II remains true to the gameplay foundations laid down already in the first Gothic. They worked twenty years ago and work great today. Despite all the complaints, numerous technical problems and the obvious lack of budget, the game design of ELEX II proves that the talent of Piranha Bytes has not aged one bit. As always, the author’s handwriting of the German studio is best seen in the development of the game world. The exploration of the expanses of Magellan is addictive, even if the developers use the same tricks for the eighth time. Really valuable treasures, real dangers, little stories, secrets and tasks – as soon as you get off the beaten path, you are sure to stumble upon something interesting.
The map has partially remained the same, but it is no less interesting to explore the world from this. On the contrary: the past time and the events of the original game have made adjustments to familiar locations, changing some of them beyond recognition
The first half of ELEX II’s timing is all about trying to get decent gear and not die in the process. Any oncoming monster will be a problem for a long time, every second ragamuffin will want to rob. The path up the food chain will be difficult, but an attentive player will not be left without a reward. And where brute force does not work, cunning will help. Stealth and theft, interactive objects, ambushes, pitting enemies against each other – all means are good on Magellan, including those not provided by the developers themselves.
The same can be said for assignments. Most of the quests offer non-linearity, interesting context, and long-term consequences. And as a nice bonus, some tasks can be completed in non-obvious or creative ways: for example, in the old fashioned way, lure strong monsters closer to opponents. At the same time, there were also more fairly passing orders. Delivery of all sorts of parcels and cleaning up territories have to be done more often than before, including during important events for the plot.
But the story is more or less unremarkable. The beginning of the game consists almost entirely of small independent stories, but the second half places much more emphasis on the global plot. There are not enough stars from the sky, but the narrative copes with its task: the lore is revealed, the characters develop – even the story of the Jax family received screen time. There are enough stupidities in the script, but it’s still interesting to follow what is happening. You quickly become attached to the original universe, and charismatic characters become indifferent. In many ways, this is the merit of the setting: the combination of fantasy, space technology and the post-apocalyptic Mad Max creates such an unusual world that you can easily forgive some weak points and plot holes in the story.
Although fans of the work of Piranha Bytes are not the first to forgive various rough edges for the sake of a brilliant role-playing component, living worlds, a sense of adventure and real danger. If you are one of those who at one time appreciated the first part and did not regret the time spent, then you will definitely like the sequel.
On the other hand, I really want the next Piranha Bytes game to be truly loved without any “buts”. So that the old problems are finally in the past, so that the studio breaks into the big leagues again. The team has earned recognition, and this goal is within its power. Moreover, the ideal is not so far away: all you need to do is tighten up the technical points and discard the desire to repeat your own ideas. After all, no matter how much the players love Gothic, even the most devoted fans will not be able to endlessly forgive the same mistakes.
- all the best finds of the original remained in place;
- lively and rich open world;
- setting, dialogues and quests;
- competent work on errors;
- it’s gothic again.
- outdated graphics and bad animations;
- many bugs;
- the combat system is still far from perfect;
- it’s gothic again.