ELEX II is an open world sci-fi RPG by developers Piranha Bytes and published by THQ Nordic. First released in March 2022 on PC, Xbox and PlayStation, the game is now available to play on Mac. A direct sequel to 2017’s ELEX, main character Jax spent the whole first game warning the Free Peoples of the threat of an alien invasion on Magalan. His pleading went unheard, and now 6-years later the aliens have invaded, and Jax himself has been bitten and infected. Visiting a local doctor called Adam, Jax sets out to try uniting the factions to work together against this common enemy and cure himself while he’s at it.
If you’ve played any of the previous Piranha Bytes games like the Gothic or Risen series, you’ll be aware of the combat and movement being janky and it’s an acquired taste. I loved the pirate-themed Risen games and is one of the rare moments in my gaming career where I played each game through to completion without getting distracted by other games. While not as polished as some RPGs, these games are still very fun with active combat, dodging and use of skills. However, it’s always been the rich stories that keep me captivated. ELEX II is no different here with an engaging story, and there’s been a visible increase in graphics quality since the first game too.
There is a decent progression of quests in ELEX II that take you through the introduction of the game where you come across your wife Caja and son Dex, but then you are left to your own devices. To start the truce talks, we first must visit the locations of the other factions. The first three factions, Berserkers, Albs and Morkons, can be joined from the start of the game. The other two, Outlaws and Clerics, require you to be level 20 and have joined either the Morkons for Clerics or Albs for Outlaws. The Berserkers are magic users and have spells like fireball, mana shield and fire fist. The Albs forgo magic and utilise the power of the titular elex crystals for skills like chain lightning, ice fist and a self-heal, while the Morkons excel at melee combat and self-buffs like speed, health regen and less damage from attacks.
Aside from some names of NPCs on the map, I had no idea who belonged to which faction. I initially wanted to join the Morkons for melee combat skills, but after a heck of a lot of running between locations, and dying to too many skull-difficulty mobs, I eventually stumbled upon the Beserkers. I was met with resistance from the gate’s guard and wouldn’t let me pass until I gained favour from other faction members. That meant running around the area trying to find someone of authority. I came across a lady called Thorhild who was talking with one of her cultivators. As I do with other RPGs, I barged in and started talking to her. To my surprise, she was quite put off by me interrupting her conversation and acted all gruff to me.
Every NPC you interact with in ELEX II has a reaction to you and your actions in the game. Later I had to do a quest to recruit miners from the local area by placing pamphlets on a billboard. Thorhild didn’t like me trying to poach her workers, but if I did some errands for her in the next 24 hours, she would reconsider. I went back to the original quest npc Scrappy who knew of her and said, forget her, we’ll do it our way. He thanked me and walked off. In other RPGs, the quest npc will walk off screen and the next you’d see of them would be back at their original spawn point. In this case, after I had visited the shop to trade some wares, I saw a group of npcs gathered around this quest npc. He had recruited them and was giving them a briefing on their job ahead. Then off they walked together towards a mine, which I found fascinating and showed the effort Piranha puts into their worlds to make them feel lived in and alive.
I struggled several times with the difficulty of monsters. It’s not like a souls game, rather there’s no steady outward progression of harder content, nor level scaling which I wasn’t prepared for. Too many games these days have level scaling making it so you can fight monsters your level all the time, so it’s good for games like this to take us back to how RPGs used to be. All types of bandits and monsters are mixed in amongst each other, even in the starting areas, which makes complete sense. Aliens want to kill you; they’re not going to send their peons first, then their rooks, then knights, and so on. They’re going to send their best at you all the time.
As mentioned earlier, if you’ve played a Piranha Bytes game, you’ll know what to expect, but we really do start at the bottom of the food chain and work our way up. You have a lead pipe and a bow/arrows, but no armour. I found plenty of weapons as I explored, but they all required higher stats than I currently had, so had to make do picking off smaller fights. You can buy items from npcs, but currency is slow to come by initially until you start doing some quests. You start with the basic combat and healing skills, and then must seek out trainers to learn different skills like mining/blacksmithing, better melee and ranged combat, survival skills and so on.
As you level up in ELEX II, you will gain ten attribute points (AP) and a learning point (LP) per level. AP is used to boost your five main statistics, while LP is used to learn new skills. You won’t be able to be a Jax-of-all-trades, so you’ll need to think about how you want to specialise your character from early on. Given there are three joinable factions and once you join a faction, you can’t join another, you could easily do three playthroughs and choose different specialisations giving great replayability. Remember that if you want to eventually join the Clerics, you need to have joined the Morkons, and if you want to join the Outlaws, you’ll need to have joined the Albs.
You can choose not to ally with any faction and go renegade. However, I believe you would be doing yourself a disservice because you will be missing out on so much amazing story telling in the quests and just general interactions with the faction npcs. I can’t speak for Albs and Morkons quests but some of the Berserkers questlines had me laughing often. It’s entirely up to you though to choose your own adventure and I loved this freedom we are given to play how we want to play. There are companions you can find and recruit which were a great help once you start to meet a few. They generally had better combat ability than me, so I let them take the aggro and I moved around for backstab attacks.
When characters are viewed close and in conversation animations, the armour detail is incredible. Most characters have alright facial and body animations, though I found the female hands to be a bigger proportion to their body. Also, some weapons when holstered looked like they were scaled slightly bigger than they perhaps should be. The lead pipe, which is a one-handed weapon, looks like a huge long heavy pipe when holstered. Swords look ok, but some maces and hammers with heavy shafts looked like they extended out too far from the character. The superb voice acting and very good writing made up for these slight shortcoming, but they were noticeable.
ELEX II is a huge game, and it took me a good few hours to get my head around the combat, figure out what monsters I could handle and then slowly gain experience and levels to be able to use better weapons/armour. After I learned some decent skills and gained stats enough to use a few different weapon types, I know my limitations and how far I can push Jax and the companions I’ve used so far. This is easily a 60+ hour game, though it would likely be many more for me as I have really enjoyed listening to every conversation.
Overall, ELEX II is a rich RPG experience that not only carries the story on from the first game but shows how far Piranha Bytes improves their game development with each release. There is still a particular jankiness to the combat and movement, but it’s par for the course of Piranha’s previous games which I like. The graphical improvements are vast, though there were some issues with lighting effects and holstered weapons looked too big for their characters when in conversations. There is so much to see and do in this world and there’s easily multiple playthroughs to experience the various factions’ content.
This review utilised a key provided by THQ Nordic and ELEX II is available on Steam (currently on sale for $27.98), Xbox (currently on sale for $49.97) and PlayStation ($99.95) and is now also available to play on Mac.