I may be one of the outliers that really enjoyed the original ELEX, so naturally, I was excited to get my hands on a preview copy of the game to cover. Over 20 hours later, I'm hooked on ELEX II and I haven't even chosen which faction I want to join. The amount of content to explore is immense, and it's great seeing characters from the last return and play a part again. There are unique and surprising stories, even with the least impactful of characters, and every new place I visit I hope to see something new to explore or find. Overall, my experience is positive, but let's dive into the details.
One of the interesting decisions that Piranha Bites made with ELEX II was to take the numerous story decisions from the original game, and based on the decisions of the majority of players - set the story as static choices. There are no save game transfers, so the story is set in a way that most players chose in the first game, meaning if you made different decisions for characters or endings - they'll be different in the second game. While most of the decisions lined up with what I did in the first game, I did appreciate that every new introduction or reference to the past had a small cutscene to refresh your memory or show what happened, so all of the context is still there.
From a story perspective, ELEX II is similar but different from the first game. You, as Jax, are once again out to save the world from a threat that seeks to wipe out Magalan. You'll build a new base, assess the strength of more than 3 factions to choose an ally, build a team of companions, and set out to wipe this new threat off the map. The first chapter is MASSIVE - if you decide you want to scope out every faction without joining, there are numerous missions you can complete, with almost every mission having choices that impact either the world around you or the next leg of the mission. If you're like me, you'll find yourself saving often just to see what happens if you choose something different.
While combat isn't anything significantly from what you get from most Action RPGs - the equipment you carry and the skills you choose matter immensely. Sure, you can walk around in basic Berserker armor, but the moment you come up against a Wetlurker - you're going to get smacked down in one hit. While you'll be able to access many weapons and armor early on - you won't be able to equip them without enhancing your attributes and skills. It's ELEX II's way of encouraging you to continually beef up your character.
This brings us to the Attribute and Skill systems within ELEX II, which are honestly much improved over the first game, and tie directly into the gear you can carry. Much like typical RPGs, players will get 10 attribute points (more per level if you boost a certain skill) and a skill point. Attributes are self-explanatory, and what you choose determines what gear you can wield, as well as some dialog choices - but skill points are essential to the growth of your character, and require you to seek out trainers to hone not only skills like crafting but also your health and regeneration.
I think one thing I love the most about ELEX as a franchise, is the ability to explore however you want. You've got a freaking jetpack, so "Skyrim'ing" is a thing of the past - just yeet yourself right over that cliff or ledge. That said, you have to be careful about where you're running and what's around you because many enemies (especially early on) are completely unforgiving even if you've mastered blocks and dodges. If you like exploring the world around you, there are tons of houses, settlements, and abandoned complexes to explore and glean small tidbits about how the world was before, or just find neat things like map pieces or unique weapons (like the one above, found by just seeing if I could get to the top of something.)
Now, this was a preview copy of ELEX II almost 4 months before the game releases - but visuals and audio are fantastic. Apart from character models, which look like they need a bit more time in the kiln, the world and cities are largely finished and there are some pretty neat views you can find (I'd kill for a photo mode) around the map. Every named character has full voice acting, and the love that was put into character backstories and missions is pretty clear - every faction has a particular vibe that resonates with each character you encounter. Plus, whoever voiced Justin in The Fort, just absolutely nailed it - that kid rules.
The devs are actively working on optimizing and polishing from now until release, so I look forward to seeing the finished versions of models and areas, but what's here now is really very solid. I wouldn't expect AAA-level modeling and mocap, but for a really large ARPG, there's a lot to love here.
I don't have much negative to say about the game in its preview state - while there have been a few bugs and crashes for me, in a preview state 4 months out I'm willing to forgive the handful I encountered. Character models, as discussed before, are currently a step down from the last game - but devs are actively working on polishing much of the complaints I currently have right now.
I am genuinely excited to see the final version of ELEX II in March, with finalized character models and hopefully a few less bugs. Since I got access, I haven't been able to put the game down, and while the story doesn't completely steal the show for me - the side missions littered throughout the map and cities are unique and amusing. Couple that with the difficult combat that makes you rejoice taking down a big enemy, and the leveling system really rewarding you for spec'ing out a solid character - and I think this may be an RPG I'm going to drop a lot of time in. If you like RPGs that offer player choice, challenging combat, and a lot to explore - ELEX II is a must-Wishlist.
TechRaptor previewed Elex II on PC with a copy provided by the publisher. Previewer stopped at the end of Chapter 1. The game is set to release on March 1st, 2022.