Raise your hand if you have never played Gothic. Ok, no, stop a minute, put your hands down. I didn't expect there were so many. My fault, I took the matter lightly. Well, Piranha Bites - and its historical saga - has certainly lost a lot of audiences in these two decades. Amid financial scandals, reassemblies and acquisitions, it's clear the team has lost its edge. It is also a small team that seems to have no - almost me - intentions to curry favor with the public or follow in the footsteps of the “cookie-cutter” model that is typical of the industry. In short, some might say that Piranha Bites offers old games, which are left behind. Perhaps this is true, yet for me their titles always have a certain charm, also thanks to the crudeness of some aspects, such as the technical one, which however highlight how much the theme seeks the value of the content it wants to offer and never of the form. In 2017, the first Elex unfortunately passed on the sly, after all the name of Piranha Bites is not that a five years ago it was much better than today and moreover, that particular year of release was one of the richest ever, including Breath of the Wild, Nier Automata , Destiny 2, Hollow Knight and many other big pieces, including that Assassin's Creed Origins released a few days after the title of the gothic team and which has eclipsed, even if only on a media level, the new Piranha IP. Elex comes back with a new chapter, which while aiming to embark on new audiences, is first of all dedicated to that small but strong hard core of users that has been created around the brand.
I don't want to be making a summary or a bignami of Elex's facts, although I don't think the narrative incipit is so sophisticated as to have to leave the surprise to the player. I am of the opinion that it is of little use to retrace Jax's past or present deeds when analyzing Elex 2. This is because, especially in the early stages, the plot is quite bland, while presenting interesting ideas, and it soon becomes clear that the "selling point" of Elex 2 is anything but. Yet it is necessary to note how the team has decided not to erase the blackboard, without delivering a new story or a new cast to ensnare players not accustomed to the narrative universe built with the first chapter but rather, relaunches with an almost direct sequel, which presents a brief summary - absolutely not exhaustive - and uses a classic trick to "reset" some playful and narrative aspects related to its protagonist and the world that gravitates around it.
From the small and shabby camp in which we take control of Jax, some questions begin to open immediately and we begin to become familiar with the game world and the rules that move it. From the start, it is clear that the development team's research was to create an RPG "Old-school" in almost all aspects, dusting off a model of understanding the western open world RPG that has been lost in the last generation. This aspect is fundamental to grasp the essence of Elex 2, its peculiarities and its strengths, what makes it unique. There is a marked propensity for writing, with an impressive amount of dialogues in which the role of the player is significantly important and, above all, full of consequences. Jax is a pre-existing character but it is possible to model him extensively to our liking, this applies both in terms of character, in short, we can model a charismatic, cunning and cruel character or thoughtful but less witty, with all the nuances of the case and with ample possibility to change during the race, creating a sort of personal evolution of the character.
At a playful level, things do not change, quite the contrary. Jax can take advantage of a vast paraphernalia, thanks to the nature that mixes fantasy with sci-fi, you can go from the most classic sidearms (hammers, swords, clubs) and then take up shotguns or lasers, obviously passing through the arcane arts. In short, there is a great freedom of approach, supported by an intelligent perk system to be obtained through specialized teachers and the classic and inevitable mechanics of crafting. While maintaining a certain static - if not woodiness - in the fights, especially the melee ones, the great variety offered and the deep RPG foundations that structure our alter ego are able to pack an effective structure, raw and with a very classic flavor but still functional and fun, for those who know how to look beyond.
The flagship of the production is the system of Quest Chain. We start with a very vague and long-term classic first objective but already during the first hour of the game, we come across in an incredibly natural way more than a dozen missions and tasks that branch off from the main one. This does not happen linearly but with a homogeneous growth that branches out in an ever wider spectrum, following a quest we will always find at least another one waiting for us during the unfolding process. Furthermore, net of some more marginal missions, perhaps enslaved to describe the narrative background of the game world, most of the quests always seem closely linked to the main story. In addition, there is obviously the possibility of shaping the progress of the missions according to the characterization we have given to Jax. Multiple choices dictated by reputation, but also by the development of statistics, can significantly change the results of these. The only drawback is that navigation is not always easy at the interface level. The tasks are many and divided into a cascading menu that yes, divides everything into the right "sectors", but it is not always immediate, especially when the quests start to be several dozen.
Everything is supported by a large and overall well-structured world at the world building level - and without any loading time - albeit with some reservations. The jetpack with which Jax can move is an excellent means that allows the map around him to express itself with a level design markedly devoted to verticality, yet precisely this flight feature every now and then it breaks the design itself, creating inelegant shortcuts. However, there is a great variety of environments, most of them very classic but still solid in terms of construction.
However, there are painful notes on which it is not always easy to turn a blind eye. As already mentioned, on a technical level the title does not shine and is indeed very backward in detail: animations and stale polygonal models, with some good textures that mitigate the problem a little but which in any case fail to give the idea that, at least in this sense, the product is "old". Considering the amount of details and contents, I don't think it would be a big problem if it were supported by an excellent art design, which instead is for me one of the weakest points of the entire production.
Net of many sci-fi elements (especially the armor) that enjoy a stylistic cut that is not very fresh but still captivating, the rest of the "painting" painted by Piranha Bites is very fluctuating and little inspired. There are valid glimpses and excellent scenarios, but not very balanced with the breadth of the map. This also applies, unfortunately, to the enemies you meet during the adventure, there are obviously exceptions but overall Elex 2 at this juncture fails to leave its mark. Starting from the banal model of Jax, which is so classic and dull as to appear almost like a parody of the "badass" protagonist, who here wants to be a hero between fantasy and science fiction and instead would be good as a shoulder in a random Fast & Furious .
Elex 2 is a title that lovers of the genre will not find it difficult to appreciate. After all, Western role-playing games of this kind are increasingly rare, not to say non-existent, and certainly the latest effort by the German studio will appeal to all those people who have remained "orphans" of the genre. For anyone who wants to approach the genre instead, the speech is more difficult, there is a small hidden gem in this title but to find it you need patience and above all the good will to look beyond the obvious technical-artistic defects of a low-budget title. Elex continues a path that had apparently stopped with the fantastic Fallout New Vegas, in some ways, and it is good that we continue to create these kinds of experiences, of products. Unfortunately, Elex 2 is not a game that will be able to enjoy success - or even just resonance - in such a flourishing period of high-profile titles and it is very likely that it will not enjoy the right attention it deserves. It is true that we live in an era in which many products live on second lives and rediscoveries, and with a bit of luck Elex 2 could, over time, meet the public's favor. At the same time, it is very likely that all gamers loyal to the first chapter will look forward to this second iteration and in this way the work of Piranha Bites could already be a success in itself, considering that this game is strongly dedicated to them. Elex 2 is an imperfect game, often not very elegant, but full of places to discover and adventures to undertake, full of quests, dialogues and freedom left to the player. And all this should not be underestimated.