Before reading this text, be warned – we will be discussing the story details of Elex 2. I needed them to present the inspiration of the German developer with the trilogy about Commander Shepard. The similarities seem too great to be considered a coincidence – although it's always a possibility. First of all, they're abundant in the main story, its themes, and even specific scenes that look like a variation on Mass Effect – just swap the dialogues. So, be warned that if you haven't made it through Elex 2 yet, you are exposing yourself to some massive spoilers.
Ambiguous characters – Doctor Adam (almost) the Illusive Man
Adam says "Jump," Jax asks "How high?" Adam eventually becomes the enemy – just like the Illusive Man.
Doctor Adam Charles Dawkins is a man who snatches Jax out of the grim reaper's grasp, and directs him to fight the Skyands – an alien threat to the lands. The hero did warn people that the real enemy was coming, but no one listened. Sound familiar? Of course, we can say that the nameless heroes from Piranha's previous games also found themselves in a similar situation, but since it's SF, I see a greater resemblance to the adventures of Commander Shepard. And this is just the beginning.
A guy with unclear intentions and a bad reputation tells us to gather a team for a suicide mission. We lead the team through the successive stages of some of the last tasks in the game – the characters become separated and perform their own functions in different parts of the fight with the enemy. In the end, the principal turns out to be a scum, who prefers to work with the mysterious aliens to achieve the next step in the evolution of the human race. And so the protagonist leaves him, preparing for the final showdown in part three.
The Illusion Man has charisma, the voice of Martin Sheen, and gracefully walks the dark side of the galaxy. Illusive Man vs. Adam: three-nil.
Doesn't it sound exactly like the plot of Mass Effect 2? The same thing happens in Elex 2, except that the scale of events is much more modest. In the game by Piranha Bytes, communication between individual communities is low, and there's no powerful organization standing behind Adam. He's just a man telling Jax what to do – he's also romancing the boundaries of necessary evil and morally questionable decisions, but in a rather simplistic style. He's not a charismatic erudite able to persuade us that he's right. Adam's interaction with others is almost non-existent, despite the fact that this character plays an important role.
Adam is also nothing like the enigmatic Xardas, the mage pariah who had the fullest knowledge of the events that transpired in the original trilogy from the German studio. However, his significance in terms of the story is almost exactly like the Illusive Man's. Piranha Bytes wanted to create a similarly ambiguous hero (simultaneously an ally and adversary), but the effect was pretty much average. We ought to feel like we're working with the devil, not a translucent, unconvincing, regular bastard, who's long past his prime (he used to be a Hybrid).
Main villains? Reapers in disguise
The mysterious aliens are trying to take control of humanity – to transform it into their counterparts. The main character finds out first-hand about it when he has to fight a process resembling indoctrination, which seizes the host's mind. The Skyands from Elex 2 sound a whole lot like the Reapers.
As Jax, we have to face the first transformed monster, and though this is a difficult battle, more enemies of this type are bound to swarm the land. In other words, we test the ground before the full-scale invasion. Do you remember when in the original Mass Effect we had to defeat the ultimate villain, the Reaper called Sovereign, and then it turned out that it was just the beginning of the whole fight? In addition, in Mass Effect 3, we learn about the existence of a Catalyst, able to exercise control over the Reapers. Skyands, in turn, herald the coming of the Singularity.
Nobody knows what this singularity will be. Ancient artificial intelligence? Well, that would be borderline plagiarism. Still, we're dealing with a structure of opponents that's similar to the one in Mass Effect, and then the actions we need to undertake are a lot like those in Shepard's trilogy. Going into detail reveals the differences that, above all, show the superiority of BioWare, who provided an exciting story of steadfast, dedication protagonist. You could literally feel that the mission is bound to fail, and we are stepping in the darkness for the large part. Meanwhile, in Elex 2 we get some crude sci-fi that doesn't arouse greater emotions.
You know, the stories of Garrus, the Overlord DLC, or the Protean lore are things that I still remember today. Meanwhile, in Elex 2, when the hero's son dies, Jax tarts screaming for a moment (which does not look serious), and I shrug my shoulders. Piranha Bytes uses characters as carriers of story, but forgets that they need a life of their own. The players won't care about NPCs with whom they have not had enough time to establish a reliable relationship.
Elex 2 be forgotten, Mass Effect be replayed
You can also find some similarities here. Doesn't the hostile lair look like a Collector's base? The conversation with the avatar of Jax's son is strikingly similar to talking to Catalyst – only thing missing are three different-colored endings. I was a bit amused to see Piranha Bytes try to emulate dark sci-fi, but using a story that seems like it's straight from pulp magazines.
Even in terms of mechanics, the German studio wants to swing with the zeitgeist. Risen 2 allowed us to explore the world with a selected companion by our side, and the first Elex introduced a romance system, which used to be BioWare's signature. I have read in the announcements that the love threads would be deep – but unfortunately, the relationships with the characters have the cloying taste of naivety, and their adventures are void of any dramatic expression. This is, by the way, is the crux of the problem for Piranha Bytes, and they cannot seem to be able to deal with it. It doesn't tell the story on a grand scale, it doesn't let you really feel like you're facing an evil that's capable of destroying all of humanity, and it does not engage you emotionally. Where the writers try to introduce drama, they only expose the game's weaknesses.
Now, Elex 2 was an enjoyable experience, I had fun and all, but it's just that I won't really remember the game for long. However, it made me want to return to the adventures of Commander Shepard once again. From the very first fight with the Skyands, I started hankerin' the familiar thrill of Mass Effect. Recently, I went through the whole trilogy at the outbreak of the pandemic and started reading comments on the web about how the game allowed some people to survive the difficult moments of isolation. There are some great characters behind it, and that's one thing Piranha Bytes has yet to learn.
Krzyslewy | Gamepressure.com