ELEX is a new action role-playing game brought to us by the developers of the legendary Gothic series, Piranha Bytes.
Set in a unique, post-apocalyptic world with varying landscapes; ELEX looks like a fantasy game beautifully clashed with all the gadgets of the future. It attempts to grasp everything that ARPG lovers adored from Gothic games and pull that into the present, straying away from the new, Bethesda-esque take on the genre. Players are thrown into the world at the mercy of a handful of factions and questionable morality choices, and the plentitude of details ELEX provides should have any ARPG fan hyped. So does Piranha Bytes still have it in them to masterfully craft an ARPG?
Yet another tale of a man with scars growling about everything
Similarly to ADAM from Bioshock, ELEX is a mineral used to strengthen one’s body. The catch? It strips your emotions and turns you into a cold hearted drone. The resource is scattered all over the once-thriving planet of Magalan, which has been reduced to a wasteland for hostile mutants and outlaws, all trying to get their hands on the stuff. You play as a defector who was left for dead and suffering from ELEX withdrawal. On top of that, your armor has been stolen (along with your weapons) — a seriously rough day.
Once the cutscenes are done and the game starts up, your only mission is to survive until told otherwise, and boy does that sum up this game. Don’t let your character’s rugged facial scars and booming, Vin Diesel-like voice fool you because the first four to six hours of this game have you scavenging at the bottom of the food chain. I cannot stress this enough: if you want to pick up a sword and start hacking away at goons, turn away now; this title is not for you. You’re going to be killing rats or juking mutants for the first few hours as your companion (which you will want to acquire as soon as possible) does all the heavy lifting for you.
Once you have your feet on the ground, it’s time to choose a faction. You can join the Clerics, the crazed worshippers of the god, “Calaan”; the Outlaws, a group of marauders just trying to not get diced by just about every single thing on Magalan; and finally (my personal pick), the Berserkers, who earn their name. While everyone else is using sci-fi guns and ELEX, they’re using bows and purifying ELEX to make mana for spell purposes. Why wouldn’t you want to join these guys?
...there isn’t much more that can be said given that the endings and pacing of the game depends entirely on your decisions.
The 2000’s called
The Gothic series was undeniably one of the best games of its time. When Piranha Bytes decided to create ELEX, it appears that a filter was not in question. Everything which defined ARPGs in the 2000s can be found here in both good and bad ways. The overwhelming but pleasant feeling of being dropped in the middle of an open world with no hand-holding mechanics was a breath of fresh air. The disappointment arrived with the watered-down quests, which leave a lot to be desired. Travel to a location, speak to a person, and hack at enemies is about as deep as most of the experience here gets.
My first impression was to brush it off and focus on getting the most out of the story until I heard the dialogue. The voice acting mixed with the robotic writing really made the game unbearable — that is, if you can even hear it. Every time a character spoke the music would completely overpower them which forced me to choose between turning off all music or going with subtitles. I rotated for a while but ultimately went with subtitles.
The animations look as though they were also pulled from the early 2000s, and the UI follows very closely behind. The graphics are pretty standard for 2017: there isn’t much to complain about there, given that the world is really well-crafted and strays away from the familiar layout present in current open world games.
The A in “ARPG” stands for “Action”!
The combat in ELEX consists of light attacks and heavy attacks building up a combo. On defence, you must roll and parry — pretty straightforward. The problem is it’s bland and broken. You can roll away, but you’re better off jetpacking up while you wait to regain stamina and letting your companion take over for a few seconds. If you’re not killing the enemy unfairly, it’s killing you unfairly. On multiple occasions, an enemy would be standing on a pebble in front of me which rendered it unhittable for me while it was still perfectly capable of attacking me. Unless you’re constantly mashing F5 and F9 to quick save and load, deaths result in up to a ten-to-twenty second process of staring at your body until you’re finally granted the ability to reload. In the early stages of the game where everything kills you in just about one smack, this was immensely frustrating. Occasionally, I would come across a one-time use spell with the ability to instakill any average enemy wandering about; it was a nice temporary change of pace.
Sadly, moving your scarfaced protagonist is just as difficult as the game itself. I attempted to play ELEX on a keyboard and mouse, and even a controller, just to see if it would help. It didn’t. Movement should’ve been a focus in a game with such an intense landscape to traverse. Moving around feels floaty and inputs feel almost delayed for some reason. When flying or going up and down mountains, I found myself clipping constantly, resulting in my character doing the animation and sound for landing every millisecond as he awkwardly stumbled down each mountain. When jumping off of tall spaces, the camera has a tendency of zooming out and moving above the player, which only makes boosting to avoid fall damage at the last second that much more annoying.
It’s the little things
If there’s one thing that this game deserves praise for above everything else, it’s the attention to detail. ELEX was not created by a giant studio, the only ‘break’ it got was being published by THQ Nordic. Piranha Bytes currently holds less than one hundred employees, which really makes one take a step back and look at the other features of this game in awe. ELEX features a cooking system, crafting system, plenty of loot caches, and just secrets in general. The biggest pro of designing a game void of a strict binding to a story is the freedom for developers to scatter a variety of goods for players to find in any given order. You may find a small crater with a couple of health potions after a few hours of playing the game, or find an extremely rare weapon hidden within the first few minutes. It all comes down to how willing you are to be on the hunt for secrets.
I remember the good old days when skills and abilities could only be allocated at proper trainers; just another classic approach where ELEX managed to tug at my nostalgia strings. The requirements and variety of skills is present and although the combat may be lacking, at least the skills hold enough variety to really help you forge a unique character.
The Verdict: Average
ELEX is an ode to fans of Gothic and Risen, and fans will most likely be satisfied. How detailed the title is makes it clear: Piranha Bytes isn’t trying to cash in on an aging franchise. That being said, the issues cannot be brushed aside. It’s been nearly two decades since the studio published its first game, Gothic I, and what plagued the earlier titles plagues ELEX as well. And that, is a problem.