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Developer: Piranha Bytes
Publisher: THQ Nordic
Release Date: Out Now
Edited by KnightAvenger
The open world RPG genre has grown in diversity over the past few years, with games like Gothic taking a forefront in what could be done. While science fiction has a few gems in this genre, the most recent release from Piranha Bytes may have bitten off more than it can chew with its latest release: Elex. Elex is a science fiction, post-apocalyptic, open-world RPG developed by Piranha Bytes, later released by THQ Nordic. This open world RPG has a lot going for it, but ultimately the flaws it brings to the table hurt it from becoming a legend like some of its past works.
Falling into our base story, the world of Elex is not, per say, one-sided but does not offer much in terms of engaging tale until you meet the factions at work, which will decide your story. Our tale begins with a video explaining how, in this world, an event happened that destroyed and nearly ended human life as we know it, with three groups popping up after the fall to restore humanity in different ways, known as berserkers, clerics, and outlaws. These three groups fought for the old world resources but soon a fourth faction came in the alps. In the fallout of the events, a material known as elex appeared, where these people learned to harness it for strength. Now, the alps have become strong enough to wipe out the three factions, until one day a now former alps commander enters into the equation. The commander, named Jax, was sent out on a mission and after his glider went down, which counts as failing, a hooded figure with two armed soldiers show up, noting this, and Jax is sent off a cliff. Far away from home, Jax now must learn to survive without the help of elex and, in tow, become a hero in the world of Magalan. I will end my story synopsis here, as, while it is not spoiler ridden to go further, the story will often change, depending on what faction you choose to partner with and its story quest.
While the story provided in Elex is far from perfect, it does have a good base plotline which helps build around the player’s decisions in the game while harboring a few general issues. My first issue simply stems from the dialogue being vanilla in some places of the story. I don’t think vanilla dialogue options are ever a bad situation, as it is a core of the tale, but when they get overused, it does start to become an issue, as the story takes a fair amount of time to build into the ideal “hero” we expect. My second issue lies in Jax as a character, coming in more cold and serious at the start. Jax is too defensive, especially in scenes when a berserker offers to help him get back on his feet after someone steals all of his gear, which left a sour taste in my mouth from the beginning. My last issue simply comes in how the quest is given, with some quests being simple whodunit type of ideas and others being all over the place. The quest dialogue can get very confusing, as well as what they want you to do, with too much dialogue in some instances to explain something as simple as “go find who kill this guy,” with close to twenty plus variances of dialogue just to get to this point.
Coming in with gameplay as a whole, Elex tends to feel more fifty-fifty than anything else, where some of the elements were executed wonderfully but not perfect, and others feeling underwhelming to use. As per usual, I will be cutting down to what I believe separates Elex from other open world RPGs, including the combat handling, as I felt that in this game, it was a big point of the talk. Starting with the basics, Elex utilizes a village system. As you travel around the world of Magalan, you will find various hub points where you can accept a new quest, continue the story of the game and buy new equipment, as well as make critical plot choices. These zones are important, as they set up the world and help guide you as to where you should go next when your quest log gives you no information. These various hubs also contain vendors for traditional items, as well as armor and weapons, but you have to hunt them down in the village, as your map keeps to a world view the entire time, not marking important places in that village until you stumble upon them. Next is the dialogue system, which can be considered (in most cases) good but sometimes bad. The dialogue system is used to make critical decisions with people you talk to, both in the villages and in the world itself, as well as to take quests and utilize small talk, but I found it was pretty stiff in some places, such as if that person didn’t like what you said, they thought worse of your version of Jax, and it takes a good bit of time to fix it.
Before I move onto the combat section, I want to discuss the stat system in Elex, as I found it different from most RPG titles out there. In Elex, you have two different systems of leveling, attributes, and abilities, which tie together nicely. Every time you level, you gain 10 attribute points to distribute into five main stats: strength, constitution, dexterity, intelligence and cunning, each stat attributing to a different style of gameplay and the ability you choose. You also gain one skill point per level, but this alone is not enough to gain a skill, which is where the game can feel cruel to the player. Instead, the player has to reach a certain number of points in one or two of the stats I stated before, as well as Elexit, your currency in the game, and seek out a trainer for that type of skill. This felt like a shaft to me, as I now had to go through multiple steps to improve my character that did not feel warranted.
Moving onto the combat section, I first want to discuss the map, which works fine for its needs but has a few glaring issues with it, mainly the fact it does not have a separate map for the hub villages and how large it is. I can’t stress enough that not having that separated map felt like a missing tool for me as the player, taking me nearly thirty to forty minutes to find the blacksmith just to get better gear so I could progress in the field without dying so much. Add to the fact it does not show monster locations very well, so you have to watch around every corner just to be safe, and the map might be considered too large, as you have to walk/run everywhere and many times, I found the objectives to be halfway across the map.
Dancing into actual combat now, the gameplay is solid, with some wonkiness to it as a whole. There are three types of combat in the game, melee ranged and ranged (magic), each with its own strengths and weaknesses. Melee is the simplest, with your R1 trigger being for a light attack and R2 being for a heavy attack, which can be combo’ed into each other, depending on which sequence you start with. Ranged and ranged magic are similar but can change based on your weapon of choice. Normal ranged, like guns used by the clerics and alps, use an ammo system, which, once you run out, you have to get more to use that weapon again, whereas magic, a berserker style of gameplay, uses a mana system, as they have sworn off technology. The game also features a parry mechanic as well as a dodge mechanic, which requires the use of your energy meter but can save you more often than not.
Normally, I would move onto the presentation but I felt it necessary to call out some things I found gameplay-wise that really hinder the game quality-wise. First off is the melee combat speed, which is atrocious. The light attack feels more like a heavy attack, with the delay on it and the heavy more of a “let us hope they don’t move” simulator, as it was considerably slower than the light attack was. This made the light attack, while not good, the best option because it allowed you to dodge about in between and the damage for the energy expended worth more. Speaking of the energy system, where do I begin on the energy regeneration other than it is slower than a turtle. The energy system itself is fair to use, but the regeneration of it is so slow. You can only hope that you’re not going to get multi-targeted because the energy cost for some moves is way too high for the slowness of the regeneration, which led to a number of my deaths, just not having the energy to engage back or dodge. The last thing to talk about in hindrance was just the game’s loading times, especially when you first boot the game and continue your adventure. I don’t know whether this is because I didn’t use a PS4 Pro or just the game itself, but the loading times felt similar to Demon’s Souls, a PS3 title from the last generation that had hardware limitations up the wahzoo. A game on the PS4, normal or pro, should not feel like the same loading speed as a game from the previous generation console.
Bring down the rain, the presentation of Elex is beautiful in some areas, with some ugly in others, as the game has some solid presentation chops but, musically, can go either way. Visually, I like how Elex looked with the backgrounds and environments, especially when it was raining, as the world around you becomes mystified, the trees and grass blowing around you in unison with the now sudden increase in wind. The character designs are unique enough for most named characters that it gives them a personality, but when each non-unique character looks the same, as can happen in some areas, the faces can start to blur. I do want to give a shout out to Elex’s weather system, as it was one of those effects that stood out for me as the player, as it will be sunny one moment, with perfect visibility, then it will start raining, when it will make seeing some creatures nearly impossible as the area fogs up around you.
Nature does call but maybe to a mixed note when it comes to the soundtrack of Elex, as this was a mixed reception for me. Musically, I don’t want to fault the game for the soundtrack, as some of it is genuinely good, like the subtle forest sounds using classical instruments and the snowy hills, which are more serious sounding. However, the battle music can really complicate this, as it will form a sort of quiet and passive to the banging of drums mixed with some more classical tones to create the futuristic, post-apocalyptic feeling the game is going for in a split second, ruining the moment of build up. While I will not mention much regarding the sound effects, as I felt they were just there and some even feeling out of place for certain weapon types, they do help bring the player into the world and ground them there.
Overall, I found Elex to be a mixed bag in most situations, having a number of positive and great elements to it that were dragged down by others in return. The solid story base, in-game story choices with story altering effects, fairly sized overworld with plenty of locations to explore, choice of three different factions with different combat styles, solid graphics across the board, detailed weather system and a mixed soundtrack that can be good in the right places make for an open world RPG that does have its merits, just having to find them in some cases.
- A solid base story to go from
- Good in-game story choices that can really alter the game
- A fairly sized overworld that gives plenty of places to explore and discover
- Three different faction choices to choose from, each bring its own unique style of combat to the table
- Solid graphics across the game as a whole
- A welcome weather system and changes the environment based on it
- A soundtrack with some great pieces to it, just not all the time
- Some missed opportunities in the dialogue trees
- A just-plain backward system to learn new skills to improve Jax
- The map could be considered too large, as I found only the teleport pads the best way to get around
- Melee combat is too slow, both in the light and heavy attack
- Slow loading times, at least when first starting the game up for the first time
DarkLunarDude gives Elex a Drastik Measure of 7.0 out of 10.0 (70)
For the price of $59.99 (USD) from the PlayStation Network store, I can only recommend Elex to those who like the company’s other game series from this developer like Gothic, as it’s more of the same with a new coat of paint. Even then, it’s better to wait for a price drop, as I feel like, with as many issues as the game has, it is not worth the price of admission. New players may enjoy this game, if only for the sci-fi themed world, but also a price drop is warranted.