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Piranha Bytes, the German studio behind the Gothic and Risen series, is back with a new IP in ELEX, a sci-fi open-world action-RPG. You can grab it on GOG, Steam and the Humble Store. The reviews for the game are not exactly glowing, however even the more negative ones mention that underneath a bunch of clunky systems and a glaring lack of polish, ELEX can be a compelling, and often quite fun, game. Have a look:
For more serious is the underwhelming and manufactured premise, a narrative progression that seems to follow, more or less, the same path as many of Piranha Bytes' previous games, and a combat system that seems focused on quantity rather than quality. If you can see past these issues, perhaps even embrace them as many people will, it becomes easier to appreciate the game's open world web of unscripted interactions and interconnected quests. Indeed, those that persevere will at times experience a world so rich with choice and consequence that it can sometimes make The Witcher 3 seem like a Fighting Fantasy gamebook.
One can't help but wonder what game might one day arise were Piranha Bytes ever given the development resources of Bethesda, because with less than a quarter of the numbers that worked full-time on making Fallout 4, Piranha Bytes have cobbled together an RPG that in some areas comes close to matching it. Yes, Elex is far, far scrappier overall, the lore is clumsy and unconvincing, and there's enough grit in the combat, presentation and parts of the narrative to have you running for the nearest GOTY Edition chart-topping RPG. But, if you give Elex the benefit of the doubt, it's many freedoms will start to win you over - to the point that on completion you may subsequently find yourself thumbing through this developer's undervalued back catalogue before cracking the seal on the Next Big Thing.
ELEX is pretty much the gaming incarnation of a mixed bag. While exploring the massive world of Magalan is an enjoyable experience and the lore easily pulls players in with lots of interesting quests, the mediocre combat, poor companions AI and severe balance issues prevent it from securing a spot in the ever more crowded RPG limelight.
There was an awful discord, however, with regards to Elex's music and visuals. Its open-world remains a visual marvel with tons of detail poured into the architecture of the faction strongholds and sprawling locals of the map. This clashed heavily with the weak voice acting and poor character animations though, which remained out of sync with the dialogue. The score was also worthy of merit, although on occasion it would creep up and get too loud during conversations, and it was near impossible to hear what was being said. These issues, along with a plethora of technical bugs, really worked to detract from the immersion that we longed for the open-world to create.
At times Elex may have had us firmly hooked with its blend of fantasy and sci-fi RPG elements, but its overall lack of polish with regards to presentation and combat ultimately holds it back from being a memorable experience. We can't fault its varied with regards to its open world, player choice, and its selection of weaponry, but its scope doesn't feel fully realised as it struggles to maintain a solid grasp of its fundamental elements.
I gaze upon the vast tangle of interconnected systems bristling inside this game and I recognize that I am not the target audience. In spite of my boundless patience and unusual fascination with pointless minutiae, the measured pace of this game failed to grip me. I know that others will take great pleasure in the hours-long journey required to master this world and each of its factions. Certain kinds of players take immeasurable joy in solving a nested series of hidden puzzles before each and every step of real progress forward. The subtle branching and division in the conversation trees will tickle the fancies of many gamers. I can’t muster the same enthusiasm, however. I’ve been spoiled and fattened off the streamlined systems of western RPGs. I prefer clearly-laid paths or total freedom, with little love for what lies between the two. Elex demands a certain species of patience, a particular brand of mental acuity. I realized what sort of work was required to attain power and success within the confines of this game and I recoiled in horror. There was never any confusion as to what would allow me to succeed. It was always plain as day what I was doing wrong, and equally obvious what I had to do right. Yet I found no joy in the undertaking. Others may yet crack Elex open to feast on the succulent rewards inside. I will not be among them. If you’re looking for a sizable action RPG with a host of systems to master, Elex may be exactly what you need. Be warned, though: I went in with similar hopes and was left somehow wanting.
Entertainment Buddha 6.5/10:
The decisions you make affect your gameplay experience as well. NPC characters will remember decisions that you make and they will affect the outcome of different quests. Doing these side quests is what you will need to do to get enough experience and Elexit to gear yourself up for the main quests. Elex, in it’s core, has a solid RPG hiding out somewhere. Hiding behind all of it’s issues lies something with a lot of potential. I can respect what the team over at PB has done with this title. It seems as though it is going to ride the coattails of it’s more successful brothers in the genre though. I plan on dropping the difficulty down a tad and trying to trek through more of the game in my free time because I can appreciate the RPG that they are trying to convey here. I would definitely recommend trying this one out, or picking it up at a cheaper price. Needless to say, I am upset that Elex turned out the way it did, here’s to hoping PB will patch through some updates to fix somethings. This definitely caters to the more hardcore fans of this subset of role playing games.
It’s clear that there’s a core of an ambitious game in ELEX that wants to build a world to stand beside darlings like The Witcher and Skyrim, but technical issues and horrid writing hamper nearly every aspect of the game, well past the point of enjoyability. ELEX might have been truly special if only it saw the polish it desperately needed. Unfortunately, the grand world of Magalan and the diverse factions residing in it can be boiled down to one thing: Boring.
Windows Central 3/5:
Overall, Elex is a great game marred by technical issues on Xbox One. It needs more work on the console, but if you can look past the occasional problems, it's a rewarding role-playing game. Hopefully, the developers will issue an update soon which fixes the remaining grievances because the day one patch didn't do enough. It's a shame that despite having great content, it's hard to recommend because the problems are that noticeable. Piranha Bytes have a potentially great franchise here, but they need to make it work properly if they want a following.
There are clear delineations on the map of which faction owns a certain region, and I loved the open nature of their various camps and settlements. You can just waltz in and begin to be assaulted by an armada if you aren’t already on friendly terms. The creatures that inhabit the land are useful allies if you can get them to focus on your enemies while flinging arrows their way from a safe distance. While most enemies are quick and annoying, some of the larger variants like robots and trolls are a blast to do battle against. And for jet-pack fans like me, ELEX has just about the most over-powered one I’ve ever seen that resulted in some hilarious platforming.
There’s a lot of fun to be had in ELEX at higher levels, but the game opens far too slowly and spreads itself out too thin to make any sort of impact. It’s a game that begs to be smaller in scope, and richer in depth. And while its animations and visuals are mostly uninspiring, there are some real moments of beauty that are found in its caves and crevasses if you choose to explore the land of Edan.
All in all, if you’re a fan of open world exploration and complex combat, ELEX may be the game for you, though I would add the caveat that you may want to see how things improve over the coming months. There’s already a plan for a Day 1 patch (see below) that may take care of some of the game’s most glaring issues.
Part of me feels guilty for liking something that’s such a mess in many ways, but the bottom line is that ELEX is a game that grows on you. I just wish they’d spent another 6 to 9 months working on it. Still, given enough time and attention, it may become something truly special.