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our character in all of this is a former Alb, turned into an emotionless killing machine by a diet of pure Elex, up until your glider crashes and maroons you miles away from home. Without a ready supply of Elex, your conditioning breaks, and you're free to do as you want for the first time in your life, joining or fighting the various factions as you see fit.
Elex was only available at E3 as prerecorded footage, showing an assortment of its mechanics and backgrounds. The path you take is set up to dramatically alter your character and your tactics, since every faction gives you access to different teachers, allies, weapons, and abilities. Side with the Berserkers, and you get mana-infused, elementally aligned swords and bows; go back to the Albs, and you get high-tech guns. This also affects who you get to recruit as an AI bodyguard.
On the subject of player freedom, this design philosophy also extends to the game's exploration and combat mechanics; namely, you have a jetpack. This grants the player a great deal of mobility, allowing them to hover from high ledges, gain a vantage point during battle, and explore the world at their leisure. There will be a variety of different zones to visit aside from the forested area we've seen previously: during the showcase, we saw a Mad Max-style desert region where players had to disable mines and other traps, a volcanic region, and an icy mountain off in the distance. All of this will be presented seamlessly, with no loading screens between areas. This may be Piranha Bytes' most ambitious title to date, with over 300,000 lines of fully voiced dialogue alongside audio logs and other documents intended to give the world of ELEX a greater sense of place.
After the video showcase concluded, the developers took some time to play the game in front of us and give a general idea of ELEX's game feel (we didn't get a chance to play this particular build for ourselves). Combat, from the look of it, is like a poor man's Dark Souls crossed with the Witcher 3, with light and heavy attacks being governed by a stamina meter. Piranha Bytes stresses that, in keeping with the game's emphasis on freedom, there will be several adjustable difficulty settings in order to keep new players from getting overwhelmed by combat, or to give veterans a meaty challenge. Enemies won't scale to the player's level, meaning that it's quite possible to pick a fight with the wrong giant robot or wild velociraptor, although the player can compensate for this by enhancing their weapons with ELEX. The magic alien goo can be used to power up spells, or enhance high-tech equipment. The player has access to an expansive arsenal: during our demo, we saw a bow and arrow, a chainsword ripped straight out of Warhammer 40,000, and laser rifles.
Using ELEX also gives the player character access to new more powerful attacks, though at the cost of “corrupting” your character. One thing that worries me about this game is that there doesn’t seem like much of an incentive other than a “good ending” to play the game without the ELEX powers, as not using them would just limit one’s gameplay experience otherwise.
ELEX’s combat also looks interesting. It is yet another Dark Souls-inspired affair, with players having to methodically dodge enemy attacks and strike at the right time to be successful. The game did seem pretty tough, as enemies don’t scale with the player, meaning if you wander into a certain area too early, you’re toast.
One of the first things I noticed about the demo was that the game looked beautiful. It reminded me a lot of those single player RPGs like in the Gothic series. This might have been because ELEX is being developed by Piranha Bytes, the same developer! These guys have been making single player RPGs for a long time and know how to do it.
The planet Magalan has been ravaged by an extinction level meteor strike and four factions have risen out of the chaos. Each of these factions has a very specific aesthetic and preferred weapon set. For instance, there is the Outlaw faction which looks like they came straight from a Mad Max film and uses tinkered weapons. In contrast there is the Berserkers, a group of people who use magic to fight. Whether it is your jump jet pack or the Berserkers’ magic, it is all powered by a substance called ELEX, which came bubbling up after the impact event. There will be magic, ranged, and melee combat and it all seemed rather smooth in what I saw of the game.
As far as how the game plays, it’ll draw comparisons to The Witcher, but the menus seemed a lot less complicated. The actual exploration and action part of the gameplay all looked and seemed to feel solid. The weapons system is a complex one as you can enchant them, but at least the developers stated that they don’t break as it’s more action-based than survival-based. You can even hover around in a jetpack, making traveling in the open worlds a whole lot easier.
Experience points in the game are gathered through combat and by going through sequences essential to the plot.
The open approach that Elex is embracing is further showcased in the ability to choose a hard approach, or the more typical approach to missions. If you opt for the harder path, you will get better loot, so again choice is key in this game. All quests are non-linear, so events can and will change based on how you act within the game world. You also have the freedom to tweak your character through traditional RPG ability trees, as well as learning points that can be used to learn new skills like hunting.
The game world itself is quite beautiful to behold and massive. There are no invisible walls, so everything you can see on screen and in the distance can be traveled to and traversed. Best of all, you get a jetpack, which allows you to get around the map regardless of the terrain facing you. This also adds to the game’s contrasting imagery such as the Berserker class, which look like old school vikings with jetpacks, which is more awesome looking than it sounds.
Since this is a large RPG, there are tons of items to obtain and there is even a crafting mechanic. Unfortunately, our demo didn’t go too far into detail on the crafting, but we did manage to see several resources to gather for it. There are several types of weapons, from ranged guns and bows to melee type axes and swords. Combat seems to feel like a hybrid of games like Dark Souls and Lost Planet, with different play styles for weapons. Ranged weapons don’t use up stamina but will instead use ammunition, while melee weapons use stamina for attacks. Dodge rolls will also use stamina, so players will have to be aware of their stamina usage when in tough battles.
Combat seems to be fairly complex, but the team at Piranha Bytes wanted to give players full control of their character. Without playing, it’s hard to get an idea of how the combat feels, but it seems to give enough options for players to find something they like. Companions can be brought into battles, much like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim or The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Having them in the midst of battle will likely give players an edge, but players shouldn’t rely too much on their allies given that they can still die.
The enemy variety is another welcome feature, as the enemies don’t come off as reskinned baddies. The trolls look like trolls of lore, and there is a hefty assortment of all of your archetypes from sci-fi and fantasy worlds. Taking them on in combat, lets the game’s focus on rewarding smart play instead of button mashing come through.
Ultimately the game’s freedom is where it shines. You can go anywhere and do anything and aren’t gated to the main quest. This is going to be a huge selling point for this game. According to Piranha Bytes, you may opt to undertake the main questline right away or spend dozens of hours just exploring all of the side activities and landscape the game has to over. Coupled with the flexibility of the questlines where you can kill NPCs without necessarily breaking the progression, results in an ambitious project that should entice players with control issues.
The aforementioned NPCs have a fairly complicated system of interaction. Almost every single one of them can die, so the quests and dialogue will adjust automatically, a point that the developers were particularly proud of. There’s an incredible amount of dialogue and the voice acting sounded very good, though the lip-sync definitely could be more refined.
The environments look very good, whether it’s an icy tundra or a vast wasteland. Unfortunately, the combat animations aren’t anywhere near as polished. They look very rough, with a limited moveset for melee weapons and some of the more common enemies. Hopefully this is something that will be tweaked or fixed in the future.