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Hey guys! I thought I would explore some other games. After all, I own…*rifles through papers* over 900 games on Steam. That’s a lot to talk about. Today, I’m going to chat about a rather wonky game called ELEX. I have a strange relationship with this game. At times I get engrossed in its world for hours. Some times I just laugh at how obtuse some of the game mechanics are. And sometimes I get very frustrated with it.
I haven’t played a game quite like ELEX in a long time. By that I mean by my title: at times I’ve loved it, and at times I’ve hated it. Sometimes I’ve hated it a lot more than I’ve loved it, but that’s okay.
It is a weird game. ELEX is a fascinating, at times broken and at times horrible RPG, but one that deserves a look I reckon.
Three years ago, I made my Top 5 games of 2017 list on my blog. In it, I said that this game nearly became Number 2 on my list, for so many reasons. This is when the “love” part of ELEX gets to me. Many times I sat back while playing and thought: “Huh. This is actually pretty impressive.”
The Good Things
I rather enjoyed playing this, and it has some really impressive qualities that shine through. I especially like the open world, with access to a jetpack that allows quite a range of exploration, and it continues to impress you even after 30-40 hours of exploration. Once you find everything, in one of these open world games, they are not as much fun. Very few games pull off this level of immersion for me.
Made by Piranha Bytes, they are becoming an increasingly rare sort of developer. Despite a small team size, and regardless of what else is happening in the world of video game trends, these guys put out unique, challenging, ambitious and unpolished RPGs that many bigger developers don’t do. Many hate on them for not evolving, and I understand that. ELEX is very obtuse in many ways to the point it’s frustrating, so I get why people got turned off ELEX in the beginning. So did I, at first.
Now, the world visuals aren’t stellar, but they do the job. I don’t expect miracles for a small developer on a small budget. These are forgivable. This world environment is diverse with a lot of different biomes, and while things are rough around the edges, I really liked exploring the world. The textures at times are a tad rough, but there is some good variation and the world-building is the best part of the game. Everything is hand crafted, the cities are large and well varied and the world map is pretty big, but still manages to do a good job at finding cool things to explore.
Exploration itself is the meat of the game for me. You get a jetpack from the beginning and it really adds to this regard. You can bullshit through a lot of the world with it, which is a good thing. If the jetpack did not exist, this game would be a whole lot more unforgiving, more so than it already is. This is down to its pretty atrocious combat system, but I’ll get into that later. The quests themselves aren’t particularly special, but the factions are pretty nice. There are four overall and many little settlements, usually each with their own quests. There’s good variation and completely different play-styles. The world gives off a good view of it being alive with different NPCs going around doing their thing, animals that attack each other. It plays a bit like a survival stealth game at times, because you’re so weak for most of the game you really need to watch where you’re going. This world hates you, and you will die a lot. That isn’t a bad thing, but I’ll get into that properly in a bit.
Want to know the bad news? When its bad, its really bad.
For every one thing this game does well, it does another one badly. The opening 20 hours are extremely frustrating (but this is a subjective thing) and quite a slog. The starting area is, I’ll put it honestly, trash. It takes a long time to get to the point where you can enjoy travelling the world without getting one-shotted. I got killed within my first 10 minutes by a rat. A fucking rat.
It would not be the first time I got killed by a rat.
Onto the combat system, its rough. Clunky is putting it politely, and there is a stun lock system that hampers you. Your stamina bar is also quite tight. Its quite a shame, because you get quite a diverse array of weapons and styles to choose from, but it is let down by the nasty combat. I will say while it is painful, you do get used to it after a while. Treat every battle like a boss fight, and I mean it. You will get better at it, but these two big problems merge into one shit sundae and a very uncomfortable opening experience.
So much so, I don’t blame anyone for putting the game down. If you can push through this, I personally found the combat satisfying. I like the publishers, but they probably should learn how to make games with less frustrating combat. When they have released seven games, all with clunky combat thats the weakest part of their games, it makes you wonder.
Onto visuals, some are quite shoddy. Just look at this water.
Sound effects are a mixed bag. You’ll either hear water on full power, or have a raging waterfall in your ears vanish when you move a few extra feet away. It’s a bit annoying. The pacing like I said earlier is pretty slow, and it takes a long time for anything to really happen. The graphics look alright in the world visuals, but the character models and voice acting really are painful. Again though, a small developer on a small budget, so this I can forgive. I’ve heard worse and seen worse from a long way. It’s serviceable.
Onto character design and companions. Some of the characters are quite good, but the main character you play is about as interesting as watching grass grow. Your companions are quite varied, and their questlines are actually rather fun, but good god their AI sucks. They often just stand there twiddling their thumbs, doing nothing to help you while a beast chews your ankles off. They do get different dialogue while you’re in conversation with NPCs, so its worth swapping them out. Again, a mixed bag. Just be prepared for some poor AI tactics.
Let’s talk a bit about the balance/progression. You get points to attribute into your stats, which you need to unlock different parts. A lot of your perks are also nearly useless. It’s quite easy to break the game with some of these. Oh, and navigating your UI. It’s a mess. You also can’t order your items or drop anything so you have to spend a ton of time scrolling through all your shit. This is tedious, and takes time.
I haven’t completed the main game yet, but I’ve also heard some messed up things about the Cold system. Your NPC is an Alb, who uses something called Elex for power. During different quests you make decisions which increases or decreases your Cold. Which can lock out options for you later in the game. Which does a piss poor job of explaining it to you. I only have hearsay on this, as I’m not far enough along yet.
Now, the fun part, reviewing it and rounding up pros and cons!
An expansive and well designed open world with plenty to explore.
Varied factions, with intriguing quest design.
A wide variety of weapons and powers to unleash in battle.
A big bang for your buck. This can be up to 80 hours in length in your first play through.
Exploration is a delight, and with the jetpack there is a lot of verticality to that exploration.
Open way of dealing with quests. Many have different ways to approach them. This gives you a nice sense of freedom.
Relatively stable. I’ve had just one CTD in over 50 hours of gameplay.
Visuals are decent to good, and the biomes are varied. There’s some really nice places to explore.
The game is completely open from the start. Do whatever you want. Just don’t expect to survive a lot of it early on.
Overall, the writing is pretty good for the scale of the development. Good work, but not as good as some of Piranha Byte’s previous games.
Despite issues with combat, companions are well made with interesting quests and dialogue.
Combat is clunky, making the difficulty even more frustrating early game. Melee combat is seriously rough. I’d stick to magic, drones or guns.
The berserker’s starting area isn’t really anything special.
Some bugs and glitches. Nothing too bad, but enough to be frustrating.
An atrocious opening start, which is difficult to get through without giving up on the game.
The berserker’s starting area isn’t really anything special.
Companion AI is broken.
A rough leveling system that is easy to break.
A poor main character who has very little personality or anything to relate with.
Some worldbuilding quirks. The Berserkers hate magic, but don’t do anything about it when you whip out your fancy UI tool. Inconsistent.
Despite an excellent middle, the final part of the game is said to be rushed, lacking the quality of the previous parts.
Flaky audio and visuals on occasion.
Final Score = 7/10.
This game has some serious flaws, but there is an ambitious, well made open world in here, with solid quests and factions. The game sold so well the devs are making a sequel. It’s done something right, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it evolves.