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Guns, Magic & Jetpacks – ELEX – Review

Guns, Magic & Jetpacks – ELEX – Review

For many fans of early third person Role Playing Games, Piranha Bytes will be a familiar name. They were behind some of the best RPGs I played back then, especially the Gothic series. Sure, they may not hold up against today’s action RPGs, but back then they were a rare gem. Elex is now their latest project, and an ambitious one at that. It’s an action RPG with deep lore, tons of questing, a seamless and absolutely gorgeous massive world to explore, weighty dialogue choices, a lot of dialogues (I love that), great mix of fantasy and sci-fi, interesting post apocalyptic setting (well, technically it’s post-post apocalypse like Horizon: Zero Dawn), and a lot more that I really enjoy about it.

The opening cut-scene sets the stage for the overarching story –  a comet hits earth and decimates most of the population. Those who survive struggle to make a life for themselves. A new resource, called Elex appears after the comet crashed, and is a highly sought after resource. It propels technology, imbues magic, but also causes some serious negative effects when consumed. Factions are formed, each seeking to use or destroy Elex, and further their motives. A faction, called Albs act as the seemingly common enemy, especially due to their consumption of Elex to rid themselves of all emotion, and execute cold and calculated decisions. You play as Jax, a former member of the Albs, who is deemed to be a traitor for experiencing emotions due to Elex withdrawal after a crash landing.

I didn’t much like Jax as a character in the beginning. He looked like a douchebag, and even the dialogues choices reflected the same. I would’ve preferred making a custom character with personalities I wanted in them. However, after a little bit more introduction to the game world, the backstory and the characters, I started seeing why the developers would choose Jax as the protagonist. He did fit into the story they are trying to tell, and grew on me. Since you just survived a crash, and lost all your equipment, you’re really under-powered early on. You are given the option to take up with a community and be a part of them.

This was where I first started really loving the game, and seeing the scope of what Piranha Bytes is trying to deliver with this game. You are mostly given smaller quests in the beginning, and the NPCs treat you like a newbie, since you are one. You aren’t immediately set out on grand quests, and you will most definitely die if you tried. You’re asked to solve minor troubles among traders, and even fetch beer for the guards.

However, all of this builds up slowly to make you care about the folks around you. Characters you can talk to have a lot to say, and almost all of it is voiced really well and interesting to listen to. Where often in these RPGs I would read the subtitles quickly and skip through dialogues, I wanted to hear the characters talk and listen to what they had to say. The writing is really good, and the story is delivered with a lot of care. The world-building is absolutely fantastic, and sure it’s not perfect, but in my opinion is done even better than that in the Witcher games. I’m not even exaggerating when I say this. I was honestly giddy with joy seeing how well everything was was going, since such a rich open world narrative-driven single player RPG experience has become either rare or sub-standard over the last few years. Mass Effect, Fallout, Dragon Age, etc are mere husks of what they used to be, and I was really yearning for something akin to those games. So far Elex was delivering on exactly what I wanted.

The towns are massive, both horizontally and vertically. You’re given a jetpack early on, which makes traversal really enjoyable, and offers a ton of freedom. Exploration is fun, both because of how the jetpacks makes it, and also because of the incredible visual design of the areas. There are hardly any loading screens, unless you fast travel, and the world is designed in a cohesive manner that makes sense. NPCs you encounter are often doing something that seems plausible, and talking to them gives more context to their actions and environs. The landscape is often a mix of lush forests and deserts, with regular outcroppings of a civilization past. Quests have also been carefully designed, and lead to interesting choices, and encourage player agency. There are often more than one way to to resolve a problem, and discovering various means to do so is a satisfying endeavour.

Your skills are divided into two – Attributes and Abilities. Attributes are your basic Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, etc. You gain points by earning XP, and put those points into Attributes you want to pick. Abilities go into more details of what your character can do, and require specific number points in Attributes, some amount of money and other requirements to obtain. It’s a pretty deep system, and you will need to know what kind of character you want to build, and start focusing points accordingly. It took me awhile to get even my first ability, so be sure to take your time and start doing the right quests as soon as you can. Many dialogue choices are gated behind having certain abilities, and it’s deep interconnected system that can get overwhelming. I loved every bit of it, but I can see why some might be put off.

Sadly, the game has some significant issues, both from a gameplay and technical perspective. The combat has issues, both with the hitboxes, the way the combat feels and the difficulty. While the combat should’ve been similar to that in the Witcher or Dark Souls, it’s actually kinda clumsy and unwieldy. You use up stamina for attacking or sprinting, and build up a combo meter by landing hits. There’s also a great variety of melee, magic and ranged weapons, including guns. While on paper the system sound great, it’s mostly really clumsy. On top of that, most of the enemies you encounter, even those outside the very first settlement, are incredibly tough, and will kill you in a couple of hits. It’s advisable to use the jetpack and haul ass out of most of these encounters, but this gets tedious really fast. I would rather be fighting instead of running, and I hope this is something they can fix in a patch.

I played both on the PC and the PS4, and there are performance issues as well. It looks absolutely gorgeous, across platforms, and runs fairly well on PC, despite a few bugs. On consoles, it struggles to maintain 30 FPS. I stuck with it, because I really wanted to play this game, but the framerate is really annoying. It’s not unplayable, even in the most hectic combat encounters, but definitely dampens the experience.

I love playing Elex, despite my complaints. And I realize that the game suffers in probably the most critical areas, gameplay and performance. However, Elex offers an experience unlike many others, especially in today’s landscape of generic open world games riddled with fetch quests and collectibles. I would highly recommend everyone to play this game, but do wait for a few patches before jumping in. Elex does everything else so well, that I just refused to put the game down. I have not been this invested in a third person action RPG since The Witcher 3, and I see potential in Elex to be even better than its peers. I just hope that the developers do right by the game and the audience who bought it, and fix the issues soon. Elex deserves to be played by more people, but it’s also needs to be more playable.

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