Open-world role-playing games are usually my go-to gaming experience when I am tired of playing my racing games or my first person shooters. Usually, the theme of the RPGs that I jump into have to deal with knights and dragons in a fantasy world such as whats available in Skyrim, or a science fiction themed world like cyberpunk thriller Deus Ex. However, I have often wondered if the two themes can be successfully combined into an engaging and fun experience. Well, to my surprise, developer Piranha Bytes Games, creators of the award-winning Gothic series, and publisher THQ Nordic have taken that challenge and created Elex, an action role-playing open world game set in a post-apocalyptic, Science-Fantasy universe where machines meets magic. The world of Elex is vast and will take only those willing to brave its wilds in order to conquer it.
In Elex, you take on the role of a member of the Alb faction which consumes the pure element Elex, a precious mineral that was the main ingredient of the comet that decimated your home-world of Magalan. The Albs believe that it allows them to grow stronger, think with increased clarity and free them from the entanglements of dealing with emotion. The denizens of Magalan have also discovered that Elex can power machines, open the door to magic, and even re-sculpt life into new, different forms. Unfortunately, as the game begins, you have crashed your glider while on a mission without any access to pure Elex which has the side-effect of allowing your emotions to bubble to the surface. Three other factions inhabit Magalan and you will have to join at least one of them in order to survive your emergent ordeal.
As an open-world RPG, you know how gameplay works here. You can see your character in third-person and can switch between many different types of weapons or wield magic or both. You can venture to anyplace on the map but you might want to take your time because some areas will initially be too difficult for you to enter safely as your level will be too low to face the powerful creatures that you will encounter. As I mentioned earlier, you are a member of the Alb faction but there are three other factions that you will invariably cross paths with, so knowing what they are all about may just save your bacon. There are also the Berserkers, they pride themselves on being able to transmute Elex into pure Mana and are transforming Magalan’s shattered wastes into a lush, living woodland; the clerics, they see the consumption of Elex in any form as a sin and instead they use Elex to power their machines; and the Outlaws, scavengers who worship no god and pledge to live as free as possible.
Like most RPGs, Elex sports a fairly robust weapons and abilities system that is based on you gaining experience and applying earned points into one of five attributes; strength, constitution, dexterity, intelligence and cunning. Weapons and items range from shotguns and rifles to laser guns and rocket launchers as well as potions, mana and scrap metal. You can find them hidden in the environments, taken from fallen enemies or purchase them outright with the currency of the world, Elexit. If you have joined the right factions, you can also learn how to wield magic and learn how to cast fireballs and other magic based attacks. In addition, depending on your faction, you can level up several different attributes that are specific to the faction that you belong to.
Visually, Elex doesn’t look bad, and there are certain parts of the environments that really stood out to my discerning eye, however there was something that felt missing to me. Blades of grass sway in the wind or just when you walk through it, trees also sway in the wind with each leaf catching the breeze individually of each other and the dust patches of bare ground looks appropriately dirty and almost photo realistic. There is just a polish that seems to be missing when compared to other open world RPGs like The Witcher III or GTA V even and it released four years ago. The environment design notwithstanding, the character designs seemed a little lackluster as well. For the amount of content that is in this game, PBG has stated it will take about 50+ hours to complete, another month or two of polish would have taken this game up a notch or two visually.
The players progression in the beginning of the game does somewhat concern me because I found the experience to be very tedious and not very fun. My first six hours of gameplay consisted solely of long conversations, fetch quests and continuous dying at the hands of fairly low powered enemies. Among other features, the game sports a stamina system that depletes as you exert yourself by swinging at enemies with one or two-handed weapons or running. While I have experienced this feature in other games, what sets this feature apart in Elex is that initially, you can only make about three regular attacks or one powered up attack leaving you open to attack yourself. At this point, as you wait for the meter to slowly refill, you can only run or dodge which will happen a lot. I don’t know about you, but I would rather be opening up a few cases of whoop@$$ on the enemies instead of running and dodging from them.
The soundtrack and sound effects in Elex were definitely a couple of the high-points of the game. The music is appropriately crafted and helps to settle you into a world that is unique in ways and awesomely familiar in others. The voice acting was a little disappointing as the lines of the game are delivered well, they just don’t usually fit the relationship of the characters that are speaking. It seemed that the voice actors delivered all of their lines individually without having the benefit of working with the other voice actors so that conversations seemed more organic. As it stands, conversations feel strange because the tone in one characters voice does not match the feeling of the specific situation that is being discussed.
Elex is one of those games that I only heard of about a month before its scheduled release. I immediately went over to YouTube and watched the trailer to see if it was something that I could get into. I have to say that the visuals in the trailer looked about ten times better than what was actually delivered in the game. However, once I got a little farther in, the game really opened up and became something that I wished it could have started as. That long build up in the beginning of the game may cause some to give up and trade it before they are able to get to the more interesting parts of the game. However, if you are the type that likes a good story, lots of ways to customize your character and a wide open world filled with fantastical creatures and some cool Science Fantasy, this game provides just that.