I’m going to admit that I’m not usually the type of person to be patient when it comes to new games. If I can’t essentially “pick up and play” it with little tutorial intervention, then I usually shrug my shoulders and move on. However, despite wanting to do exactly that to ELEX practically from the start, it…grew on me. I’ll admit that it took more than a few hours, but it did. This is our ELEX review.
If you didn’t know, ELEX is a fascinating hybrid of fantasy, science fiction, survival, and open world exploration. It’s all nicely packaged into a pseudo-ARPG box, but with a number of differences from what you might expect, most notably in combat.
If you’ve played a Piranha Bytes game before (Risen / Gothic), you’ll understand the combat much better than I did coming more from the Diablo side of ARPGs. You’ve got a heavy and light attack (LMB / RMB), a special attack, dodge, block mechanism, etc. alongside a stamina meter that’s going to pretty much make you want to throw your mouse, keyboard and monitor out the window at first IF you’re not familiar with earlier games from this development team. Once you get the hang of it, however, you’ll get into an interesting rhythm of battle. And, man are you going to need it.
I’m not totally sure what I was expecting, but it wasn’t the rather imbalanced fights I’d get into in the earliest stages of the game. I literally followed a guy to the first enclave, what I considered the “starter town” and hoped that I would be able to familiarize myself with combat, the game world, and maybe even pick up some equipment. Ha…wrong. That bent rusty pipe of mine didn’t help much. I died a shitload of times …on easy mode mostly because I kept putting my weapon away by pressing “1” rather than the left- or right-mouse button. *sighs* Curse me for being a traditionalist.
It’s worth staying in the first town for awhile to gear up, gain some attribute points, maybe even train up a skill or two before running out into the world. You’ll want to be careful, however, in how you present yourself about the village. Follow the rules and all is cool. Steal, murder, or act like a jerk and you’re going to spend a lot of time running from bounty hunters straight into demons with wings, either of which will rip you to shreds in a heartbeat. Luckily, if you do get on the wrong side of the law, you can pay off your bounty to stop being chased and to have a safe enclave to call home.
SIDE NOTE: One thing, however, that annoyed the heck out of me with the Berserkers of Edan, the granola eating tree huggers of the game, is that when consulting my map or quest log, if I wasn’t out of sight of any of the tons of wandering NPCs, I’d get yelled at for using “that EVUL stuff” (elex, by the way). That dinged my reputation a lot at the start until I wised up.
The NPCs will provide you with a ton of quests, almost an overwhelming number at the start. However, many of them can be completed in and around town that will earn you some currency to allow you to buy some gear — armor, weapons, potions, etc. All that is well and good if you could just not have to actually, you know, interact with any NPCs ever. The dialog is just…painful and features very stilted writing and voice acting. In addition, your character’s responses are repeated word-for-word rather than “in the same vein as” like most RPGs. I finally found myself skipping dialog (RMB) to get past the awkwardness and repetition. Once past the cringe-worthy dialog, you’ll find that some of the quests are a long distance away and in areas that are pretty tough if you’re not careful. Luckily there are teleporters that can be discovered that will make getting back to safety much easier.
Along the way, you’ll meet up with the game’s other factions: Outlaws of Tavar, Clerics of Ignadon and the Albs of Xacor. These are groups formed after the near extinction of humanity after a meteor crashed into Magalan, the planet on which they all live. Each one brings its own unique perspective on the world, its own religious beliefs (or lack of them), and its own gear. You are free to interact with them in any way you wish — help them out, align with one, go on a murder spree — it’s all up to you on how you act and where you go in the world.
And it’s a beautiful world for sure, if slightly dated given the power of today’s graphics cards. Regardless, if there is one place that ELEX really shines it’s in environmental design. The vistas from atop the city are breathtaking — snow capped mountains, sandy deserts, lush forests and a devastated world mixed into all of them. These views are so pretty and you’re given far-flung tasks to accomplish that you want to rush out into the world to see and do it all. With your handy dandy jet pack equipped, you can get just about anywhere and, most times anyway, can escape just about anything if you have enough fuel. That wanderlust does come at a price, however, if you’re not careful. Because it’s an open world, it’s easy to run into places you clearly do not belong. So be sure to save and save often, though the game does autosave at specified times that can be adjusted in the Options menu.
While environmental design is so astonishingly gorgeous, it’s jarring to speak to NPCs and see awful clipping issues. Women have “breezy boobs” in that they wave around independent of the character’s actions and behave as if they could be tossed around in a light breeze. It’s facepalmingly annoying, though you can’t tear your eyes away from it no matter how many times you tell yourself to just watch her face. All characters have bags hanging on their hips that behave in much the same way. While it looks fabulous when you’re on the run in the world, when you actually stop and are speaking to someone, it keeps wagging back and forth as if you’re still running. Animations are rough and innumerable things clip through one another like my character’s hand disappearing into his biceps when he crosses his arms.
Some of the game’s systems need a lot of work as well, particularly the mini-map and HUD. For instance, there’s no “paper doll” where you can see all of your equipped gear at a glance. There are menus in menus that make finding just the right thing you’re looking for a chore. The quest tracker, mini map, inventory, character progression and gear screens all share a single UI and it’s maddening to navigate.
The thing is, though, and the thing that I think took me most by surprise is that despite everything that should make me toss ELEX onto the Island of Misfit Games, I found myself actually liking it after the 6 hour mark. Oh it’s not the story or the graphics or anything like that. It’s the ARPG holy grail to get phat lewt that sucked me in along with the pioneer spirit inside that wants to explore all the nooks and crannies to see what I can find (and there’s good reason for exploration, believe me). I find myself looking forward to heading back into the game to get stronger and to see more of the world despite knowing I’m going to die a lot and probably piss people off everywhere.
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.
SCORE: 7.0 / 10.0
- open world discovery
- nicely designed and varied locations
- interesting, if frustrating, combat
- terrible quest tracker / inventory management
- world map is sorely lacking
- graphics issues
- no character customization
- no female playable characters
This review was completed using a Steam PC code provided by the publisher.
Day One Patch Notes
- You can now upgrade shields
- Bugfixes for socketing weapons
- Improved awareness when sneaking
- Improved navigation for NPCs and monsters
- Better party behavior from NPCs
- Missing icons added
- Connection bugfixes
- Bugfixes for the world map
- Bugfixes for the skills display
- Bugfixes for item interactions
- Sleep will now also replenish energy
- Lock picks will break more often
- Reduced fall damage with the jet pack
- Appropriate behavior when you receive damage on a ladder
- Additional slots for autosaves
- Monster traps no longer have a focus
- Slight optimization of cutscenes
- Caja accompanies the player to all locations
- Both PSI amplifiers are now distributed
- Minor quest and display fixes
- Aesthetic improvements to some armor
- Improved control of dialogue gestures
- Improved facial animations for women
- Improved transitions for motion sequences
- Shields can now block ranged weapons
- Improved targeting behavior from NPCs
- Fixed the situation where companions were not helping with battle in certain situations
- Grenades will now always ricochet off of obstacles
- Ball lightning will now always jump to the next target
- Improved camera in dialogues
- Improved placement of conversation partners
- Updates and fixes
- Improved shadow mapping to sun position
- Eliminated flickering mist when the camera was too close to obstacles
- Subtitles are now deactivated by default when the same language is selected for voice and text
- Graphics pipeline optimizations, including VSync activation to remove screen tearing