ELEX (PC) Review

By Athanasios 26.10.2017

Review for ELEX on PC

Piranha Bytes is the veteran hardcore RPG developer behind the Gothic and Risen names, with both being far from perfection, as they were a bit too ambitious for the budget and manpower available. Nevertheless, they managed to become some of the most beloved cult classics in the genre, with the main reason being their lack of compromising, as they were true RPGs and not RPG-ish like some of their most popular siblings tended to be. Ambitious is too weak a word to describe the company's newest creation, though, as it offers a world much larger than before, and at the same time fuses swords and sorcery with sci-fi laser guns and psionic powers. Has ELEX bitten off more than it could chew?

A comet hit Magalan, reset the history clock, and introduced Elex to its environment, mutating it, while also managing to divide the remnants of humanity into several factions. The Viking-like Berserkers use Elex to cast magic; the religiously fanatical Clerics fuel their advanced tech with it; while the Mad Max-esque Outlaws just care about taking advantage of the situation to get rich. Jax, the protagonist, is a member of the emotionless Elex addicts called Albs - the biggest, and most dangerous players out there. Yes, axe-wielding warriors go hand to hand with soldiers dressed in Mass Effect gear, and the result is like everything else: awkward and inconsistent.

You'll hunt raptors with laser rifles and giant mechs with bows, gaze upon ruined diners, WWII tanks, and Sith Lord fortresses in the same freaking picture, and talk with people who have forced Conan the Barbarian-sounding names that try to defend their medieval abodes from Stormtroopers. It seems that the developer tried adding as many "Coool!" stuff possible, but didn't really bother mixing them in the correct way, frequently making this place feel more like a nerdy convention, rather than a living, breathing world - and yet, many times, these simply "click" together, and the world finally does feel like an impressively realistic place.

ELEX's insane amount of inconsistence continues with its characters, who can be quite deep and multi-layered, igniting actual feelings of respect or hatred for them, but suddenly the writing jumps the shark, and everyone starts spewing out words that feel as if they were written by a bunch of 12-year-olds with a knack for below average fanfiction, with members of the various coalitions feeling more like cosplayers instead of actual people. The Clerics, for instance, had the potential of being this world's equivalent of Fallout's Brotherhood of Steel, but the final result frequently gives away a disappointingly childish Star Wars-like stench.

Screenshot for ELEX on PC

This quality imbalance continues in the audio-visual quality of it all, with everything running back and forth between amateurish and awesome, like decent voice acting next to cringy "Texan" accents, or pretty vistas and fantastic monster design next to low-resolution textures and weird animations. This makes it hard to forget that this was made by a handful of people, and through the use of a very limited budget, something that makes it easier to cut ELEX some slack, because, despite its many issues, the amount of content at hand is worthy of applause. The thing is, though, that while this is definitely not a AAA title, the price is definitely of one.

Therefore, no, this doesn't get a free pass - and if you thought the art style and mixture of medieval fantasy with science fiction lacked balance, get a load of the actual game. First of all, this world might be marvellously enormous, 100% hand-crafted, and with plenty of beautiful points of interest, but it's hard not get annoyed by how impossible it is to traverse it. Magalan is totally open-ended, but when three steps away from home leads to certain death, this can't exactly be called an open-world experience. Of course, typical of the team behind it all, this takes a more hardcore approach to role-playing, and that's certainly great… sort of.

The reason why Piranha Bytes has such a passionate (and many times, quite toxic) fanbase, is because it continues to deliver pure, no-punches-held, no-excuses-accepted, old-school Western RPGs, and this means that this won't mind throwing at you things that you simply can't handle. This isn't a Bethesda game, therefore you can actually get one-shotted by facing the weakest of mobs, and since quest givers aren't polite enough to send you nearby to kill some rats to warm up, get ready to complete many a non-lethal quest in the far reaches of the map, and while trying to avoid most confrontations.

Screenshot for ELEX on PC

Surviving here needs lots of work, so this will only give enjoyment to those kinds of gamers. The problem, however, is that the balance is all over the place… and that's putting it mildly. First of all, you can spent lots of time trying to get 'there,' whether that means buying an expensive weapon, killing a challenging foe, or training a certain skill/ability, and realise that this doesn't affect things as much as needed. Sure, hardcore RPGs tend to not be as rewarding as most mainstream titles do, but this goes a bit overboard. Finally, similar to the concept of it all, some things just don't make sense, with wooden bows being stronger than futuristic guns.

In terms of numbers, be it stats, EXP rewards, damage, armour, and so on, every single aspect here must be reworked. Every. Single. One. Thankfully, from a purely technical standpoint, this is a pretty well-polished product, something especially rare for the genre this belongs to. Sure, there are lots of bugs here and there, yet, as a whole, this puts major releases like Fallout 4 and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim to shame. Generally, and unless not an old-school RPG aficionado, ELEX offers a world that's pretty hard to let go, not to mention that, unlike the aforementioned mega-franchises, this has much less restrictions and casual-friendly modernisms.

Long story short, this is a true sandbox experience that respects players' intelligence by not holding their hands, and by finally letting them enjoy a video game where there's actual cause and effect. The perfect example? Instead of the stupid notion of invincible NPCs, everyone can die here - VIP or not. In fact, yours truly tried running away from a tough monster, entered a large, well-fortified town, only to see everyone getting slaughtered by it! Yes, not even the generally very tough quest givers have the capacity to defend themselves from the hostile microcosm that is Magalan.

Screenshot for ELEX on PC

At the end of the day, the best thing this has to offer is its plot, and the interactions with the characters involved, as well as their respective factions. While everything isn't always fine and dandy, more often than not, talking to people is a joy, mostly because this is a harsh, realistic world where it isn't exactly easy to choose sides and agree or disagree with anyone. Even better, while there are definitely ways to be truly good or evil, the vast majority of missions require helping someone at the expense of another person, with no decision between the two being exactly "fair." Could it all be better? Sure! However, it's all pretty impressive nonetheless.

Has this lowly reviewer forgotten of the many flaws at hand? No, definitely not. For every great thing, ELEX offers at least two that are downright irritating, but, thankfully, these won't keep people from coming back to it - plus, it's hard not to respect this tiny developer for offering a title devoid of any DLC, microtransactions, and all sorts of similar scums. In conclusion, then, this is a great, albeit unpolished, RPG, right? Sadly, there is one part that completely ruins everything, and that's how unbelievably terrible the battles are, because while losing to an enemy with a health bar that's 10 times bigger than yours might be okay, unfair mechanics are definitely not.

Yes, the enemies are tough, levelling-up needs work, and running away from enemies is a must on most occasions - soon enough, however, you'll have to fight and get a taste of how bad of a warrior Jax is. Without getting into much detail, ELEX's battle mechanics are basically similar to the ones in Dark Souls, but with nothing really working as intended. Slow, clunky, unresponsive, and just plain rushed and untested, this will actually make you despise drawing your sword/rifle/laser gun, and usually force you into tricking the game instead of playing it. This can't be emphasised enough: the battles are embarrassingly awful…

Screenshot for ELEX on PC

Cubed3 Rating

6/10
Rated 6 out of 10

Good

What we are looking here is one hell of a hardcore, post-apocalyptic, larger-than-life, sandbox RPG gem - a gem that's very rough around the edges, but a gem nonetheless. Unfortunately, it's currently inside the bowels of a large, sluggish, and sickeningly smelly beast: its battle system. Therefore, unless ELEX gets an extremely strong patch treatment, think a lot before a purchase.

Developer

Piranha Bytes

Publisher

THQ Nordic

Genre

Real Time RPG

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  6/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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