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ELEX [2017 -- Piranha Bytes]

Started by Starfox, May 19, 2023, 09:22 PM

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Originally published on November 29, 2017

This review could be the shortest I ever wrote. What about "Elex was developed by the creators of the Gothic and Risen series". How about that? It's really all the fans of those two series need to know about this new game as far as it regards the gameplay at least.

But that would be a little short, right? So here's some more.

The technologically advanced civilization of Magalan was almost annihilated by a comet a bit more than 150 years ago. The comet ravaged the planet, scattering the few survivors and releasing a peculiar substance, called Elex, in the ground and the water. The survivors tried to regroup and ended up creating three main factions -- although they all commonly refer to themselves as the "free people" -- that took control of three areas of Magalan.

The Berserkers are your equivalent of a medieval community. Their attitude toward technology goes from mistrust to pure hatred (although some may be ready to use it when that accommodates them). They generally destroy everything technical to extract the Elex contained within and transmute this Elex into mana, that serves to fuel their magical powers, that they are the only ones to have developed, and they also use mana to return the verdant nature to Magalan -- basically they're druids.

The Clerics are... well a cult dedicated to a god -- the nature of which can only be fully revealed by doing a lot of exploring, just following the main quest barely scratch the surface, although you may be able to piece a part of the puzzle together. They mainly are interested in technology and would be the equivalent of Templars but with laser guns, robots and other fun things. Their "magic" is not magical but technological in nature. They adopted Elex as a way to power their technology and studied it for other applications.

Then there's finally the Outlaws which as their name implies want nothing to do with the legal complications of the other two factions. They're in it for the money, the chems and the sex and... the money (did I already mentioned that?)... period and they don't hesitate to steal and/or murder to get their way. As far as technology goes they mainly use old world weaponry like speargun, shotgun, grenades launcher and the like including something that resembles to an oversized version of the Fallout Ripper and packs a good punch...

Then there is a fourth faction: the Albs. Albs (a diminutive for albinos) are in fact an offshoot of the Clerics that didn't agree on ways to use Elex. Mainly they wanted to use it to an extent that was not allowed under Clerics laws, including injecting themselves with the substance. By doing it, the Albs became much more stronger but also lost their emotions and humanity in the process, while their skins became pale as snow. Lacking any kind of compassion, and under the command of their chief the "Hybrid", they embarked on a quest to extract all the Elex they could from the planet, and in particular from its inhabitants -- which in 100% of cases ends up with the subject's death -- to fuel their hopes for evolution.

Any faction distrust -- at the very least -- the others but when it comes to hatred Berserkers, Clerics and Outlaws have a common enemy, the Albs.

The player's avatar for the game is Jax... Commander Jax to be precise, one of the highest ranking officers among... the Albs. As the game begins Jax is sent on a special mission when his raider (kind of a jet fighter) is brought down by "someone". He crash-lands on Edan, the land of the Berserkers and shortly after is sentenced to death by his own compatriots for having failed the mission. They shoot him and leave him for dead. However Jax survives but it takes so long to him to came to his senses and be healed that all the Elex is flushed out of his body and during this time someone stole his armor and weapons. Hence a fresh hero starting at level 1 with very basic equipment. Like in all Piranha Bytes games the places you decide to go to and the things you decide to do from that point will be mainly your own choices to discover the truth about you, Elex and why some people in your own faction want you dead. For those who need a guideline though there will be the helpful character near the beginning of the game that will act as a tutorial of sorts (and be one of your possible companions down the line) and guide you to meet your very first faction, the Berserkers. However you are totally free to ignore him and to go explore alone if you wish.

And a game of exploration this is... like any other series by this developer.

As I already stated, the gameplay is not all that different from let's say... Risen 3. You get a jackhammer instead of a pickaxe but you still get to mine, pick flowers, hunt, cook, brew potions and chems, sleep in a bed... etc. In fact if you remain long enough around the Berserkers faction (and because of their complete lack of technology), you might even think that this game is the Gothic 4 that Arcania should have been and never was. There is however some gameplay differences between Elex and other Piranha Bytes productions. You might find amusing for example to be able to wear a medieval armor, a laser rifle, a pair of sunglasses and a "jet pack" at the same time (by the way, a small message to the developers: guys, you can't wear a Stetson and a pair of sunglasses at the same time... seriously?).

Of course you'll have noticed the words "jet pack". Yeah, that's right, introduced early in the game this will certainly be one of the most useful part of your equipment  to explore the world of Magalan. It is not overpowered for those who would be afraid of that. At full capacity it allows you about 5 to 6 second of flight which is enough for a vertical climb of 10 to 15 meters that places it roughly a step above Mass Effect Andromeda Jet Pack and a bit around Fallout 4 one (vanilla). After that it needs to be recharged; that process is automatic but takes a few seconds (more if you exhausted the pack power completely). There are two obvious uses for the jet pack. One is to get to otherwise inaccessible places above you (if you have enough "platforms" available on the side of a mountain you can even get all the way to the top by a succession of leaps). The other even more precious use is that as soon as you get the jet pack, it becomes virtually impossible for your character to die by falling as even if you fall from the highest point available in the world you just have to trigger the jet pack just before hitting the ground (of course that only applies if there's enough power left in the pack to break the fall which means that if you fall while attempting a very acrobatic climb, you'll possibly die anyway). Another use of the pack, very debatable this time, is in combat. When you are using a range weapon you can lift up, aim with your weapon which will automatically stabilize you at the altitude you're at and take the shot. When I say that this use is debatable it's because you have to perform the whole maneuver in less time than it take the pack to exhaust its power.

Even sunglasses are not gratuitous. They look good but do so much more. They come in three flavors, one pair that allows you to detect items and weapons even through walls (as you can imagine this is an invaluable feature for any self-respecting looter), another pair that allows you to detect living beings, including plants (spotting people through walls may be useful to those sneaky types) and a third one that actually replaces a skill from the "survival" branch displaying enemies on your radar (so you can use those if you don't have the skill or decide to not learn it). None of those sunglasses are available at the beginning of the game mind you and as far as I know, they are pretty rare) and even when you do find one of the rare vendor selling some they are really expensive.

The different regions of the world are sufficiently diversified to not be boring. From the forest of the Berserkers realm to the desert of the Outlaws, passing by the snowy mountains of the Albs or the Volcanic region of the Clerics, all the climates are there.

But let's skip the goodies and talk about serious things.

Elex is Risen 3 gameplay transposed in a post-apocalyptic universe with jet packs. What does that means? That means that the qualities and the flaws are there. The graphics are good, at least good enough for our time if you play on a standard 1080p screen. The story is good, even more if you take the extra time to discover the secrets (and that can only be done by exploring thoroughly). The game is weirdly addictive in the same way that the Gothic and the Risen series were. And the end of the game is the promise of an Elex 2 (at the very least).

On the minus side, the game mechanic is sometimes clunky especially in combat. The fact that you have to holster your weapon each time you want to pick a flower or a roll of toilet paper (yeah that's a thing here) or loot an enemy or use anything really is getting old really fast. Although I've been using a controller (on which by some really weird decision the activate button is the same as the holster weapon button so maybe it's handled better with the keyboard and mouse; I don't think so though because the whole point of holstering the weapon seems to be preparing the character for playing the pickup or activate animations -- which obviously is shorter than adding animations with the weapon drawn; that reproach doesn't seem like much but pick things a thousand times with your weapon drawn and you'll get the idea).

On the minus side too... at least for me: one has to join a faction at one point because this is your only entry ticket to top tier armors and skills. I would have liked to see at least once a Piranha Bytes game in which you could be just a lone wolf and still win the game. Although joining a faction here has no real consequence beyond better armor and training. Yes the other faction acknowledge your allegiance (somehow -- sometimes you get the feeling through conversations that not everyone in your own faction got the memo) but few will really resent you because of it, even if they don't like it.

The translation seems to also pose a problem at times. These are little things like a character saying "Good luck with that" and the other responding "I will" which obviously tend to disrupt the immersion here and there. The voice acting -- for the English version -- is far to be of the quality of some other recent non-English productions however it gets the job done.

But really all the problems that I could complain about here are essentially the same than for the previous titles from Piranha bytes. Combined they are also the reason why Elex (like the Gothic or the Risen games) doesn't achieve the status of excellence to which it could pretend if the realization was less messy. With that said I still consider it ranking among the five best RPG released during the past five years, just not the absolute best. And despite the flaws I still had enough fun with it to grant it a .

Nevertheless, it's now the seventh time that Piranha Bytes is re-using a well-known formula over three series just moving it with baby steps each time and although of course that certainly pleases the fans (myself included) one can wonder if one day this developer will decide to go for a leap of faith.

According to the developers there won't be any DLC (story or not) for this game because it's apparently not "the image they want to give" of their company whatever that means (and forgetting apparently that DLC weren't foreign to Risen 3). It's true that I myself hate to see publishers releasing wave after wave of paid micro-DLC crap but I'm certainly far to be opposed to big story DLCs sold for a reasonable price. There's always a middle ground between nothing at all and abusing a concept.

However we still have ELEX 2 to look forward to and that's possibly the main reason why Piranha Bytes won't loose time with DLC.

Guess what it means!