ELEX balances its shortcomings and successes to ultimately deliver an average RPG experience. However, developer Piranha Bytes has a particular charm that’s present here and may push it over the edge into a strong recommendation for those who’ve been impressed with the developer’s past titles. Indeed, It’s clunky, buggy and tremendously difficult, but a great story, varied and impressive looking environments, and that aforementioned charm certainly makes an impression.
ELEX places you in a post-apocalyptic, Earth-like world steeped in lore. The ruins of what we would recognise as modern buildings are scattered throughout the large playable area, which includes multiple biomes ranging from desert to snow and everything in-between. Meanwhile, futuristic and ancient technology harmoniously co-exists, alongside a form of magic, as different tribes of survivors either look to salvage and re-build, revert to more medieval traditions, or blend the two. It’s a remarkably well thought out and developed world with believable history and NPCs.
This wealth of culture and range of technology provides intriguing stories to follow, meaningful choices to make, and some excellent equipment and weapon load-outs to try. And indeed, the alien setting allows for exotic wildlife and enemies, as well as mutant humans effected by the cataclysm that destroyed the world. It’s a rich setting ideal for a RPG experience.
However, unfortunately there are several severe issues that mean to ruin the experience. Chief among these are the bugs and oddities, with mission markers not showing up on the map or showing up in the wrong place, events not triggering when they should, peculiar hitboxes making combat immensely unfair, and horrendous animations and clipping destroying immersion.
Yet despite things like the dead-eyed expressions on your character’s, as well as the NPC’s, faces, and the T-pose falling animations, enemies and the environment look stunning, the voice work has moments of greatness, and the story and detail of the lore is terrific. What it ultimately comes down to then is the combat.
Indeed, the combat in ELEX is in the traditional Piranha Bytes style: slow, realistic and tactical. Swinging a melee weapon, drawing a bow and aiming an energy rifle all feel natural yet painfully slow, and once you’ve committed to an action, it will follow through. There’s no move cancelling or supernaturally quick movement to be had here, it’s more grounded than that, despite the fantastical setting. Those familiar with Piranha Bytes’ Gothic and Risen titles will know the feel of combat and be able to adapt to the slower paced style more swiftly than others; focusing on movement, blocks and dodging, while managing just how many enemies you engage at once. It’s a highly satisfying system once you get to grips with it, and its ebb and flow is unique, but mistakes are fiercely punished and this can be hugely frustrating.
Another trait often found in Piranha Bytes RPGs is the impressive openness of the open-world, meaning you can freely explore and tackle the dangers of the land at your discretion. This too can be frustrating; it’s all too easy to wander into an area full of enemies significantly more powerful than you. Additionally, a lack of handholding means it’s very easy to wander from the critical path, and you can end up taking on side missions and getting caught up in the emergent gameplay to a degree that can make finding your way back tricky. These traits are part of what makes ELEX such an impressive RPG, but at the same time it feels inaccessible.
While ELEX is certainly not an RPG for everyone, its engrossing world and story make it an attractive title for those who enjoy the genre. However, the current bugs are frustrating at best and game breaking at worst, making it a patch or two away from a wholehearted recommendation.
Thanks to Xbox and THQ Nordic for supporting TiX