Factions are fighting for dominion over Magalan, a planet with a promising future… before the Meteor struck. There is a war, and the heart of the cause is the element Elex, and the Albs, raiding the other factions’ villages without remorse or emotion. What will you – an ex-Alb Commander – do?
ELEX (which, for some reason, stands for Eclectic, Lavish, Exhilarating, Xenial) is the new sci-fi/fantasy RPG game developed by Piranha Bytes, the very same creators of the Gothic series. The game was first announced during Gamescom 2015, in partnership with Nordic Games. The game has officially been released as of the 17th October 2017 for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, and XBox One. This game takes a bit of a different direction from Piranha’s previous games, with a post-apocalyptic setting in the future, creating a mixture of futuristic and medieval environments and tools. The trailers looked exciting, but did the trailers potentially oversell the game?
The story starts off with an introduction narrative to the world of Magalan, and the meteor that hit, causing major devastation, but also bringing with it a new element called “Elex”, which can be used to power machines, change living organisms into new forms, and also grant magical abilities. The people who survived the calamity are now in battle to survive, which will decide the fate of the planet. You play as Jax, a former member and Commander of the Alb faction, cold-hearted, emotionless soldiers who have consumed so much Elex that they’ve pretty much become human robots, using only cold logic to make decisions. Jax, whos voice is so deep that it sounds like he swallowed a kilogram of gravel, was sent on a mission to track down the Pilgrim, Thorald, but Jax’s ship was shot down from an unknown source. He survives the crash, but not long after the crash, Jax’s brother Kallax tracks him down with a party of Alb soldiers, and shoots Jax in the chest with an energy weapon for “failing his mission”. At this point it was clear to me who the main antagonist is going to be, and what his motive could be. The shot to Jax’s chest pushed him off a cliff, making him land in a small forest, but leaving him alive just barely for him to fall into a weeklong coma, upon which an Outlaw, who believed him to be dead, takes the opportunity and strips him of all his advanced armor and weaponry.
After awakening, Jax realises that all the Elex in his body has worn off, causing him to be as weak as a baby rat. Usually the withdrawal effects are pretty severe, but the coma spared Jax the experience, quite fortunately. He was raised an Alb, meaning there was never a moment that he didn’t have Elex in his system, which causes me to question whether or not a week would have been enough for the Elex to truly wear off and for the withdrawal effects to disappear. Regardless, you make your way through the forest, armed with only an iron pipe, looting items on the way, and meet Duras, a Berserker that offers to escort you to Goliet, the main city of the Berserkers, to be able to start a new life there. After some time you track down the Outlaw, called Ray, who stole your equipment and learn that he has already sold all of your equipment. He offers to help you in your quest to find out the truth behind your attack. Eventually you meet with a group of Alb Seperatists; soldiers who abandoned their city, Xacor, because the Albs have become completely subdued by the control of the Hybrid, an ancient being that serves as the ultimate leader of the Albs. You then find out some more clues to your attack, and the coincidences that lead to only one scary truth. There are many groups of people you meet in your adventures, and many creatures who want to gnaw on your bones, which is why it’s important to choose who you will ally yourself with, and choose a faction.
I must say, though, it’s pretty advantageous not being in a faction. You can go to any of the cities without worry of prejudice or being alienated. Being part of the “Free People” opens up a lot of avenues for you, and you can do missions for absolutely all the factions until they say they like you enough to join them. The only real reason you need to join a Faction is to reap the unique benefits that each faction offers, and it can be pretty darn useful once you’ve chosen. I chose to join the Berserkers eventually, because of their intentions to restore the planet to its once-thriving and living state, shunning technology that uses Elex, because of how it corrupts the land and its users. They’re pretty much the polar opposite to the Albs, and what a slap in the face it would be if their most promising soldier comes back to wreak havoc as their ultimate nemesis! Berserkers make use of older weaponry like Swords, Axes, Bows and Crossbows, which almost seems like an unfair fight compared to the people who use Energy Weapons. They have a law that they follow, and some are overly zealous about it, almost shunning any type of technology, but you get a few who are more open to the use of the technology that came before Elex. When encountering both, just tell them what they want to hear and you’ll be good. One quest nearly had me lose the possibility of joining the Berserkers. A Clan Leader ordered me to fetch an Elex Weapon from the Pit, where all banned technology gets thrown. Upon reaching the man in charge of the Pit, I raised the question why he would want it if it was banned, to which the response was that it was a test, and me questioning orders that go against their Law is exactly what he hoped to see. The developers were clever to add social and cultural mechanics like this.
Even if you did all the quests for the Berserkers or Outlaws to be able to join them, you can still go to the other factions and complete their quests. If you wanted to be an Alb again, you’d need to join the Seperatist group, because your loving brother has taken over the Alb armies and your old “friends” would never take you back. Outlaws sounded like an interesting group, until I saw the state they were in and what their system consists of. It’s basically a free-for-all, “every man for himself” type deal. Outlaws are what their name suggests; Criminals, intent only on profit and drugs. Doing quests for them was pretty entertaining though. All the “cloak and dagger”, requests to steal things from competition, etc. One mission I was given was really suspicious, mainly because of the quest giver. “Mad Bob”, the man in charge of Scrap collection, sent me to repay his “debt” after losing a gambling match to someone he suspected had cheated him. Upon giving him the money, I was instructed to leave a “gift” on the table of the recipient’s house. Upon returning to the Scrap Baron, a massive explosion resounded through the Fort, making clear what was in the package. Bob said the house of that recipient now belongs to me. So as you can see, there is a lot of character even in the quests. The Clerics are pretty much the same as Albs, except they don’t take Elex to enhance their bodies, they only use it to power their technology. Clerics worship some digital god, who they believe will save the world by the use of technology. I liked the Clerics until I saw they have a cult mentality. Some people would still join them for the fact that you can make use of their energy weapons, which makes the game a hundred times easier!
Here comes my biggest complaint of the game. It’s incredibly hard in the beginning! Not only because the variations in strength with creatures are insane, but because Jax is the weakest character I have ever been made to suffer a playthrough with. Remember how I mentioned he was as weak as a baby rat in the beginning of the review? The beginning stats don’t lie! When you open up your character’s menu, all stats begin at 10, of which there are 5 Attribute types to level up. Every level grants you 10 Attribute points, which you distribute into each type, and you may think that sounds like a lot, but there’s very little you can do with 10 points, I learnt. Jax was raised an Alb, so he was basically raised on Elex – which is highly apparent! Without it, he’s pretty much useless. I’m surprised he even made it 10 meters on his own without dying from pollen smacking his head! During quests and fights with the various creatures, it was ridiculous to see how squishy this guy was. Stub his toe on a pebble? Half your health drops. Step on that same rock and you’ll fold inward like a beach chair! Imagine what happens during fights then. “But what about the dodging and the blocking mechanics?” I hear you say. Sure, dodging is good and all, if you want to trade off nearly half your stamina in one dodge-roll. Blocking only prevents half the damage you would normally receive, which really doesn’t help much at all. Even if you get a shield, which is probably the rarest drop in the game, the damage that gets blocked isn’t all that much, until you get better ones later.
Making a game impossibly challenging from the start is not a very good way to get people wanting more of your game. I’ve seen many users ask for tips and complain about the beginning difficulty. All the replies would consist of is: “Keep going, it gets better later!” or “You’ll get stronger as you level up. Do the quests around town and avoid as many creatures as possible at first”. Great advice and all, but what about the quests that require you to kill some creatures? Or fight against somebody? Guess you’ll have to trudge off to another city to do more easy Experience quests to level up enough to tackle those quests later. Just try not to get dismembered on the way! Once you’ve got a follower to accompany you, they can tank most of the damage, until you end up encountering an enemy with a Skull icon next to their health bar, signalling to you that they are basically strong enough to one-shot you and your partner, to which your only option is to run like a cookie-selling girl-scout trying to escape a horde of hungry badgers. I’m now level 13, and I still have to figure out if it’s worth fighting any creatures or doing quests that involve battles. Most of the time it isn’t worth it, because the XP you gain from killing NPC mobs range from tiny, little bit, to scarcely much at all. I once spent nearly a minute dodging and jumping and slashing to get rewarded with +15XP. Some quests reward you with +250XP and it barely does much to the XP Guage. Fortunately, once you’ve reached certain areas and cities, you can Fast Travel using the Teleporting stages you find in these areas. You even get an achievement for teleporting a certain amount of times. You’ll find different companions and followers in these areas, two of which are possible love-interests for Jax in the game. In order to initiate these relationships, you need to complete their personal side quests.
I quite enjoyed Caja’s quests, though once again, only level 13 and into the third stage of her side quest, there’s a Night Stalker with scales as thick as bricks guarding the objective point. How are players meant to deal with that? I can finally deal with Mutants properly, now you chuck a new monster into the mix that’s probably Level 50 because all the arrows I have get used up while I’m hovering in the air with my Jetpack with barely a dent done to its health bar, and Caja laying unconscious to the side of the mountain. Not cool. At least have creatures that are quest-level appropriate for these areas. I ended up coming up with ideas such as attracting enemy mobs and then running back to town with them to have the guards deal with them. I saw online that it is a viable strategy, which just confuses me. All aside from that, I enjoy the interaction between the characters, though some other characters don’t have much substance to their personalities. More dialogue options get opened when you level up Abilities. You can only level up these Abilities by going to Trainers. Want to use the Charisma dialogue option? Make sure you have enough Attribute points, in order to purchase that Ability at the specific Trainer. Some Abilities require insane amounts of Attribute points having been spent, which really makes the player feel like they miss out on an opportunity if they don’t have enough points. I managed to scrape a few points together to eventually convince the bartender that he’s being a big dummy for not allowing other loyal customers into his establishment, which all ended up being some elaborate plan by another Clan Master to try and dirty their contenders’ names.
Quick Strategy Guide
In this wonderful world of danger, when you start out, follow Duras to the Berserker camp. When he asks if you want to go to the ruins to pick up Cleric weapons, tell him you want to go there. This will allow you to pick up a few quest items needed for later, and you will discover your first Teleporter. Once you’ve gathered all the weapons, continue with Duras to Goliet. Continue to do quests around there, most are very simple and easy. The ones that require you to kill things, ignore for now. Spend your Attribute Points to gain the Melee Weapons upgrade in Abilities first, seeing as that’s what you’ll be using for a while until you decide on a faction. Read what all the Attributes do and what Abilities do, and figure out a course of upgrades. If you are in need of going to other cities and towns and locations, avoid enemies as much as possible, especially ones with Skulls on their health bars. Reavers are a general pain in the butt, so always stay away from them, and unless Mutant names aren’t accompanied by “Small” or “Weak” (eg. Small Critter), then run away and lose them. If you want to complete a quest that requires killing creatures, pull the creatures and run to the quest givers or a town where the guards can take care of them for you. You won’t lose much in light of XP. Once you’re a higher level, you can take on stronger creatures that will give you more XP that is worth your time and HP. Quick Save, or Save, as often as you possibly can, even if it’s every 10 seconds. There’s nothing more annoying than having to redo a sequence of events twenty times because you died. And if the situation is too tough, you can decide on coming back later when you’re stronger and have found better equipment. Loot as many cigarettes as possible, because these give you the quickest and easiest way to get in-game currency. Clerics are considered the easiest to join and the easiest way to finish the game, but join a faction you are most comfortable with. If you are truly desperate for a super easy game, then pause, go into the Difficulties menu, and set everything to Easy and Passive… Or see what combo suits your level of Skill.
ELEX has its fun moments, the environments are awesome, and a lot of the story elements are really intriguing, but what ruins it, in my opinion, is the difficulty you are forced to start off with. I’ve died hundreds of times in the pursuit of figuring out the mechanics that aren’t explained to you properly. Usually what makes a game fun is a gradual increase of challenge that can still be met through the proper use of the mechanics implemented, as long as the mechanics are taught properly. There are things that make me want to continue playing ELEX, but there are also many things that make me want to abandon it. Patches have been released for the game, fixing some bugs and issues, such as one that awarded you an achievement for playing the game 80 hours, when only one hour had passed. I’m one such recipient. I only laughed at it. The music is well suited, but I loved the sceneries and graphics the most. Combat gets a passing grade, but it’s not a fantastic system. Overall, ELEX has great potential, and despite my frustrations with the game, there were moments I genuinely enjoyed it. If you’re a long fan of Piranha Bytes’s games, you’ll likely enjoy this title that easily has more than 50 hours worth of play time (especially if you want to try every faction), and newcomers who really want to give this a try, be sure to follow my advice, and you’ll do fine. You can buy ELEX at the time of this review for R565.00 on Windows, and R845.00 on PlayStation 4 and XBox One.