ELEX is an interesting beast. Coming from the creators of the much beloved Gothic series, Piranha Bytes have gone on to make a handful of titles such as the Risen series. ELEX is a brand new IP from the developer, but unfortunately almost everything the studio has learned from their past games has gone out the window. ELEX in my opinion is downright unplayable.
ELEX begins well enough with a great concept that fosters hope. An asteroid has struck the planet wiping out most of humanity. Those that survived have banded into different groups and – much like humanity tends to do – they go to war with each other. In the remnants of the asteroid, a new material called ELEX is discovered, which gives people unique abilities but with a bad side effect. When consumed ELEX gives enhanced strength but it’s also very addicting. When constantly consumed it turns the person feral, pretty much turning them into Ghouls.
The four factions that have risen in this post-apocalyptic world each have a use for ELEX. The Berserkers are a Viking-like clan who forbid the use of ELEX and want it all destroyed, but they secretly harvest its power into mana and use it for magic. The Cultists worship a robot God and use ELEX to operate giant mechs and use futuristic weapons like laser guns. The Outlaws are a Mad Max-type of band full of cowboys and use chems to enhance their abilities. Last of all the Albs are the most powerful of the groups who are looking to wipe out all the others and rule the planet.
You take on the role of Jax, an Alb who is betrayed by his own kind. He finds himself left for dead in a forest and sets off to get revenge on those who betrayed him. Losing all of the power that he had gained from the ELEX, Jax must make allies and befriend the clans to help him take down the Albs.
The world and lore of ELEX is interesting with the theme of mixing technology with prehistoric locations being the highlight. The apocalyptic world is also well realized with old buildings and apartment complexes overgrown with nature. The history of the world and how these clans came to be is also something I enjoyed learning about, and it’s clear a lot of thought went into it. There are also a vast amount of quests to complete, and most of them tell a pretty good story that have some serious consequences for the majority of the game.
Unfortunately, the rest of ELEX falls flat. Let’s start with combat. Combat uses a simple control scheme. The R1 Button is your weak attack and the R2 button is your strong attack. You can parry attacks and dodge attacks by rolling out of the way. The problem is that none of it works well. Jax is clumsy and swings his melee weapons slowly, but far worse is when most enemies don’t even react to Jax’s attacks. The hit detection is also all over the place. Dodging attacks almost never helped me as the enemies’ attacks would still connect or their attack will simply change direction and follow me to where I was dodging. It also doesn’t help that almost everything you do takes so much stamina. You can get away with completing about four attacks before running out of stamina, and then there’s about a two second delay before it starts to regenerate again.
When Melee failed me, I tried to go long range with a bow and arrow. I tried to use guns but they seemed nigh impossible to come by, and didn’t fare much better. The shooting is stiff and most of the time I couldn’t tell if I was hitting an enemy or not. They also closed the distance so fast I could only get three shots out before I had to switch to melee. Consequently, it seems like ELEX is a melee focused action role-playing game where you are forced to use melee in order to get past the first two dozen hours of the game.
ELEX is unnecessarily hard. Even when playing on the easiest difficulty level I was massacred by everything. The first bandit I encountered killed me in about two hits. Twelve hours later that same bandit would kill me in three hits. Everything is so hard to kill and so high level I don’t know how anyone is able to progress in the game. Buying new gear cost so much money that you may get lucky and be able to afford a weapon that increases your damage by simply one point. You would think that you can run away from most battles, but guess what? Enemies are so relentless they will follow you to the ends of the Earth. At one point I had encountered a Raptor dinosaur and found out I was too weak to defeat it. I ran from it for probably fifteen minutes. I couldn’t even see it anymore and just went on to complete my quest. As I’m going about my business, guess who shows up? The same Raptor that I ran way from fifteen minutes ago still following me. It never stopped following me. This happens with every enemy I encountered. I got so bad that I had to run back to the first village and let the village guards kill everything for me.
Upgrading Jax is just as painful as combat. When you level up you can distribute points across various attributes like strength, dexterity, and intelligence. This is all fine and well until you get to the meat of upgrades, your abilities. If you want to learn any sort of abilities you first have to earn the favor of the leader of whatever town you’re in. You do this by doing a bunch of side quests for the citizens. This already is a hassle because a lot of these quests mean you have to venture to the opposite side of the map where everything is doubly powerful.
That’s just the first problem, the second problem comes in finding Trainers. These Trainers are the only ones that can teach you specific abilities. The problem is the restrictions placed on these abilities. First, you have to win approval, then you have to have enough points placed into specific categories. In order to learn how to use magic with the Berserkers you need triple the points in specific categories just to be able to learn to use magic. When you level up you get about ten points to spend on your attributes and most skills require you to have around forty to fifty points in multiple attributes to learn skills. It took almost twenty hours just to learn my first skill. The hurdles placed in the game are just insane.
Graphically, ELEX looks worse than Piranha Bytes last game Risen 3: Titan Lords, and that game released back on the PS3. Character models are decent but not spectacular in anyway. Animations are terrible though and voice acting is all over the place.
I could go on and on about ELEX, but in all honesty it just hurts me to do so. ELEX should have been a crowning achievement for Piranha Bytes with so many decent games already in their catalog and their vast experience. ELEX on the other hand is a step backwards in every way. Piranha Bytes has a huge following and maybe some of their following will find something to enjoy, but I found it a largely painful experience.