You know, Risen 1 and 2 in particular are games Piranha Bytes released previously that I was quite fond of. Fairly expansive open world games with fun stories and gameplay. Almost insanely difficult gameplay at the beginning, fairly balanced about a third of the way through, and over powered for the back third. I find Piranha Bytes as a whole to be very interesting. In my opinion, they invest a lot of time into their open world design and story, but don’t have the technical prowess of a Guerilla Games, CDPR, or even BethSoft, but what Piranha Bytes does possess is a fearless attitude and an ability to craft an excellent open world game without the AAA budgets.
Such is the way of things with Elex. Elex is an excellent open world western RPG with a very cool story and an expansive world complete with a fairly unique and quite interesting take on the post apocalypse. Of course, Elex isn’t without its flaws as well. With all that said, let’s dive into the actual review.
Elex is set on an alternate Earth with a society that was a bit more advanced than we are now in real life. Maybe leap forward about twenty to thirty years and I think that is where it’s civilization was technologically. A comet crashes into the planet causing mass devastation and near extinction of humanity and most other things as well.
Of course, not everything died and little by little, humans starting coming out of wherever they had hunkered down to explore and re-settle their world. Aside from global devastation, the comet also brought with it a substance called Elex. It is a crystalline substance that begins to grow throughout the world in clusters that can be mined and traded or even consumed. The over consumption of Elex led to mutations amongst both humans and animals.
Humanity itself broke into four factions (or tribes if you will).
Berserkers have forsworn the consumption of Elex and the use of what is now ancient technology from before the comet struck, preferring instead to use magic which is powered by the consumption of mana, which is Elex converted into a safe and powerful form. Berserkers further have set upon themselves the goal of healing the world via planting World Trees, which convert Elex into Mana and then slowly allow the Mana to seep back into the Earth, healing that part of the world and allowing for plant and animal life to thrive again.
Clerics try to find, examine, document, and use the old technology and incorporate it incorporate it into daily life, from sentinel robots to jetpacks to laser and plasma weapons, and beyond. They think they can unify the world via the study of the past and both implementation and improvement and old technology. They also aren’t opposed to consuming Elex, and in doing so, they actually created The Albs (who are the major antagonist throughout the game), who consume Elex to the point of losing all emotion and gaining enhanced strength, intellect, and reflexes.
The Outlaws are basically that. People living outside the other three existing governments, preferring to be free to do whatever. They live as scrap collectors, bandits, messengers, chem dealers, prostitutes, and so on. They gather in a town ruled by a Duke and his District Overseers. As they tend towards criminal activities, they aren’t looked upon favorably by the other factions.
You, Jax, play a fallen Alb commander who, through the events that unfold at the beginning of the game, has his system purged of Elex which allows him to actually have feelings and emotions again. As Jax investigates the betrayal that led to his current state of affairs, he also tries to prepare all the other factions of Free People to fight The Albs before the Albs overrun the world in their quest to possess ALL Elex while also destroying the free people as well.
I won’t go into anything else story related, but I will tell you that the story was engaging and had some cool twists and turns. While I wouldn’t call the actual writing superior, I would say that it was a strong effort with an excellent result.
8.5 out of 10
Gameplay in Elex is probably both its strongest and weakest aspect.
The combat in Elex is basically an upgraded version of what you may have experienced playing the Risen series. At first, it is brutal. You are under-powered and really have to plan each battle ahead of time. You will die often. Fortunately, there are four auto-save slots and any number of manual save slots. I would say it will take most people no less than ten hours to get enough experience and cash together for training and better weapons. each weapon has minimum specs to be able to use them and a lot take a bit of time to level up enough to do so. The wait is worth it though as it really teaches you how to use other things such as your awesome jet pack and the actual terrain itself to give you an advantage.
I personally enjoyed the actual combat. I thought the gunplay was pretty spot on and I played a more stealthy sniper-y character most of the way through my own playthrough. However, once I could start wielding some of the better swords in the game, especially the Legendary weapons, then melee also became quite a bit of fun.
However, it’s also a bit clunky. Sometimes in melee, you will press the quick attack and it will attack twice instead of once. The same thing happens with power attacks from time to time. Also, your stamina drops pretty quickly, which affects both attacks and dodging. I never really got the hang of parrying, so that isn’t something I can really speak to, but with your base stamina, you get like four or five dodges/attacks in sequence before you run out of stamina and can’t do anything. That said, once you get used to this, it becomes easier to deal with, and selective use of asymmetrical combat via use of your jet pack always gives you a chance to reassess for a moment. Well, most of the time anyway.
Enemies are pretty efficient. They are excellent aims without a doubt. Solid use of strafing and rolling will minimize this however. All in all, that ends up being a nice system of checks and balances.
There is also no shame in running away. However, you will also need to be crafty in doing so as most enemies will chase you as far as they possibly can. Interestingly enough, random enemies that aren’t the same faction or type of creature will fight each other as well and you can and definitely should use this to your advantage by having enemies chase you into other enemies and then getting out of the chaos via your jet-pack.
The world itself is a vast and seamless open world with a ton of exploration available. You will find fast travel spots around the world. Once you’ve found it, it’s unlocked for the rest of the game. They are all over the world but still force you to actually have to travel the land on foot at least a little as well, which is cool as you will encounter a lot of interesting stuff along almost any journey you might take.
There are well over three hundred missions in this game, be they main quest stuff, faction quests, or just simple side quests. I found the quest system to be pretty cool and each felt relevant in some way. I probably wandered about the world for a solid sixty hours exploring, completing quests, and leveling up before I really did much in the way of the actual main quest lines. By the end of my playthrough, I was at about a hundred and ten hours. The quests were a high point of the game for me in most instances. When they didn’t serve the actual plot progression, they served to really flesh out the world.
Elex is not without issues however. In fact, I would say this is also typical of Piranha Bytes. You’ll get the occasional screen tearing and lag. You will fall through the world from time to time. The game will crash from time to time. Clipping becomes a reality, especially with enemies, who often become entangled on their surroundings. This however can be useful, especially while you are under-powered lol.
There is an unnecessary amount of lag when going from the world to your menu, which you will have to do often to reference your map, quest log, equipment, stats, etc…honestly, for all the other expected issues the game ended up having, this was one that was unexpected and pretty annoying. Having to wait twenty seconds every time you change interface is aggravating.
There is so much more to this game in a positive sense though, from the crafting to the relationship building and especially the henchmen who you can take with you on your journey (one at a time), that I could go on for a long time still. Ultimately, the fun factor is always present, and despite it’s many flaws, Elex is hella fun from a gameplay perspective. Especially once you can use the Legendary equipment. At that point, you’re pretty much the boss and it really feels well earned and well deserved to suddenly be a bit over powered after having really ground through some tough times to get there.
8.5 out of 10
The graphics in Elex are like the gameplay: both good and bad. The good outweighs the bad however. The game, in most circumstances, is a stunner. The world is vibrant, varied, and interesting. The character designs looked pretty cool. Combat effects looked great. Some of the points of interest in the game were nothing short of stunning. The cut scenes looked nice. However, and especially with the human character models, they were quite limited. There might be thirty or so different facial/character models and such being used, which given how vast the world is and how many people are in it, ends up becoming a bit comical, as everybody basically looks like one of a handful of variations. Of course, they could all just be related to one another I suppose.
All told, I think 7.5 out of 10 is fair for this category
The audio in Elex is mostly stellar. The music was very cool and there were a number of tracks available for use. The ambient sounds and sounds of battle likewise sounded cool.
The voice acting itself, which is prevalent in the game to Piranha Bytes credit, with every named character being voiced, and there being well over a hundred named characters in the game. The actual voice acting was about the equivalent of my expectation from a good B movie. Some really believable moments mixed in with some wood and some ham.
8 out of 10
Elex is not without its issues. In fact, it is plagued with the same issues that show up in every Piranha Bytes game. However, they are less damning than they were in previous games and the fun factor itself just completely makes up for the games shortcomings and really makes Elex shine as an example of how to take less of a budget and still make a huge and impressive, well thought out game that carries the fun well into the hundredth hour.
In fact, there are a lot of story arcs that are triggered by your actions, and you could legitimately get no less than four distinctly different playthroughs with what I imagine to be no less than four different endings as well. I personally ended the game as a Berserker with Separatist Albs and some Clerics as allies in final push against the Albs. However, you can play as any of the four factions or never even bother aligning with one. The options are probably not limitless, but seem like they are.
Ultimately, this ends up being 8.1 bits of Elex turned to mana while the remainder get used as the world’s currency, out of 10 possible.