ELEX – Just like Marmite

I have a strange relationship with this game. At times I get engrossed in its world for hours. Some times I just laugh at how obtuse some of the game mechanics are.

And sometimes I get very frustrated with it.

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This legit happened. What kind of fucking light effects are these?

As you’ve noticed, I’ve been away for a long time. I got a new freelance job that is demanding a lot of my time.

So onto the game.

It is a weird game. ELEX is a fascinating, at times broken and at times horrible RPG, but one that deserves a look I reckon. I put nearly 50 hours into the game in my first stint by the time I write this review (Yes, I haven’t completed the game yet. Other games, my job and my author stuff take priority, but I’ve played enough to warrant writing a review)

A couple of years ago, I made my Top 5 games of 2017 list. In it,  I said that this game nearly became Number 2 on my list, for so many reasons. This is when the “love” part of ELEX gets to me. Many times I sat back and went: “Huh. This is actually pretty impressive.” ELEX didn’t make my Top 5 cut of last year, but it did win my “Love/Hate” reward. Just like Marmite.

It reminds me like a 2013 version of Morrowind. Now, that has good and bad in it.

The Good Things

I rather enjoyed it. I especially like the open world and jet pack that allows quite a range of exploration, and it continues to impress you even after 30-40 hours of exploration. Once you find everything, in one of these open world games, they are not as much fun. Very few games pull off this level of immersion for me. Remember the three big things I once listed for RPGs, a long time ago in an article I cannot be bothered to remember.

  • Immersion
  • Combat
  • Movement

Again, ELEX doesn’t nail all three, but not even Witcher 3 managed that. But man oh man, this game hits the immersion well. Their dev Piranha Bytes are becoming an increasingly rare sort of developer. Despite a small team size, and regardless of what else is happening in the world of video game trends, these guys have been steadily putting out unique, challenging, ambitious and unpolished RPGs that don’t really seem to be getting made anywhere else. Many hate on them for not evolving, and I understand that. ELEX is very obtuse in many ways to the point it’s frustrating, so I get why people got turned off ELEX in the beginning. So did I.

 

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Very simple graphics especially for this age (This came out in 2017!) but I’m rather fond of it. Not every game has to be a looker.

Now, the world visuals for me do the job. It’s not top level not even close, and I don’t expect miracles for a small developer on a small budget. These are forgivable. This world environment is diverse with a lot of different biomes, and while things are rough around the edges, I really liked exploring. The textures at times are a tad rough, but there is some good variation and the world-building is the best part of the game. Everything is hand crafted, the cities are large and well varied and the world map is pretty big, but still manages to do a good job at finding cool things to explore.

Exploration itself is the meat of the game for me. You get a jetpack from the beginning and it really adds to this regard. You can bullshit through a lot of the world with it, which is a good thing. If the jetpack did not exist, this game would be a whole lot more unforgiving, more so than it already is. This is down to its pretty atrocious combat system but I’ll get into that later.

The quests themselves aren’t particularly special, but the factions are pretty nice. There are four overall and many little settlements, usually each with their own quests. There’s good variation and completely different play-styles. The world gives off a good view of it being alive with different NPCs going around doing their thing, animals that attack each other. It plays a bit like a survival stealth game at times, because you’re so weak for most of the game you really need to watch where you’re going. This world hates you, and you will die a lot. That isn’t a bad thing, but I’ll get into that properly in a bit.

However, there is a lot of good to this game.

Want to know the bad news?

When its bad, its really bad.

 

The Bad

Now, ELEX has a lot of frustrating problems. The opening 20 hours are punishingly difficult (but this is a subjective thing) and quite a slog. The starting area is, I’ll put it honestly, trash. It takes a long time to get to the point where you can enjoy travelling the world without getting one-shotted. I got killed within my first 10 minutes by a rat. A fucking rat.

It would not be the last.

Onto the combat system, its rough. Clunky is putting it politely, and theirs a stunlock system that hampers you. Your stamina bar is also quite tight.

Its quite a shame because you get quite a diverse array of weapons and styles to choose from, but it is let down by the nasty combat. I will say while it is painful, you do get used to it. Treat every battle like a boss fight, and I mean it. You will get better at it, but these two big problems merge into one shit sundae and a very uncomfortable opening hours. So much so I don’t blame anyone for putting the game down. If you can push through this, I personally found the combat satisfying. But this takes a while and you might not get to that point. I like the publishers, but they probably should learn how to make games with less frustrating combat.

Onto visuals, some are quite shoddy. Just look at this water.

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What the hell is this?

The sound effects are also a bit fucked. You’ll either hear water on full power, or have a raging waterfall in your ears vanish when you move a few extra feet away. It’s a bit annoying. The pacing like I said earlier is pretty slow, and it takes a long time for anything to really happen. The graphics look alright in the world visuals, but the character models and voice acting really are painful. Again though, a small developer on a small budget, so this I can forgive.

Some of the characters are quite good, but your main NPC (the player) is about as interesting as watching grass grow. Your companions are quite varied and their questlines are actually rather fun, but good god their AI sucks. They often just stand there twiddling their thumbs, doing nothing to help you while a beast chews your ankles off. They do get different dialogue while you’re in conversation with NPCs, so its worth swapping them out.

Let’s talk a bit about the balance/progression. It’s a bit fucked, really. You get points to attribute into your stats, which you need to unlock different parts. A lot of your perks are also nearly useless. It’s quite easy to break the game with some of these.

Oh, and navigating your UI. It’s a mess. You also can’t order your items or drop anything so you have to spend a ton of time scrolling through all your shit. This is tedious.

I haven’t completed the main game yet, but I’ve also heard some fucked things about the Cold system. Your NPC is an Alb, who uses something called Elex for power. During different quests you make decisions which increases or decreases your Cold. Which can lock out options for you later in the game. Which does a piss poor job of explaining it to you. I only have hearsay on this, as I’m not far enough along yet.

A Summary.

Pros

  • Large, well built and hand-crafted open world. I loved travelling around in it.
  • Varied factions, and decent quest design to go with them.
  • Good selection of weapons and powers, if difficult to use early on.
  • This is a huge game. Expect 80-100 hours in your first playthrough.
  • Visuals are decent to good, and the biomes are varied. There’s some really nice places to explore.
  • Your companions have pretty good stories to go with them, with solid quests to boot.
  • Open way of dealing with quests. Many have different ways to approach them. This gives you a nice sense of freedom.
  • Worldbuilding is overall very good.
  • Relatively stable. I’ve had just one CTD in over 50 hours of gameplay.
  • Great exploration with the jetpack. You can even parkour!
  • The game is completely open from the start. Do whatever you want. Just don’t expect to survive a lot of it early on.

Cons

  • A horrible opening start.
  • Combat is clunky, making the difficulty even more frustrating early game. Melee combat is seriously rough. I’d stick to magic, drones or guns.
  • The berserker’s starting area isn’t really anything special.
  • Some bugs and glitches, but nothing too bad. I’ve seen worse.
  • Clumsy controls.
  • Companion AI sucks.
  • A rough levelling system that is easy to break.
  • Visuals and especially audio is flaky.
  • Main character you play as? Not any fun to relate with.
  • Some worldbuilding quirks. The Berserkers hate magic, but don’t do anything about it when you whip out your fancy UI tool. Inconsistent.

 

Final Score = 7/10.

This game has some serious flaws, but there is an ambitious, well made open world in here, with solid quests and factions. The game sold so well the devs are making a sequel. It’s done something right.

Overall, I’d recommend at least giving it a shot. It’s a good enough game, if you can get past its downsides, and there are a lot of them.

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