I don’t know where to start with ELEX. The latest game from developer Piranha Bytes sees the merge of different genres in this open world, action RPG that throws players into a science fantasy universe. This sounds nice on paper but in practice ELEX is a poorly designed, poorly executed title that misses the mark on so many occasions.
The story for the game takes place in an open world full of plenty of places to go and interesting things to see. From the three main factions that call this world home to the radioactive monsters that wish to eat you. The setting of ELEX is one of the few elements that feels engaging enough to keep you playing as the story starts with you needing to pick a faction and earn your place with them. As it progresses there are some moments that stand out with the odd twist now and again that will capture your attention but sadly it’s a boring tale overall. Though each faction is different in aesthetic, values and quests, they feel so dissimilar from each other that all the characters you meet seem just as boring as the last because there is no standout or memorable characters catching your eye.
The player character for a start is by far one of the most ugly and unlikeable, it doesn’t help the game's case. Playing as yet another angry, bald, white male with a voice box that sounds like it was thrown through a blender is, as you would expect, another case of not being able to connect to said character. Though you can build your character in a number of different ways, focusing on a combat style that suits you, it is almost always going to result in a melee fighter. Sadly the ammo and mana needed to carry out powerful magic actions or fire impressive guns are hard to come by leaving you feeling a bit short. Not only that but putting your efforts into ranged will ultimately leaving you at a disadvantage on the defence side. That is once you get your head around the leveling system within the game and its next to unusable menu system which, even after hours of play time was still a nightmare to use.
Combat fails to save the game though as it is rhythm-based melee system is rather dull and feels lackluster. There is also next to no warning for who and what will attack you meaning more often than not you will enter an area just to be killed in one shot. The biggest challenge within ELEX’s combat however is the fight against yourself. You see, controls are not as responsive as they could be meaning you will often see your character do the complete opposite of what you wanted. Rolling was a common action I would see when trying to run forward and to the side. This isn’t helped by the fact the animations within the game are completely awful.
There are individual ones that feel refined and well-thought out but when in motion, everything just falls apart. You see, all the movement for the character feels like a robot with the jump animation specifically being particularly dreadful. Not to mention the animations and speed at which the character uses their jetpack is even more unsettling. It all feels loose and weightless with only the attacking animations having any sense of weight and impact behind them. Let’s just overlook the bugged vaulting animations that will slide you across the ground to get you into position before painfully performing the action. This might all seem like a nitpick but when you are facing these issues from the moment the game starts then you know it’s going to be a long ride.
Visually though, ELEX is an odd mismatch of art direction. Set in a world that combines both medieval and sci-fi designs in a post-apocalyptic world you expect some clashing. That is fine and honestly the setting is by far the most interesting element within the game. What is a shame though is seeing a river blocked by a random and completely out of place brick wall in the middle of the woods. This is a running theme within the game as set designing isn’t just a clash of ages and culture but rather a poor job at laying out the environment. This continues into the graphics as well with impressive lighting but poor textures and shadows with no noticeable differences on each graphic setting. Thankfully though, besides the load times, performance seems rather stable at this time.
I would like to talk about some of the positive aspects of the game but there are not many that can be brought to attention. Sure, the world setting and lore is an area that is worth exploring or at least reading about. A fully voiced cast of characters is a nice addition and next to total freedom to explore the world does help. Beyond that, not much else stands out. The game is buggy with plenty of problems in quests, event triggers and even AI. It’s horribly unbalanced and misleading at times as well and the end result is just so poor that you will wonder why you are playing.
To call ELEX a bad game is more than fitting. Though deep down, behind all the trouble, poor performance and unpolished systems lay some interesting and solid ideas for an RPG. They might not be executed as well as they should be nor are they even present as much as I’d like, but they are there. Still, that does not save the game from what is otherwise an unenjoyable mess. If you feel you can overlook the problems then by all means pick up this title but honestly you wouldn’t be missing out on the next big hit if you did skip this one. Hopefully some updates can address some of the troubles but I wouldn’t hold my breath.
Also, why is toilet paper the most common item I find when exploring the ruins of the old world?
ELEX (Reviewed on Windows)
The game is unenjoyable, but it works.
ELEX is a broken, messy game that might have some interesting ideas deep down but they won't save it. Honestly you are better of avoiding or waiting for the developers to maybe save this title.