Elex, is the story of a half decent story game that wasn’t. My adventures plunging through Magalan, the expansive open world sci-fantasy RPG were perilous and arduous at the same time. As an observant player, there were one or two moments of “hey this isn’t so bad” soon followed by too many more moments of frustration that instantly reminded me I was playing through an unpolished video game. My overall impression after spending roughly 17 hours playing through the campaign is that this game was way more ambitious than it seemed the team may have been able to pull off by the end of their production schedule.
Before getting too deep into the shortcomings, I’d like to point out something that was commendable. Story wise, the game is actually not so bad. The allied characters you come across and even some of the enemies you engage with offer details, or twists that may in fact catch you off guard, especially considering your expectations of this game will likely be low by the time you encounter them. Fans of a decent revenge story will definitely find value in playing through Elex. Anticipate investing at least a good 30 or 40 hours to complete the story though, so to see it all the way through you’ll have to slog through the gameplay.
And then there’s the gameplay… Although a chore at times, the fun parts of Elex are presented to you early. As soon as you’re presented with a jetpack in the first hour of the game, you can start having a bit of fun, especially in combat. Hovering up away from danger and using your ranged weapons to fend off enemies becomes one of your biggest go to combat strategies throughout the experience, especially considering how rare it is to find yourself fully stocked up on health replenishment throughout the game.
When it comes to melee combat though, you’ll find the combo mechanic counterproductive to your success due to it’s unintuitive implementation. In Elex, you can combo or link together your melee attacks if you time them just right, but the combo meter indicating the exact needed timing is tucked away on the bottom left-hand side of the screen, while your vulnerable character and target enemy are in the upper middle of the screen. Somehow, you’re expected to be able to gauge your melee distance and manage your enemy threats in the middle of the screen, while also being able to watch your combo meter in the corner of the screen. If my position, my enemies and my combo meter are all important, then why are they separated? The ideal solution would have them placed in close proximity so all three can be monitored simultaneously.
Now looking at some of the issues, I wished the developers at Piranha Bytes had some time to tidy up the experience a bit. Some of the simple things you would expect to have in a game this large, are just not there. For starters, there’s no good animation for falling, you seem to stay in a standing in a straight leg idle pose until you hit the ground (your poor knees). It looks so out of place that you’re likely to think it’s a bug in the game. With how often you’re falling or hopping down in this game, it sticks out too frequently. Furthermore, too often you will initiate a cutscene where the character placement is noticeably distant from where the cutscene was triggered and the effect is a bit jarring. A bit more care could have been taken to help lead the characters into better position while I was still controlling the character, the abrupt teleports require you to reorient and just aren’t appreciated.
When it comes to how the game looks, I again leave feeling underwhelmed. At first glance while you do get to see vast landscapes and all the open world goodness to explore, you will quickly find yourself thinking “Gee, this really doesn’t look like PS4, Xbox One level of detail”. Now it is to be expected that the graphical detail of your characters and environments in open world games usually don’t compare when judged against more linear experiences. It’s just that in this game, even that lowered expectation isn’t met visually. The character models and the environments all feel like they belong on previous generation hardware. In fact, I will say this game would likely be much better received if it shipped as is, 5 years ago at the end of our previous PS3 and XBOX 360 generation.
You do start to feel better about your appearance as you collect some of the weapons and upgrades available on your journey so all is not completely lost, it’s just worth nothing you’re not going to get into a game like this to show off the power of your hardware.
Overall I would say there are things to enjoy about playing through Elex, primarilly the story but also one or two of the combat encounters are fun enough to do twice. I don’t imagine after completing the game once though, that you would be interested enough to give it another playthrough. With a sluggish gameplay experience, and often unintuitive combat mechanics this game fights against you to enjoy it. And not in the ‘punishingly difficult is the fun of the game’ way like Bloodborne or Dark Souls game would be. Elex is often just punishing because it’s not quite there yet. Again on the positive side, it is a large game with a good enough story that those interested enough in the characters and chosing exactly how relationships will play out through dialogue choices, will indeed enjoy the story progression as gameplay unfolds and surely get their money’s worth. It’s just for everyone else, they may end up feeling a bit sore about the experience.
Review by Doomcore. Thanks to Xbox for the review code!