Review: Elex (Computer)

Reviewed by Tom Bond, posted Oct 17, 2017, last updated Oct 18, 2017
Oct 17, 2017
  • Release Date (NA): October 17, 2017
  • Publisher: THQ Nordic
  • Developer: Piranha Bytes
  • Genres: Action, RPG, Open-world
  • ESRB Rating: Mature
  • Also For: PlayStation 4, Xbox One
  • Single player
    Local Multiplayer
    Online Multiplayer
Elex is an open world futuristic action RPG set on the planet “Magalan” that follows the story of Jax, your average, everyday commander who fails a mission and is on a path of revenge after a failed execution attempt by the faction he worked so closely with.
Tom Bond


Open World! Lots of Choices!...Kinda.

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Elex takes place on the planet Magalan, a rich planet devastated by a comet that delivers Elex, an extremely addictive substance that’s like magic, “but not”. There are 4 main factions of humans in the world, Berserkers, Outlaws, Clerics, and the dreaded Albs, each with their own little “quirk” that ends up being laughably unrealistic and, quite frankly, stupid, but we’ll get to that in a bit. The game starts out with you as Jax, one of the most renowned Alb soldiers, attempting to crash land a ship you’re using to escape from...Alb soldiers. Apparently you failed some sort of big, important mission, and your friend Kallax shoots you and knocks you off a cliff. Instead of doing the reasonable thing, like making sure you’re dead, the Alb soldiers just saunter off and you wake up hours later with no armor and only an old pipe for a weapon. After exploring a rather linear initial path where you pick up a bow, a jetpack, and various other items, you run across another human, Duras, who tells you of a settlement nearby and...basically forces you to go there. The game claims to be “open world”, but if you so much as stray away from Duras without accepting to follow him you get a warning telling you “Magalan is dangerous. Duras can help you survive.” And they’re not joking, enemies around this starting area will just straight up one-shot you. So you’re all but forced to follow Duras to Goliath, the main settlement and the home of the Berserkers. Along the way, you have the option to learn about the other factions, and here’s where you start to realize there are some real big issues with Elex. 

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Let’s start with the factions, Albs, Berserkers, Outlaws, and Clerics. Albs are the main antagonist of the game, of course, who use the dangerously addictive Elex to commit various “evil acts” and wage war with everyone not Alb. Using Alb-enhanced, advanced laser weapons, cool futuristic armor, and mechs, Albs are a pretty hefty threat for the most part. Clerics are religious zealots, literally worshiping a god named Calaan and “Old world technology”, and their main objective is to collect and use as much of it as possible. This includes things like mechs, combat robots, and various laser weapons, which puts them about on par with the Albs for the most part. Outlaws are the “less than legitimate” members of society, and is sort of a massive criminal empire filled with thieves, murderers, drug dealers and what have you. Using basic, gun-powder fueled guns like rifles and shotguns and wearing virtually no armor, you’d think they’d be at the most disadvantaged! Surely standard weapons like rifles and shotguns and things are no match for mechs, lasers, and futuristic looking armor! But no, we have the laughably underpowered Berserkers. Berserkers seek to “heal the world” by creating Mana from Elex, which is used to cast magic and grow giant plants known as “World hearts” which are supposed to “fix everything”. Berserkers seek to destroy all old world technology, and opt to use...swords, standard bows, axes, and mana-fueled “actual magic”. Yes, swords and bows and “magic” against super fancy armor, mechs, and lasers. 

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Any sane individual would realize that Berserkers are basically a no-go as a starting faction, so you’d opt for one of the other factions like maybe the Clerics like I did...except if you step slightly out of the surrounding area of Goliath, you’re going to run into monsters and enemies that essentially one shot you. You start the game as a slightly wet noodle, doing so little damage and having so little health that it is virtually impossible to get anywhere in the game without first having to go through a majority of the initial Berserker quest line that you don’t want to do. Open world! Even after completing as many of the quests as possible without actually joining the faction, you leave Goliath with basic weapons and armors, not enough attribute points to use any other decent weapons, and maybe a companion or two. Originally I thought I was just doing something wrong with my first playthrough, so I restarted after about 5 hours and decided to just join the Berserkers and see where that takes me, but that changes nothing, you’re still as underpowered versus any enemy you run into as you would be attempting to join other factions. The game is so poorly designed in this regard that I had to load up Cheat Engine to give myself infinite health, arrows (since you can’t retrieve any that you shoot), money, and increased attribute points to actually use a half-decent weapon and not got 1-2 shot in combat. You can have companions in the game, I ran across 2 during my 2 different playthroughs, but their AI is all over the place at the best of times, and while they do much more damage than you do they're not exactly smart enough to fight enemies that are a real threat. If you're fighting a high level troll, and a low level Biter, they'll focus on the Biter and let you get demolished by the troll without so much as a thought to help. 

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Speaking of, combat is just another thing woefully off with the game. It's mostly clunky, with light/heavy attacks for melee weapons and just regular ol' shooting for ranged weapons like bows and laser rifles. Magic comes in three main forms, technologically powered, Cleric magic, the single use Elex-powered magic that Albs use and the actual, mana-fueled magic that Berserkers can teach once you join their factions. Magic is about the only thing actually useful in the game, sometimes doing 3-4x the damage as your current usable weapons, but just getting to the point to use magic is a chore and still leaves you poorly equipped for most of the entire world's enemies. As mentioned, you essentially start the game out in the Berserker home city, so you’re stuck starting out the game using swords, axes, and bows. Unfortunately, these weapons do virtually no damage against anything but low level enemies, and low level enemies are so sparse that you’re basically running for your life more often than not. You can upgrade weapons, but only after you get the required crafting skill which requires fairly hefty attribute requirements just to learn. You do also come across the occasional upgraded weapon, either from the one decent vendor in Goliath or from the occasional chests located throughout the world, but the requirements for anything not super basic are so unrealistic it’ll take you at least 10+ levels just to use the thing. Leveling is a chore at the best of times, with questing being the main source of experience since the enemies you can conceivably kill only award you 10-25 exp per kill where thousands are required to level past level 5. And questing is oh-so annoying, mainly because of the way the game handles your journal/quest tracking. Once you're given a task, like say kill XYZ Outlaw for ABC Berserker, it'll mark that Outlaw on the map, which is good. Once you kill that Outlaw the quest just auto-completes and awards you EXP, which is also nice. But if you want to actually "complete" the already completed quest and get your monetary or item-based reward, you have to make your way back to the ABC Berserker who gave you the quest. Not the biggest issue, unless this particular NPC is located in some random location on the map. Elex has a pretty decent sized map with NPCs randomly placed all over, so you'll have to either remember that random location and make your way back from memory, or leave the 1 map marker you get to use at the quest giver to mark it off just so you know where to go to get your actual reward.

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Enemies almost don't make any sense in Elex, mainly because it's like someone took a list of common enemies in RPGs and just picked random entries and decided "good enough". You'll come across trolls, raptors, mutants, weird mutated chickens, weird mutated chicken-raptor combo monsters, extreme mutant humans that look like an amalgamation of flesh, giant rats, random malfunctioning mechs, random malfunctioning drones, giant mutated bugs, chickens, weird, other mutated humans...a lot of these just don't seem to fit with others. To make matters worse, some enemies you come across will have the same name as another, completely unrelated enemy. I've come across a "Ripper" in one region, which was a mutated dog/mole rat-esque enemy, and a "Ripper" in another that's a giant mutated spider? It's like the developers didn't even fact check their own enemy list. One of the nicer things about Elex is that these enemies do occasionally fight among themselves, which gives you the feeling that everything isn't just out to get you and the world is truly "alive". Sometimes you'll come across members of the other factions fighting trolls or raptors, sometimes you'll find weird mutant chickens fighting weird mutant dogs etc etc. which is useful for when you're just trying to complete a basic fetch quest and you don't want to get killed outright by the overpowered enemies.

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Graphically, Elex is nothing to write home about. Throughout the game you’ll find various odd graphical glitches, clipping textures, and occasionally just complete disregard for model placement. At one point I saw the corner of a wooden walkway just clipping right of another wall, which for any title in this scope is just unacceptable. It’s not an isolated incident, either, I’ve found various other structures just as poorly placed. Texture pop-in is also very prevalent, mainly in the larger forest areas where leaves and trees take a few seconds to actually render, and at one point entire buildings took 5-6 seconds to actually render properly after fast traveling to Goliath. Running this on an i5 7600k, GTX 1070, and 16GB of DDR4 all but confirms this is an issue with the game engine, and not my PC. Lighting is also rather strange, with the insides of buildings being pitch black until you start walking into them, and once in buildings, outside is just blinding light, which for all intents and purposes just looks awkward. Animations are also akin to a 2007 title, and facial animations are just as poor as you’d expect. Sound design is also rather mediocre, most sound effects sounding as if they were recorded for games in 2005 and voice acting basically as well done as you could expect for a budget indie title (which this isn’t). It doesn’t help that the writing seems like it was a 15 year old’s fan fiction, featuring such lines as “Stop questioning me about my business, or I’ll get angry!” and “If I wanted you dead, we wouldn’t be having this conversation, trust me. You need to apologize”. 

+ Decent sized map for an open world game.
+ World interaction is decent.
- Factions simply don't make sense, with bow and arrow Berserkers somehow being able to compete with laser rifle Albs/Clerics.
- Seemingly no real quality assurance whatsoever.
- Enemies are a random mix of sci-fi/fantasy that don't fit well together.
- Clunky animations, combat, AI, sound design, and voice acting.
out of 10
Overall, Elex had a lot of promise, but it's amalgamation of settings and mechanics do nothing positive for the game. With an utter nonsense mix of weapons, enemies, and settings, Elex might have been a decent game...for 2007. Unfortunately, it seems like Piranha Bytes still hasn't learned from their various mistakes with Risen 3. As it is now, there's simply no reason to try it unless you're a diehard Piranha Bytes fan.

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