ELEX Preview: Sword and Circuitry
Ben Sheene / Jun 29th, 2017 No Comments
Fantasy and science fiction can be easily mined for intriguing story beats and inviting worlds, but how does a developer set itself apart? Developer Piranha Bytes decided that the best way to change things up would be to combine those two genres with ELEX.
At E3 2017, I got a chance to see the game’s wild take on an open world and was left wanting more.
When Worlds Collide
Over 100 years ago, a meteor crashed into the planet of Magalan, wiping countless lives off the surface and drastically altering the landscape. Inside the meteor was ELEX, a substance that can be seen as both a blessing and a curse. ELEX is a power source to fuel robots and teleporters. It can be consumed to infuse a person with magic. It can also slowly strip a person of their humanity if they consume too much.
ELEX is the driving force behind differentiating the game from its peers. Any number of RPGs share similarities in their mechanics, but a unique setting truly elevates familiarity into something more. During my half hour demo, I watched the player character walk around a world that had been shaped by a fantastical post-apocalyptic event.
Players will run through dense woods and come upon cracked highways and towering buildings. This is a world where players can fight dinosaur-like creatures and robots with suits of armor and glowing eyes. In my demo, we fled from combat with a giant, high-level ogre only to run into an equally deadly robot.
The world of ELEX has been shaped by various factions, technologies and magic, the results of which are etched into Magalan. A deeper lore can be uncovered through audio logs and books, ensuring that the past doesn’t stay buried under a hundred years of meteor rubble.
If you’ve dabbled into any open-world RPG in the last decade, there are vistas from ELEX that will strike a familiar chord. At first blush, ELEX takes ideas you may have seen before and simply cuts and pastes them together in a compelling way.
Thankfully, Piranha Bytes is harmonizing the fantasy and sci-fi elements to craft a cohesive universe that players will want to get lost in. According to the developer, ELEX contains more than 80 hours of gameplay, which can be a blessing in a tantalizing open world with things to do and a curse in boring, empty ones. Whether the game will feel like separate visions welded together hinges on if this world is believable.
Piranha Bytes is pushing ELEX beyond the normal expectations of an open-world RPG through more than just a spin on setting. The developer took a few minutes to show off the game’s jetpack, which introduces some unexpected verticality to the genre.
Jetpacking around ELEX’s world allows players to go anywhere they want. In an open-world game, seeing a beautiful landmark or panning over a mountain range in the distance creates a sense of place, but it becomes a “wow” moment when you can actually go to those places. During my demo, the developers showed off the beauty of the game’s open world, but only did so after using the jetpack to boost up the steel beams of a hollowed building.
The jetpack is about creating new opportunities for players and allowing the developers to think about ELEX’s vertical spaces. Dangerous combat situations can be avoided, or at least temporarily dodged, by shooting up into the sky and hovering away. Now that mountain off in the distance seems like less of a hassle to ascend. I was even more impressed when I was told that there would be no loading zones when traveling across the world.
ELEX promises a lot of the creature comforts players have become used to in games over the past few years. Stealth, crafting, pickpocketing, fast traveling and base building are a few of the boxes the game checks off. Combat was one aspect of the game I didn’t see a lot of but became more curious about as it was explained to me.
Weapons in ELEX are the expected arsenal of bows, swords, shields and guns. The clash of technology with medieval fantasy also brings chainswords into the game and the ability to use ELEX to infuse weapons with magic. Players will hack and slash at enemies, consuming stamina and building up a combo meter. Being able to read enemy movements and dodge their attacks gives the impression of a faster, less brutal Souls game. With Souls in mind, the game doesn’t pause when you go into the inventory.
If battles become too intense, players have the choice to lure enemies into settlements and villages to get a helping hand. Doing so may take the pressure off your health pool, but it puts quest givers at risk of being ripped to shreds. In the unfortunate event of that transpiring, the story will adjust the narrative appropriately.
While ELEX has traditional RPG leveling, Piranha Bytes is diversifying the process by adding learning points. These are skills and abilities that can be taught by other characters in the game. A hunter can teach players to skin creatures better to reward more materials. This makes the process of leveling up and improving your character more than just a simple method of unlocking. Your character is actually being taught abilities and learning new things, making the role playing that much deeper.
Because such a big world can be quite lonely, ELEX offers companions and factions to become involved with. Seven companions will be available over the course of the game, with romance options available — there’s no word on if the robot companion can be romanced, though.
Factions operate as you may expect in that allegiance can be pledged to them for the added benefit of opening up new quests, acquiring unique loot, and pissing off an opposing faction. As an example, I was shown the Cleric and Outlaw factions.
Outlaws live in their own camp in the far reaches of the world. Imagine a bunch of Mad Max types banding together tempting your loyalty with the ability to craft expensive ranged ammo. Clerics are polar opposites of the Outlaws. The Cleric base is full of sharp, angular lines, surrounded by the blacks and reds of the technology they hold dear. They fight off the evils of the world with energy weapons and thick armor.
Players will swear allegiance to a faction and can’t go back on that decision. Dialogue options will change and NPCs will react differently based on what faction you choose to align with. I understand the narrative choice to limit this option, but it would be nice to allow players to explore all facets of the game without having to start an entirely new playthrough.
Promise of Depth
ELEX looked nearly ready for primetime based on what I saw at E3 — as it should considering the game releases on Oct. 17. I’m sure there will be a handful of open-world jank, but the bits and pieces I’ve seen demonstrated a good amount of polish and even more care.
The game has been in development for three years, and Piranha Bytes is investing a lot of work into making ELEX stand out from the crowd. Any fan of the genre will embrace its multiple endings and different ways to react and respond to dialogue and world events. But what should really spark the interest of players is how the game is twisting familiar conventions.
It isn’t often that science fiction and fantasy fuse together in interactive media. The taste of different enemy types and vistas only made me yearn for the other kinds of beasts and constructs tucked away in the far corners of the world.
ELEX looks like an exciting game that can capture the imagination of players. In a few months we’ll see if it lives up to that promise.
ELEX will be available for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC.
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tags: e3 , E3 2017 , Elex , Elex Game , Elex Preview , preview