Elex (2017) review

Rated: 4 / 5

Wokeness: 2 / 5 *

Just got done doing a 50 hour spree playing a little hidden gem of an RPG called Elex, made by Piranha Bytes (guys who did the Gothic trilogy, of which only the first 2 games are good). Set in a partial sci-fi (via the Clerics faction), partial fantasy (via the Berserkers faction), and partially Mad Max (via the Outlaws faction) post-apocalyptic world, where you seek to find out why you were betrayed by one of your own kind, while learning about the world around you, and discovering how high the stakes are for the fate of the world, where the stakes were raised after the comet hit that brought about the material Elex onto the world (a substance the brings about power and evolution). It’s a pretty good game, albeit it has some bugs and glitches and lighting issues, and it’s a bit clunky in how it executes a few things outside of the plot progression and character interactions.

The first thing that appealed to me, after a simple intro-level section that lasts about 20 minutes (depending on how quickly you decide to go through it, and how long it takes you to adjust to the mechanics/controls) was the difficulty. Unlike some open-world RPGs where enemies level up alongside your character to create a consistent level of challenge, that is not the case with this game. You will not be able to stand up against most enemies during the first 10 hours. They will kick your ass ten ways to Sunday in a matter of seconds. No, you gotta work your way to getting that good. The game makes the struggle real, and feel well-earned once you’re finally leveled up enough (and rich enough) to acquire the inventory and abilities needed to take these beasts and people down. And it feels oh-so rewarding when you finally do. Eventually, about halfway through the game’s runtime (ie when the game says you’ve reached Chapter 2, out of 4), you’ll be able to tackle just about any regular monster you come across so long as you have the ammo/stims/energy/potions needed to keep you going.

By the time I got to Chapter 3, I was basically steamrolling through anything in my path. This felt nice at first, but the level of challenge got reduced so much that there wasn’t a presence of significant threat in the world anymore, not even when I reached the final boss. And I say this having done my first playthrough taking the Clerics path, focusing on being a ranged fighter (with high charisma, wishing to talk my way out of most situations if I can; I prefer the intellectual challenges more than the physical). Once I upgraded my stats enough to where I got (what I believe to be) the best gun and the best stats to wield the best gun, it just got too easy taking out these big mechs and armies of monsters. Especially if I had a companion with me (and believe me, for those first 20-30 hours, you’ll be begging for a companion). I mean, I guess it comes full circle with your arc if you do this, starting out as borderline helpless, then ending at near-God-tier level wiping out everything that threatens you.

At the very least, the designers mixed things up with certain monsters, where the same weapon can’t be used reliably. Some monster you gotta use melee weapons (either slashing sword or blunt-force hammers), ranged weapons, electric shock, fire, etc., in order to bring them down efficiently. Otherwise, you’ll just be chipping away at them 1 HP per hit, which is definitely not the way to go if you’re fighting using a gun with limited ammunition (or you could stockpile by purchasing a lot of ammo, and just decide to burn through all of it to take a troll down, but I don’t recommend it). Even then though, things are too easy during the last third of the game.

On top of that, the leveling up system is highly exploitable. Once I figured out how to create Elex potions via the Chemistry ability (highly recommended you learn that ability, it makes life a whole lot easier) where you can create potions that level up your character (if you make enough of them, and acquire the resources to do so), it gets a lot easier to acquire the levels/abilities/traits needed to get the tasks done. I dare say that this is broken once you’re able to kill monsters that provide the raw elex material needed to create these potions.

While this does allow you to power up your character with ease (at the expense of becoming “cold”, a personality thing), so long as you’re willing to grind for a little while (which you can theoretically do if you don’t fast-travel between teleportation points that you can discover and unlock during your journey), there is a potential downside to it (depending on the type of character you want the protagonist to be personality-wise). Your character has a “Cold” level, representing not having any emotions and thinking based more on pure logic, as opposed to thinking and acting out based more on emotion. Each time you drink one of these elex potions, your cold level increases. Only other time it can increase or decrease is when you interact with others in dialogue, and if you respond in a certain way. For those who are just playing the game to win, this isn’t going to change the fact that the system is broken (ie too easily exploited), as the only affect it has on gameplay is leveling up your character, and that’s it. Story-wise, the effect is minimal. To be fair though, there might be a potion I could’ve made to counteract this, like mana potions or something (or just pure mana). But that thought didn’t occur to me while I was playing because I wasn’t playing as a Berserker who uses mana to fuel magic for spell-casting. But assuming you could create potions to consume that swing your “cold” level the opposite direction, that just reinforces how broken this all is if it’s THAT easy to level up your character and affect their emotional level.

Oh, and for the record, the game doesn’t notify you what level exactly your cold level is. All I got during my playthrough was a “Cold Neutral” status. Considering there are 3 different abilities you can unlock that make your character stronger if your cold rating is at a specific range of numbers, it would be nice to know just what fucking number my character is actually at! I did mentions aspects of this game are clunky.

And speaking of clunkiness, the movement and combat. Let’s just say it’s functional. It’s not as slick and smooth as Witcher 3, and it’s not ever going to be on anyone’s “greatest of all time” list, even on the “it’s underrated and misunderstood.” It’s just there to be capable of having everything else around it work. But you do get to have a bitchin’ jetback that resolves any issue of wishing to climb to higher elevations. Probably because the game would be too frustrating if you wanted to climb a mountain the same way you do playing Skyrim while riding a horse (feel free to take that all three ways). But it also offers another option for evading certain enemies, though you still have to worry about those that shoot back at you.

As for the story progression, character interactions, and manner in how you can effect people and events, it is all great stuff. Well worth the 50 hour investment. All the ways you can complete a mission, the various outcomes that can be had, how certain characters and factions remember certain deeds, how your actions/decisions can affect the fate of so many. It’s all well-done for the most part. The main bit that stood out to me was regarding this dome city, and what happened as a result of my decisions with that place. Probably the highlight of the game for me, even if it didn’t have much of an impact in the grand scheme of things (not everything needs to). Hit me hard on an emotional level, and not many games are able to do that.

While the game is certainly open-ended enough to allow you to do things out of a perceived order, killing certain monsters is difficult to pull off out of the intended priority of completing missions. The intention is to have you start out in a weakened state (there is a reason for this that relates to the story), doing mostly “talk to this person here then talk to that person there” missions, or delivering this object from A to B type missions, until you are upgraded enough to wield weapons making you capable of defeating individuals, especially those that are strictly mission related. Though I will admit, on my initial playthrough, I didn’t seek those easier missions as much as I should have, and blunt forced my way to accessing the more difficult areas. Since I couldn’t kill the enemies between locations, I just ran through them, avoiding conflict as much as possible, and using potions/food to heal myself whenever a monster got a shot in at me while I was running.

My advice for first timers, regardless of what you wish your first build to be, go for unlocking the location of teleporters on the map, as they also act as indicators as to where you should proceed next (and so that you don’t miss one if you’re in the vicinity). Unlock Chemistry, so you can make potions and stuff. Everything else, it’s up to you (though Animal Trophies is also a good one as it fits perfectly with the Chemistry ability). For first-timers, don’t go with the Outlaw faction, as they’re the most difficult in terms of abilities to take advantage of. The Clerics were my choice, as they had abilities that strengthened ranged shooters, and are a natural fit for charisma people who want to win more through dialogue than by combat, even if it means mind-controlling someone. May try a Berserker build next time, as I’d like to give melee combat a solid chance (and see how I can use their magic).

As for those who want to play like a thief, being an Outlaw aside (as they can take apart and modify weapons more easily), there is a somewhat hidden faction within the game that plays exactly like so. Probably not my choice for my next playthrough, because I’ve learned that unlocking safes and hacking through locked doors don’t offer the best benefits. But I believe that option exists for those who also wish to avoid combat and talk their way out of situations, while also not wishing to mind control people or be like a Cleric either. If you look hard and long enough in this game, you’ll discover there are methods that allow just about any play style to be possible. Even if it means being a complete pansy while letting your companion do the bulk of the work (having your Cunning trait high enough allows you to unlock an ability that makes your companions stronger than normal). So hacking/unlocking safes/doors, plus Pickpocketing (something I didn’t do on my playthrough) allow you to acquire objects outside of hunting animals. But you have to be more careful and conservative as a player if you do this, so it’s best you know what you’re getting into after a prior playthrough before doing one like this. Plus hacking/unlocking takes up time which lengthens an already long game.

The game does have a satisfying ending that resolves most of the plot points that needed resolving, but it also leaves things wide open for a sequel (which I hear is also in development; here’s hoping they do better with that than they did with the Risen trilogy). Additionally, after finishing the game and defeating the main boss, there’s a crazy epilogue where you can go around and interact with other people to see how they are at the end of the game, how they react to you and your plans for the future (and the fate of the world). It’s between Witcher 2 and 3 levels of interactivity in terms of alternate outcomes. Just when you thought it was all over, there’s some great post-game stuff you can do, and have a legit reason for continuing to stick around and traverse the world even after finishing the main plot.

The replay value is certainly high. Despite the game length, a part of me is eager to go through this all over again (after a long break). See how different decisions affect things, correct mistakes on my first playthrough, play more efficiently, possibly try out a different faction ability, etc. In fact, and I find this highly amusing, the game acknowledges that the player is likely joining a faction more for the sake of acquiring their weapons/armors/abilities than for being loyal to their cause. Which is great. In addition, despite my worries to the contrary early on, each faction is shown to have their own strengths and weaknesses in terms of religion, philosophy, laws, goals, societal functions, etc. I thought the green-peace Berserkers were going to be the main good guys, considering a Berserker is the first companion, who seems overly nice (and not in a devious “he has ulterior motives” way), I was surprised to see the game portrayed the Berserkers as well-intentioned with wanting to restore the greenery to the planet, but with potential flaws in their execution. Each faction has elements of this, though you could argue there isn’t much redeeming about the Outlaws who are more “every man for himself, rob and pillage everyone and everything you can). The Clerics, too overly religious for their own good, and too reliant on technology, but their goals are admirable.

If you are to play this game, don’t do what I did and play it on the PS4. The game crashed on me at least 5 times, it began to lag and having loading issues (including not loading the floors correctly so I ended up falling through them and the game world), which could only be fixed by quitting and reloading the game (or even restarting the system itself). These problems came up more frequently if I teleported around too much during a play session.

If you’re to get this game, get it on PC. From what I understand, it runs better on it. Plus you’re able to mod the game in such a way that may end up fixing that issues I mentioned regarding how easy the game gets later on.


Mods

Elex Overhaul

Rebalances various elements of the game. Aside from making you less powerful during the latter half of the game, and making it more difficult to create elex potions (which I find a bit questionable, as all one would have to do is just grind a little more to kill more monsters that drop raw elex), it also makes enemies a tad bit easier during the beginning. Not sure how much this will improve the overall experience, or if it takes as many steps forwards as it does backwards, but it’s something I’ll try if I ever purchase this on PC (when it’s on sale; as much as I like the game, it’s not polished enough to be worth $50).


Other than that mod, there are some mods that alter the lighting (this is one game where the lighting could definitely use some tweaking), and the volume of the footsteps you make (it’s too loud at times).


* I was strongly considering making this just a 1/5, maybe even just a 1.5 / 5 for the woke rating. The only real instance of wokeness comes with the character named Nasty, who looks and acts like a typical empowered female whose been intentionally held back by the overdominant male stereotypes. Despite how this was trying to push her, the game did at least have one instance of having a real bitch of a female who took advantage of her position and relationship to the guy in charge of the Outlaws who you could totally kill the shit out of. And you could also question just how much intelligence she actually has regarding her reputation for being a master tactician, given her suicidal charge tendencies (which is on full display during this one battle later on with the Clerics and Albs). She never displays any actual intelligence regarding her battlefield planning, which makes me think she’s just overrated and full of herself, and our protagonist and others somehow buy into her bullshit reputation. But once the game actually stated in a load screen quote that she was held back due to the “chauvinistic” society of the Outlaws, that’s when I decided this fully earned it’s 2/5 woke rating. Not bad enough to ruin the experience by any stretch, but it’s there. Anyway, aside from that one instance of female empowerment (2 if you count the other significant female character, but that’s petty by comparison), this game is so absent of wokeness you mine as well as call it white nationalist propaganda (because there’s no trannies or mexicans or asians or black people, muahahahah!).

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