There are so many games coming out these days that set wonderfully high bars.
It’s easy to overlook flaws in smaller or lower budget games when they do something special, such as Zelda’s vast, empty open world, offset by its beautiful aesthetic and fun mechanics. Unfortunately, ELEX comes up with an interesting premise, then proceeds to be mediocre in every way.
ELEX tells the story of a world which has been hit with a meteor that has done all kinds of damage. This has resulted in factions being developed within civilisation, but the meteor also brought with it a new element called ELEX. This new element gives people powers, thus becoming a well sought-after resource.
The game drops you in as Jax, a man who used to be a member of the Albs, one of the factions. When he crashes he finds himself an enemy of the Albs, also meaning he no longer has access to ELEX and finds himself experiencing life without it for the first time in a long time. To survive he hides his past to protect himself from the faction he was a member of, and the factions he had been fighting.
This premise is great. It’s a reasonably unique take in a genre that tends to be repetitive, and then the story itself is interesting and works well. Characters tend to be interesting, well rounded, and clearly well thought out. These are the reasons it pains me to feel the way I do about the game, as it could, and should, be great.
Unfortunately, outside of the story, the game struggles, in too many ways. The most jarring and notable is the character animations, the worst of which are the faces. After the whole Mass Effect Andromeda drama, I feel weird pinging a game for faces, but the faces in ELEX are shockingly bad.
To go hand in hand with the below average animations, is the average gameplay. The action feels bad to play, like the issues with an early Witcher game, but worse. Moving around the scenery I encountered bad framerate drops, which must be bad for me to notice.
Despite the issues with the gameplay, or the looks, the scenery looks good. The mix of sci-fi and older styled fantasy elements are interesting and well designed, though not as much as Horizon Zero Dawn, but not many attempts will be as good as that one.
Ironically, the length of the game is an issue. Big sprawling RPGs can be fantastic, when they have the budget behind them, but smaller budget ones with lots of small cracks weather worse over a long period of time. Issues with the gameplay become worse and more annoying as you get past the 10-hour mark. The bland and shonky gameplay became immensely less interesting the longer I played.
So, against the common view of bigger is better, if the game was half the length, and half its vast size, and some of that budget moved to polishing it up, it could’ve been immensely more interesting. Even the RPG elements, which could have been a hook to pull me in, are average. There is nothing overly special here outside of the story, and I need more than a good story to hold me in place for 40 hours. Especially when forced to deal with the bugs, which like the environments, are widely varied and interesting. I had issues where sound effects would cut out, I couldn’t complete missions for no reason, and the protagonist getting stuck in environments.
As it stands, ELEX is a hard game to recommend. It’s a fantastic well-designed story and world that is unfortunately let down by the gameplay, and lack of polish that it needs to be a good middle tier RPG. Sometimes there is such a thing as too big or too long, and ELEX should have been smaller and more refined.
Released: November 2017
Platforms: PlayStation 4
Developer: Piranha Bytes
Publisher: THQ Nordic