Posted June 11, 2017 by Peter in Previews

Hands on – ELEX

Elex logo
Elex logo

From playing the first hour of ELEX, I feel like developer Piranha Bytes want to create a world as much as a game, which is ironic when the introductory story shows it being destroyed. But there’s a lot more to a world than just deciding where the rivers and towns go, and it felt like there was a lot more to even the starting area of ELEX than I could manage even if I’d had the rest of the day.

Our first sight of the planet Magalan is something nearly contemporary with present day Earth – maybe their space program is a little more advanced, but nothing that stretches belief too far… and it’s a shame when a gigantic meteor hits, slamming everything back a few centuries of progress. However, the meteor also brings a new element – the Elex of the title – that drives the direction of everything being rebuilt. You see, Elex can power technology and give people powers, but is also highly addictive and emotionally numbing, and as the new world rebuilds factions form based on their approach to this new element.

Elex screen

Magalan; the ruins of it anyway.

ELEX – the game – is an open world RPG, as you explore from third person what has been rebuilt or regrown in the aftermath of the destruction, and deal with the different factions now holding power. The intro names the main groups – the Berserkers, the Klerikers, the Outlaws, and as a threat to all the others, the Albs. However, to muddy your perceptions of “good” and “bad” factions, you begin the game as an Alb betrayed by members of an Alb splinter group and hunted, before being rescued – your identity unsuspected – by a member of the Berserker faction.

There is already a big difference in faction ideology here – the Albs are using Elex heavily, and have advanced technology powered by it (your character, Jax, is initially seen flying an advanced aircraft and wearing high tech armour); however, the Berserkers renounce anything Elex does, refusing the use of technology to instead turn to nature for sustainance and traditional weaponry for defence. And if you choose to speak to people – which you should, as it feels like NPCs have a lot to say – they can often describe things in great depth, such as the laws of their faction, their opinions of other groups, what they hope they can achieve with this position… in the hour of gameplay, speaking to people to learn their views and reach an understanding was a big part of progressing.

Disconcertingly, when you speak to people and learn about them, they learn about you too, as your replies to their questions in turn can lead to the game informing you that they “will remember that”, or that they like your answer, or even that your approach confuses them. It would be easy to make a game world that is faced with brute force, and while there is a place for that in there, ELEX seems to be also keeping room for actually engaging in dialogue and learning about a situation too.
Elex screen
That’s not to say the game is all talk, as the wilderness is filled with robbers and hostile creatures all looking for a fight. Combat is focused on reading your opponent, so that light and heavy attacks, along with parries, can string together and fill a combo meter for bigger moves. Button mashing does work against the first few critters that you see, but once you start to come across bigger or smarter opponents, going in swinging wildly is likely to be a more pyrrhic victory, standing injured and ready for the next threat to finish you off.

Obviously, the different faction outlooks influence how you deal with these fights. Technology worshippers the Klerikers would obviously allow you to use high tech weaponry; while if you join the technology renouncing Berserkers you’ll be expected to use axes and bows. This may sound unfair in a fight, although I was told that the faction approaches are balanced to keep the game fun, but may involve playing different ways – for example, Berserkers having to learn to avoid ranged fire to close in on opponents, in a way that Klerikers won’t.

Elex screen

Axes, magic, guns, jet aircraft… ELEX’s world has a lot of co-existing things for you to play with, or be killed by.

The environments tend to hint what the world used to be. Even in the initial town you visit, run by the nature-loving Berserkers, has a building that look like a ruined holiday villa, with tiled decking cracked and walls collapsing, a marker that there was something there before. Similarly, various bits of lore can be found in notes and audio logs, to build on the idea that the world exists for more people than just you, no matter how important you may become.

It’s the kind of game where a preview can only give glimpses of what will be ahead. As I followed my standard gaming policy of “loot everything”, I came across crafting materials that I never got to use, was told of places on the map I never got to see, and could only look at a skill tree I didn’t have time to progress through. In conversation afterwards I was told that there would be at least 50 hours of gameplay to go through the story, heading towards 60 to 100 hours with side missions… and replaying the game would offer different paths for allying with a different faction.

It’s clearly a game that is inviting you in for a long stay, although doesn’t expect you to be fighting for your life every second of that time. While there is clearly fighting to be done, I will admit that from my initial hands-on time it is the depth of background lore for the world that has been made that has made a strong impression, and I suspect there is a lot, lot more of that ahead in the completed game.

ELEX is due for release on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 on October 17th


Peter can be described as an old, hairy gamer, a survivor of the console wars of the 1990s, and a part-time MMO addict. He has an especial fondness for retro gaming and observing the progressions in long running gaming series. When scandalously not caught gaming, he can also be found reading comics and fantasy fiction, or practising terrible photography.