There was a little RPG released last generation for consoles and PC called Two Worlds. For many, it went under the radar and was missed due to better RPG giants at the time such as The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and the soon-to-be released Mass Effect. Despite this, it's a game that is near and dear to my heart.
It captured me with its interesting world, filled with numerous factions to join and lands to explore. Though its sequel fell short of my expectations, it is a series that has gone on to become sort of a cult classic in the RPG realm. Though Elex is not from the same studio, with it instead made by the team behind the Gothic and Risen series, it feels like a true spiritual successor to Two Worlds, warts and all.
Elex - A Fully Realized World
Elex is an action RPG that takes place in the world of Magalan, a sort of post-apocalyptic mirror image of our own world. In its past, people were obsessed with the titular energy source Elex to the point of near-destruction. In the time since then, several factions have popped up, all with their own ideals and goals for the future.
It is an intriguing premise and world that developer Piranha Bytes doesn't hold back on. The three main factions you'll meet in Elex are all vastly different in every way possible, even down to their local environment. The Berserkers are a simplistic group with total disdain for Elex, opting for a more traditional fantasy life full of newly discovered magic.
The Outlaws are a barely held together band of fighters in a land straight out of Mad Max, while the Clerics are a highly religious organization that embraces the more Star Wars side of Elex, with their futuristic capital full of androids. It's no doubt that the developer took its time building a unique and compelling world. You play as a former member of the fourth and final faction: the Albs. Betrayed by the evil Elex-obssessed tyrants, you set off in the world with a mystery to solve and new factions to join. Elex's open world is massive, spanning multiple landscapes from the Berserker's lush green forests to the Outlaw's barren wastelands to the Cleric's frozen tundras. It is stunning to explore, even if it isn't always fun to.
Elex - Unbalanced, Uninteresting Gameplay
Being an action RPG, you will be fighting a lot. It is unfortunate, then, that it isn't really fun to do so half of the time. This is due to several factors, the actual combat being chief among them. At the start of the game, you are equipped with nothing but a melee weapon to take on strange mutant rats.
Almost all melee and ranged weapons are uninteresting to use in combat. Fighting uses mostly two buttons for a light and heavy attack, both of which are far too slow and cumbersome to ever be useful. This causes many attacks to miss simply because your enemy is far away from your target or has already hit you instead by the time it lands.
The only portion of combat that is fun is when you get to use the magic from the Berserkers or the advanced laser weapons from the Clerics. This is disappointing since you are only able to ally with one faction in the game, preventing you from accessing the most interesting abilities if you choose to join the Outlaws.
Despite the bold decision to only allow the Outlaws to craft modified weapons, you are at a massive disadvantage should that be your faction of choice. This creates an unbalanced game that wouldn't be so bad if the game wasn't so poorly optimized on PS4.
Elex has some serious technical hurdles that need to be fixed in the future. While exploring the open world, there is frequent stuttering, significant frame rate drops during combat, and companion AI isn't always helpful. There were many times where my companion ally - of which there are several optional ones to befriend a la Fallout - would stand a few feet away and watch as I was massacred by enemies.
Elex also doesn't pause the game world while you sift through the menus, whether it's upgrading abilities or checking your current missions. This constantly causes the menu to lag and freeze for a few seconds before responding to input. When it does work, though, it is fun to navigate the world with the provided Mass Effect: Andromeda-esque jetpack.
Elex - A Silent Protagonist Isn't So Bad After All
A jetpack isn't the only feature Elex has in common with Andromeda, though. The latter's facial issues can also be seen in the former. While the world itself is nice to look at, all of the characters in the game look like they came straight out of 2007. The faces look awful, with stiff animations and little-to-no lip syncing.
It doesn't help that the voice action is pretty terrible, too. As a proponent of wanting protagonists to be voiced in games, it is sad to feel the exact opposite in Elex. The game would have been better off with a silent protagonist than the poor performance we've received.
It only gets worse when our hero decides to embark upon a monologue while exploring the world. The other characters you'll meet aren't much better, either, with poorly edited dialogue leading to transitions between lines occurring either too soon or too late no matter who's talking onscreen. It takes away from what already is a shallow and mediocre storyline.
Thankfully, there is a lot of content to experience outside of the forgettable story. Just focusing on the main plot alone took me just over 50 hours before considering all of the side missions and optional content. Elex is at its best in that side content when you are just let loose in its beautiful world — if it works, that is.
Elex could well be this generation's cult favorite RPG, much like Two Worlds was mine, and the developer of Gothic and Risen has easily made its most beautiful and interesting setting yet. The world of Magalan is intriguing with its blend of technology and magic, but it's unfortunate that the game tucked inside of it is only fun to play half of the time.
Review based on PS4 version of the game. Copy provided by publisher.