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One moment, we were in a lush forest battling foes with a sword and magic spells. The next, we were traveling through a stylish fortress that looked like an Imperial base straight out of Star Wars. This is the bizarre duality of sci-fi and fantasy that is the basis for Elex, the next game from Piranha Bytes, best known for the Risen and Gothic series. Elex is billed by the developers as a “sci-fi fantasy” open-world RPG where freedom is the core principle. 20 minutes into the game, you are able to go anywhere you want and do whatever you’d like.
If you want to follow the story, you can. If you want to just explore and collect loot, you can do that as well. The beginning of the game certainly evokes Skyrim-esque nostalgia, even down to the art style of the forest you start in. The demo I experienced was unfortunately off-hands and entirely controlled by the developer, which was ironically counterintuitive to the entire concept of the game. We followed the introductory main quest towards the closest town, with glimpses at choices, combat, and factions.
After a few bouts with the hideously macabre ratboar, we were faced with a fork in the road. Our companion that was leading us stopped to explain that we had two paths to take: the long and hard or the fast and easy one. The decision seemed simple to make, but the presenter noted that the harder route has technologically-advanced weapons hidden that you normally wouldn’t encounter until much later in the story. Not only would collecting those give obvious bonuses to your stats, but it plays a direct part in the deep faction system that Piranha Bytes has poured a lot of time and energy into.
The world consists of four very different factions, three of which you have the option to join, while the fourth is main antagonist of the game. You can only join one faction and depending on which you choose, the other groups will react differently towards you. The advanced weapons I mentioned earlier would cause the people of the town to treat you poorly and change the available side quests there accordingly, because they’d assume that you are sided with the technologically superior and much maligned Clerics.
From there, we jumped to various moments of gameplay that showcased completely different aspects of Elex. One sequence involved combat where the demonstrator fought a major mini-boss that was way too strong to defeat at the current level. Despite the difference, you could pull the boss into the town and the strong NPC guards would take it out for you. In a case like that, it is even possible for the creature to go and massacre innocent NPC’s going about their daily lives. The developer revealed to me that 90% of NPC’s in the world can be killed, leading to entire quest lines becoming absent or altering.
I was then shown a glimpse at the bases of two factions. The Clerics’ fortress city was a stark contrast to everything else I’d seen thus far in the preview; a cross between Darth Vader’s castle and the remnant city in Mass Effect: Andromeda. The city was absolutely stunning, a technical marvel built in the middle of a dormant volcano. The lore behind them seems interesting in that they’ve lost so many people in war that they were forced to create a robot army (after some prodding, I found out there is a potential robot companion).
We finally teleported to the outpost of the Mad Max-inspired Outlaws who use conventional weapons and gain crafting skills. I was led through the Fallout-style town into a bar where I was treated to a stripper show as the grand finale of my carabiner experience. Each little vignette I previewed was filled with stunning visuals and promising freedom, but it’s hard to imagine them all working together. What’s even more alarming is the distinction between the Clerics’ advanced tech and the Berserker’s medieval weaponry. It will take great skill to balance the various styles, so I’m concerned the game will favor one over the other. Only time will tell as the game releases October 17th, 2017 on PS4, Xbox One, and PC.