According to its Wikipedia page, ELEX, the new RPG from Piranha Bytes, is actually an acronym for the game’s various merits, and they are as follows: Eclectic, Lavish, Exhilarating, and Xenial. A quick search shows that Xenial means “of, relating to, or constituting hospitality or relations between host and guest and especially among the ancient Greeks between persons of different cities.” Xenial is not a word that anybody has ever said, and is what I imagine to be a corruption of “genial” and a desperate attempt by the devs to find an adjective that starts with “x”. In either case, I want everyone to know right now that in all that I played, this acronym did not appear even once, and as I’ll explain, do not accurately reflect the qualities of the game.
If you choose to purchase ELEX, here’s the basic backstory so you can skip the first five-minute cutscene. ELEX takes place on an alternate version of Earth after most of humanity was wiped out by a meteor impact. The meteor, as it turns out, was composed of mysterious substance known as Elex. As humans began to face their new reality they split into four factions corresponding to their post-apocalyptic worldview: the Clerics, who worship technology to the point of zealotry, the Berserkers, who are a strange combination of hippie and Vikings that have shunned technology and use mutated plants as well as magic to restore the planet’s natural wildlife, the Outlaws, who are basically Mad Max cowboys that do drugs, and the Albs, who use Elex to modify their abilities and technology in order achieve the next step in human evolution, which also involves subjugating the other factions. Big surprise that the Albs are the antagonists, leaving the player with the Outlaws, Clerics, and Berserkers to throw their lot in with. An Eclectic bunch to say the least.
It’s the Wheel of Archetypes!
One of the best words I can use to describe ELEX is “middling.” Each of the game’s facets have their own high points and low points that more often than not end up averaging out to about, well, average. For example, the visuals; this alternate-Earth world of Magalan is very pretty and could indeed be described as Lavish, but while I can forgive the occasional tree branch clipping through a cement wall, textures will more than occasionally pop in as one traverses the world, and not all of those textures are rendered equally, if you catch my meaning. Similarly, ELEX gives the player a massive world to explore and promises endless choices for their version of the protagonist. But the world is a slog to explore and ends up feeling restrictive. Even with the jetpack the player gets, the world just seems kind of obnoxious to run through. There’s even teleporters randomly dispersed throughout the map, but you gotta find ‘em first. The map itself has an annoying feature where the cursor is automatically drawn toward the nearest marker, but this makes it so that the cursor actually gets stuck on any marker nearby, so you have to zoom out on the map, which causes the framerate to bizarrely lag—it’s just a mess.
Everything the light touches is a real pain in the ass to get to
The story does little to engage, as each faction’s platform is more built off of a preferred playstyle than a political agenda. It’s no help that the protagonist Jax has zero redeeming qualities. Sure, he’s been betrayed by his brother and his people, but his dialogue is stilted and boring and his defining characteristics solely amount to reminding everyone how grizzled and hardcore he is. He’s like Kratos, but also obnoxious to control.
Speaking of satisfying violence, you’ll find none of it in ELEX. Most of your fighting will be with the various creatures that roam around the overworld, presumably mutated versions of what lived there before. There’s also various forms of robots as well as people that will want to pick fights with you, as well as mutants that have overdosed on Elex. Melee combat relies on combinations of light and heavy attacks, which presumably are supposed to chain into combos, and the game makes a point of mentioning that if you hit something enough times consecutively it allows for a special, critical move. These moves are tough to trigger due to clunky targeting and a stamina meter, so getting companions is a godsend; they never die (I’m not even sure if they can be “knocked out”) and are way stronger than you.
“CITIZEN! You stand accused of using a ‘G’ instead of an ‘X.’ Your sentence is 2 years imprisonment with Xeneral Population.”
While ELEX’s execution leaves a lot to be desired, I maintain that it was built on a very promising framework, even if it tries too hard to be a variety of other RPGs with college-level adjectives. The idea of the multi-faction struggle for power is strikingly similar to many MMOs, especially THE ELDER SCROLLS: ONLINE, and when I first heard about the game I was hoping that it was something like that: a vast, open world with boatloads of opportunities and possibilities to modify your character to how you see fit. There’s crafting, leveling, skill trees, classes, the basic skeleton for any good RPG, but it’s unsupported by the rest of the game and just left me feeling not at all Xenial, but more Frustrated, Annoyed, Irate, and Labored.
Verdict: Do Not Recommend
Reviewed on PlayStation 4, also available on Xbox One and PC