by Sergio Brinkhuis
previewed on PC
Even with three Risen titles under their belt, development house Piranha Bytes is still mostly known for their Gothic games. They are looking to change that with ELEX, an open world Sci-Fi RPG in a surprising setting.
ELEX is set on a planet very similar to modern day Earth in terms of environment, and technological development. I say similar, but maybe that isn’t quite true. It - was - similar until a meteor impact destroyed almost everything on the continent of Magalan. The meteor didn’t just bring destruction, it also carried a new element called Elex. What remains of the population has to come to grips with the loss of their cities and infrastructure, wildly mutated flora and fauna, and above all with the mysterious properties of Elex.
The Elex element can be used to modify weapons, it can be consumed like something of a drug and has magical properties. As with any drug, the effects are not necessarily all positive. Consuming Elex dumbs down your emotions and removes any sense of empathy. With so many different purposes, Elex has a polarizing effect on the population. Each of the four factions in the game has developed its own philosophy as to what Elex should be used for, if at all.
Magalan has changed dramatically since the meteor impact and the arrival of Elex. Shards of modern-day technology can be found mixed in with medieval-looking chain mail, swords, plasma weapons and futuristic jetpacks that can carry the player to any point on the map. Everything is upside down.
Quests are said to be greatly interconnected. Many of the decisions you make will open more than one door but also close others. This causes a rippling effect that potentially goes on much further than we’re used to in RPGs. In one of the Gothic games, the player could take sides in a conflict between Humans and Orcs and turn towns over to the side he was vying for. When I asked if we would see similar player interaction with the world in ELEX, game and story designer Amadeus Weidmann initially dismissed the idea but project director Björn Pankratz said yes - fingers crossed that it will be!
I left the presentation completely intrigued by the setting but puzzled by the choice of giving the player access to a jetpack. Don’t get me wrong, jetpacks are awesome and the idea of being able to go anywhere has great appeal. Yet it also removes major components from the game. Exploration may become too easy and it will be tough for the designers to set up obstacles that prevent you from entering specific regions. Checkposts between faction borders would become meaningless, a strong enemy at the foot of a mountain will no longer deter you from getting to the top. The difficulty level of enemies in these areas will of course influence whether you’ll survive there for very long, but it is still difficult to gauge how the Jetpack will work out. That said, Piranha Bytes has a solid track record for designing interesting, immersive worlds and they may well have some tricks up their sleeves to keep exploration interesting.
Knowing Piranha Bytes, ELEX is going to be big. We were promised some 70 hours of gameplay, a truly open world in which you can enter any building or cave that you spot, and absolutely no load times once you are in the game.
With a truly innovative setting, ELEX may well change into the next game that defines Piranha Bytes as a development studio. I’m keen to find out how the Sci-Fi will meld together with the Fantasy, but if it’s done well I foresee a bright future for this new IP.