by Sergio Brinkhuis
previewed on PC
Much more refined
Back in 2015 when ELEX was first announced, the game already showed lots of promise. I was particularly intrigued by the science-fantasy setting and the role that the Elex element plays throughout the game. I did feel the world looked a little... plastic, perhaps lacking a soul? A year down the road, only those who consume Elex are soulless - a side effect that is often brushed aside as a minor inconvenience when the tradeoff is greatly enhanced magical powers. ELEX looked much more refined than it did last year and game designers Björn and Jennifer Pankratz - married to their game and each other - were obviously excited to show off their progress.
Oh, sorry, I did leave that hanging there for a bit didn’t I? Lacking a soul? Bear with me, I will get to that shortly. First a quick recap for those who have not been following ELEX. The game is set on Magalan, a fictional world quite similar to ours both in geography and technological development until it was hit by a meteor that covered the planet in Elex. Elex is now found in everything and the substance can be used as a drug, as a power source and as a crafting material. If you have played any of Piranha Bytes’ games, you will immediately see how this sets up the various factions. The Berserkers use Elex to restore the planet to its natural state, the Albs consume it to become stronger, the Clerics apply it to their technology and the outlaws will do whatever they please and do not care much for the philosophies of any of the other three.
When it is used as a drug, Elex gives the user magical powers but that comes at a cost - with every use you lose some of your emotions and eventually your humanity. Being soulless has some ramifications to how you interact with the world, its inhabitants and your companion in particular. Lacking emotion, your actions and decisions will become more calculated and rational to the point that a non-using companion may feel you are so far removed from humanity that he or she can no longer stay by your side. The opposite is also true - show compassion a few too many times and a Elex imbibing companion will run off in disgust. The various factions will respond in similar fashion - it will be tough to stay friendly to both the Berserkers and the Clerics.
With this dynamic, you can imagine how easy it will be to end up being an enemy to storyline characters with a strong alignment to one of the factions. It is more than plausible that you are put in a situation in which you have to kill a storyline character. When you do, the story changes along with it, closing off branches of the storyline and opening others. As a former Alb, the main character has a strained relation with that faction, and I am guessing he is not alone. The Albs will do anything to get the Elex they need to further their technology, even killing humans. The question is, will you realign with your former compadres or distantiate yourself from their evil practices?
Before you have to make that decision, there is an entire world to explore. There are domed cities where people hang on to something that resembles civilization and where you will find many of the traders and teachers. There are buildings to scavenge, audio logs to find and safes to be hacked. And, of course, there is combat. You will be pitted against human, animal and robot opponents and your moves are more varied than ever. The new combat system is more fluid than we have seen in previous Piranha Bytes games and the addition of the jetpack means you will be attacking from above as well as from ground level.
One hell of a game
With the official release window being 2017, ELEX is still some time away from released. It is an incredibly ambitious game - the size of the world, the depth of gameplay and storyline… There is still a lot of work to be done. Publisher THQ Nordic shows every indication of giving the game the time it needs to make a smashing entry, so if I have to crystal-ball it I think early 2018 is more realistic. While I cannot be certain of any of that, I can say one thing for sure: we’re in for one hell of a game.