INSOMNIA

ELEX (2017, PC)

By AYAYA / December 1, 2017


I'm not sure how this game is getting so many positive reviews. I did my best to give it a fair shot, but I just can't recommend it. This game is trying to be a hardcore free-roaming RPG, but beside the jetpack and fairly ok visuals, it's not doing anything else right.

- Combat is really clunky. Even if there's an interesting combo system, the attacks and movements are way too stiff. While it's possible to end up being used to the delays, it is not enjoyable. It's my understanding that the devs have already been criticized in the past for their shoddy combat systems in Gothic and Risen. And while I can understand Gothic was made in a time when 3D game design was still in its early days, I'm having issues understanding why ELEX doesn't try at all to be a lot more like its modern acclaimed brethren (Dark Souls, Dragon's Dogma, heck even Mass Effect or Witcher 3).

- The questing is not interesting. Most of the quests I played felt like MMORPG fillers due to the poor writing and uninspired objectives. And sadly there is no way around the questing since there's no way to progress your character skills without them. On top of that, while the game is supposed to be an open world, the questing is seriously level-gated, so you end up following a very linear trail of quests until you manage to get enough skills or combat power to be able to freely roam the world without getting killed in literally one shot.

- Speaking of being killed in one shot, the BALANCE is seriously messed up. For the first few hours of the game you will be struggling to kill rats and chickens even if you make good use of the combo system. Not because the combat is clunky (see above), but because somehow the devs decided it was fun for an ex super soldier to be killed in three hits by a chicken at the beginning of his adventures. You will need to do a lot of questing (often cheesing said quests) to get enough XP and money to buy your first few armors and weapons and skills. Once you're past that point... the game starts to become easier... and easier... and easier... and then way too easy. I guess some people love powercreeping, I personally think it's not good game design.

- The user interface is barebone. While some people call it clunky, I feel like it works for what it's trying to achieve, but it could seriously provide a lot more information. I mean, it's a CRPG, don't obfuscate important stats that the players need to theorycraft their build. Worse: some translations are inconsistent, and for instance, sometimes Charisma will be called Personality, and if you're not aware of these small issues, you're left wondering what the heck these stats are.

- The art direction, while not ugly at all (sure it's not Witcher 3), often feels random? I understand there's a mix of heroic fantasy, post-apoc, and sci-fi, but it almost feels like they went with this idea just to be able to have a vast choice of art assets to pick from on a marketplace. The art direction doesn't feel consistent, and often you're left wondering why there's an American M1 Abrams tank or a Clio car left to rust next to a very sci-fi outpost.

- The way the game world is built often doesn't make sense. At one point I saw an unprotected farm with farmers calmly tending to it, while the building ten meters away from them was filled to the brink with mutants and monsters. And even though the world is supposed to have known some sort of apocalypse, you'll find a lot of stuff still in relatively good shape and untouched by the locals (you'd think they'd want to make use of it to survive or rebuild). If anything, Fallout 3, NV, and 4 had the same issues, so I guess that makes it alright?

Anyway, some of the good:

- I can't help but ask myself whether it's ever a bad idea to include a jetpack in your game, because you'd better bloody believe it makes the world of ELEX so much more enjoyable to traverse. Can't win a fight? Fly to the top of the nearest cliff and flip your opponent a bird. Want to check an interesting spot far away on the map? There will definitely be a way to get there without putting yourself in mortal danger. Love to chill and enjoy the scenery? ELEX has plenty of vantage points for you somewhere up top. It feels good. It feels right.

- The animations are well made. Humans and monsters are enjoyable to watch move around.

- Voice acting is serviceable. I understand people dislike the main character, but imo he's doing as much of a good job as the guy voicing Geralt in The Witcher.

- The 3D engine is well optimized and looks really good.

   I can tell what the devs wanted to achieve with their hardcore free-roaming RPG, and I can respect that. It's just sad they didn't have the means to further polish and test all that they had done. But as it is, I sadly cannot recommend the game. It has good ideas, but ultimately fails to deliver a compelling and enjoyable experience... and its shortcomings have nothing to do with it being "hardcore". The story was okay though, too bad it's told by uninteresting characters. However, it's not an unplayable mess, and if you're able to look past clunky controls, shoddy writing, and questionable mechanics, it'll keep you busy for a long while, and if anything, you'll get to explore a new world with lots of things to discover. Also, in my opinion it can't hurt to support these developers, I mean it when I say they have good ideas, just not the right budget for them. Hopefully they'll make a better game next time... provided they don't stay within the comfort of the echo chamber of their "passionate" fan base.

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