"It's clear that Piranha Bytes has come a long way with their vision for ELEX."
Developer Piranha Bytes has gained a cult following over the years for creating expansive open-world RPGs that offer unparalleled freedom, including such titles as Gothic and Risen. With their latest title, ELEX, the company is trying to bring their unique brand of open-world game design to the realm of science fantasy, in a new world where magic, swords, and bows coexist with laser guns and other advanced technology. We previously saw an early build of the game at E3 2016, but it's clear that Piranha Bytes has come a long way with their vision for ELEX.
The world of ELEX revolves around the titular substance, which came into the world after a devastating meteor crash. This alien matter can be used as a powerful fuel source, or it can be consumed in order to gain special powers (as a side note, one has to wonder whose idea it was to eat the alien slime to begin with). This setup provides a solid framework for player freedom, which lies at the core of ELEX's design philosophy. Over the course of their travels, players will encounter several factions, all of whom have found different uses for the alien substance. How they choose to interact with this "simulated world," as Piranha Bytes bills it, is up to the player, right down to the ability to kill over 90% of the NPCs that inhabit the game, even quest givers.
On the subject of player freedom, this design philosophy also extends to the game's exploration and combat mechanics; namely, you have a jetpack. This grants the player a great deal of mobility, allowing them to hover from high ledges, gain a vantage point during battle, and explore the world at their leisure. There will be a variety of different zones to visit aside from the forested area we've seen previously: during the showcase, we saw a Mad Max-style desert region where players had to disable mines and other traps, a volcanic region, and an icy mountain off in the distance. All of this will be presented seamlessly, with no loading screens between areas. This may be Piranha Bytes' most ambitious title to date, with over 300,000 lines of fully voiced dialogue alongside audio logs and other documents intended to give the world of ELEX a greater sense of place.
After the video showcase concluded, the developers took some time to play the game in front of us and give a general idea of ELEX's game feel (we didn't get a chance to play this particular build for ourselves). Combat, from the look of it, is like a poor man's Dark Souls crossed with the Witcher 3, with light and heavy attacks being governed by a stamina meter. Piranha Bytes stresses that, in keeping with the game's emphasis on freedom, there will be several adjustable difficulty settings in order to keep new players from getting overwhelmed by combat, or to give veterans a meaty challenge. Enemies won't scale to the player's level, meaning that it's quite possible to pick a fight with the wrong giant robot or wild velociraptor, although the player can compensate for this by enhancing their weapons with ELEX. The magic alien goo can be used to power up spells, or enhance high-tech equipment. The player has access to an expansive arsenal: during our demo, we saw a bow and arrow, a chainsword ripped straight out of Warhammer 40,000, and laser rifles.
While there were a few minor quibbles to be had during our brief demo of ELEX (mostly regarding the animation of human characters and repetitive voice clips during battle), overall, this marked a huge improvement over last year's showing. When a game has such attention to detail that the player's eyes have to adjust to the dimmed lighting of a cave, I can't help but get excited to see what else the developers have in store. Fans of western RPGs and Piranha Bytes' other works would do well to keep a close eye on ELEX when it releases for PC, Xbox One, and PS4 this October.