Monday, November 27, 2017

ELEX (Xbox One) Review

Did you play Risen or either of its sequels?  Did you enjoy them?  If yes, then you will likely enjoy ELEX.

Oh, you'd like some more info?  Fair enough, as I have more to say, but be warned that there are many comparisons between the two.  The team responsible for the Risen games has fully entered the current generation of games with their new offering, ELEX.  Instead of being a fantasy world, this one is set in a post apocalyptic fantasy world.  That probably comes across as sarcastic, but I admit I really like the idea of the game and the world it builds.

ELEX's world is pretty big, too.  There are several different environments, which all make sense in the context of the game.  There are plenty of places to visit, items to loot, and enemies to fight.  Several factions all fight for dominance, and you can join them, or work against them.  There are lots of quests to complete, too.  For better or worse, these will send you all over the map.  While this is to be expected of later quests, there are too many of these early on.  When you are just starting out, and hit the first town, you'd like quests that are close by, with weaker enemies, so you can build up your level and inventory.  Too bad the developers don't agree with that player-friendly philosophy.

Some early quests can be completed in the town, but most involve running to other places.  I'd be fine with that but again, theses are past enemies that you have no business fighting.  You will just die really quickly.  You can get eventually get a partner to run around with you that makes fighting a little easier.  However, you still have to go past monsters much too strong for you before you can complete the companion quests.  The only real solution is to run away from enemies and try to avoid them.  Showing a suggested level for quests might be a good start, but I'd really just prefer the enemies around the town were beatable at reasonable levels.  It shouldn't be too much to ask to have a balanced game.

Now we get to the combat.  Like Risen, it is pretty stiff.  Enemies can do a lot of damage to you very quickly.  You have an attack, block, roll, and jump.  Attacks are fairly self-explanatory, and do well enough on their own.  If you connect with enough hits together, you will build up a meter that allows you to execute a special move.  This would be good, except for the bad aspect of combat: stamina.

Attacking takes stamina.  Dodge rolling takes stamina.  Blocking stifles your stamina regeneration.  Attacking enough times to fill the special rarely leaves you with enough stamina to then actually use the move.  Dodging and enemy's attack tends to leave you too far or without enough stamina to counter.  Blocking doesn't seem to reduce the damage much (maybe a shield would help, but I can't really afford that and skill training).  Worst of all, stamina isn't tied to a stat, so the only way to increase it is by training in a particular skill, which will take hours to be able to get.  I'm not a fan of these kind of limiting factors in fighting, as the fun level just crashes.

With no HUD, you know it's a glamshot.
On the other hand, ranged combat felt pretty good.  The damage seems good, and it gives you an early advantage in encounters.  The only drawback is having to find or buy a lot of ammo.  Needless to say, money isn't always that easy to come by, especially in the early game.  It gets better as you go (especially with some key skills), but doesn't help the first 10 or so hours, where the difficulty is killer.  Switching from melee to ranged worked okay at best, but I think that's because my controller's d-pad isn't what it used to be.

Probably the best aspect of the game is the jet pack.  This allows you to explore, take shortcuts, or sometimes avoid enemies.  It takes a bit to get used to how it works, but after a few minutes of practice I was long jumping like a pro.  The added vertical dimension to exploration really opens the world up.  The companions seem to have them too, so you won't leave them in the dust when you use it.  If it wasn't for the jet pack, I'm not sure I could have survived the first few hours of the game, since it is so dangerous.

When you level up, you gain 10 stat points and a skill point.  The stat points you can allocate yourself, while you must pay a trainer to use the skill point.  The skill trees are all clearly laid out, as is the requirements for that level of skill.  Trainers are marked on your map as well.  Except for the rising costs of training, I think the skill and stat system works pretty well.  I'm betting you can still mess up your character though.

At many points through your adventure, you will have to make choices.  These can affect your "coldness", which is how human you act.  Many of your responses affect this, even ones you wouldn't think.  If the coldness matters, I'd really like to know which responses affect it, since most feel random.  Depending on your answers in quests, there are different outcomes.  Standard, yes, but appreciated.  Of course there are also romance options in the game.  The dialogue in the game is pretty good, save for my problem with the coldness rating.

I remember the difficulty curve in Risen, so I put ELEX on easy at the start.  It was still very rough, and I shudder to think how bad things can get on the hardest setting.  You take a lot of damage from enemy hits, and can very quickly get out of your league when just moving around the map.  Since enemies don't display levels, your only indication of difficulty is the skull icon next to an enemy's health.  That means they are too strong for you.  If it's not there, they still might be.  Point is, the game is way too hard and unforgiving on even the easiest setting, since there is no effective balance.  That really kills my enjoyment.

ELEX has some very unique things about it, but is also massively bogged down by abysmal game balance.  It's very similar to the Risen series, just with balance that is somehow even worse.  I really wanted to like the game far more than I did.

The Good:
The setting, world, and story are pretty good.

The Bad:
Lack of quest and enemy levels, and did I mention the balance?  I think I did, but they game just doesn't want you to have fun playing it.

The SaHD:
The money is called Elex shards, Elex, and shards.  It's pretty confusing for the first few hours.

(Review code for Elex was provided by the publisher, THQ Nordic)

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