Returning to ELEX
I love Euro RPGs, sometimes derisively referred to as “Euro Jank.”
To me that’s nothing but a good thing.
Euro RPGs are known for their experimentation, and their interlocking and overlapping systems. And I don’t necessarily think they’re as janky as their classic reputation, especially these days
The Witcher 3, GreedFall, and The Surge all stand as proud examples of polished multi-platform games from European studios, retaining all the systemic goodness you’d expect from a “Euro Jank” RPG.
Those are well-respected games from well-established studios. But my personal favorite player in this space, and the one with the longest reputation with die hard PC gamers, is Piranha Bytes.
Known for their Gothic series, Risen series, and now ELEX, no other studio perfectly straddles the line of incredible complexity and fun in-depth Euro-style RPG gameplay quite like Piranha Bytes does.
Their games quickly immerse you into different worlds that are quite unlike anything else on the market.
They boldly mash together all of their favorite genre tropes, while always casting you as a hilariously gravelly-voiced man.
We can all agree that Morrowind was great. But Gothic 2, developed contemporaneously, is miles ahead in terms of complex design, world interaction, and overlapping realistic systems. It’s a game that still has a dedicated following to this day, and does a better job of feeling like a world that you’re a part of rather than just a collection of fun content for the player to devour.
I first jumped into the Piranha Bytes catalog with Gothic 3, perhaps the most maligned of their games. But I didn’t mind its bugs, even on release. It has a brand new graphics engine designed to take the world by storm, and it’s still the visual basis for their games today, albeit with several improvements. I loved the feel of its forests, the weight of its combat, and the thrill of its dangerous exploration.
I was quite surprised when PB started making console ports with the first Risen, a game that finally saw the studio jump more into mainstream awareness and acclaim. I think making it to consoles was the right call, and although the PC is still their main platform, the console versions don’t feel like they’re awkwardly designed.
After a first game that was decidedly Gothic-like, Risen turned into a game about pirates. I thought that was interesting and good, since pirate stories are a somewhat under-served genre in gaming, and the few big pirate games always seem to stick out as hits. I’m thinking of Black Flag and Sid Meier’s Pirates franchise, which has lacked a new entry for over ten years.
ELEX is a great place for players new to the PB catalog to jump in. It runs pretty well even on my Xbox One S. It has a control scheme and menu that’ll be easy for players of other modern games to pick up. It has pretty clear quest objectives and a nice map.
And all sorts of delightful weirdness.
I’ve had the Xbox version sitting in my “to play” list for far too long, so I’m now in the process of remedying that.
Set in a post apocalyptic time, ELEX is about different warring factions and a magical resource called Elex. Some use it for technology. Some use it for magic.
So you’ve got a world where knights with swords and magic exist in the same areas as space marine-type guys with guns. It’s pretty great, and the right sort of goofy.
Your gravelly-voiced man starts off as an agent working for the evil Alb faction, but things almost immediately go awry and you’re left to forge a new life and go off in several story directions.
ELEX has a lot of lore in it, and a ton of dialogue. It’s sort of shocking if you’re used to some other RPGs. Prepare to learn about things through talking, and be cautious of the way you respond as it’ll impact both your reputation with the factions and your overall “coldness.”
The combat in the game is really fun, with a different timing mechanic than pretty much anything else out there. In order to perform combo attacks, rather than hitting the button at the end of your attack, you have to hit it right in the middle of the current animation. This means you have to commit to combos before the attack comes out. It’s pretty interesting and has a different, chunkier feel than most other games in this sub genre.
Verticality is ELEX’s other big ace in the hole. The developers were tired of big, mostly flat game worlds and decided that ELEX’s locations should extend both outward and upward. In order to help you with navigation, you’re almost immediately given an upgradeable jetpack.
The jetpack is fun to use, and like everything else in the game, has a slightly awkward, frantic feel to its thrust that makes it exciting. You’ll need to land with precision or risk injuring your character.
ELEX also allows you to sit down in chairs, just like earlier PB games. I don’t know why but I’ve always enjoyed this.
If you’ve ever been curious about just what “Euro Jank” RPGs are all about, and you’d like to play something a little rougher and more daring than say, The Witcher 3…ELEX is a great time.
It simultaneously uses familiar genre conventions and creates something new. Its story and world are fully fleshed out,and allow you to swerve the plot in different directions depending on what faction you cozy up to. Its combat blends the heavy nature of the Dark Souls franchise with the accessibility of other action games. The ability to fly opens up world exploration in a way that makes me miss it in other games. Your character has a tendency to talk about what’s going on out loud to himself so you can figure out where you’d like to go next.
And you can sit in the chairs.