We’ve all had those folks that we know, who try and sell us on a TV show, or a manga, or something similar. And they warn you that it gets better, you know – once you get through the troublesome first season or first eight chapters or whatever.
Alright, you might say. Can I just skip the crud and jump immediately into the good stuff? Like, for example, Mystery Science Theatre 3000 or the Star Trek movies?
No, you are told. No. You have to go from the beginning. And you must start with the shit part of the shit sandwich, before you get to the sandwich.
ELEX is kind of like that.
Even from the get-go you can see the bare-bones of a competent, if not ground-breaking or genre-defining, RPG. The story sets up a three-way faction-bash with a fourth faction that you start out as part of but are forced to leave for reasons that you aren’t really aware of. It’s a post-apocalypse on another planet, and the apocalypse brought the citizenry a miracle substance called ELEX that can basically do everything that you need something to do to make a fantasy/scifi setting work. It’s a little hand-of-god-y.
The first speed bumps come at you fast and early – the character animation is PS2-era, which is embarrassing given how close a focus the Mass Effect-style dialogues pull on your face. You can’t help but notice that you look…terrible. Even forgiving the fact that you are generic bald white dude #4 with cool facial scar B, you actually look awful. The moment you open your mouth, you realise you sound awful, too. In fact – everyone does. Every line of dialogue is cement-mixer-esque in clarity and delivery.
It isn’t like the voice work is betraying any good writing, either. I put in a solid few hours and after that, I was left with a strong urge to murder literally every person I saw, myself included. I’d have given it a go, were it not for the fact that the combat system – in fact, the entire control system – is fairly awkward. Combat, often a staple of third-person RPGs, is frankly a joke. There’s a lot of ways you can get killed very early on, and the game offers you the freedom of saving and loading whenever you want, so it sees little reason to warn you when an enemy will absolutely mutilate you at its merest whim.
How to avoid mutilation? Get good equipment. How to get good equipment? Join a faction. There’s three to choose from – the Berzerkers (who are actually weird druid-type nature-lovers who turn the unobtanium into magic), the Clerics (who are apparently some kind of technocratic super-church that turn the unobtanium into technology), and the Outlaws (who I have no clue about because the only guidance you get about them is that they are complete dicks). Except you don’t get a choice. You get to be a Berzerker. Or you don’t get any kit whatsoever.
See that? That’s you that is. Probably. Or maybe I stole this screenshot from Two Worlds, or maybe this is from Elder Scrolls Online. You just can’t tell.
Now…I am sure that, if I was willing to put in the time, and I was willing to learn the systems of a game, then I might come across a means by which I could join a faction that wasn’t Captain Planet’s super-friends. You are on your own, out in the world, and your way to vengeance and plot resolution lays through…oh, it turns out that you have to make friends with the huggy bears (who don’t like you in the first place), because that’s the only way forward that is visible. No other goal presents itself – aside from one of the folks hanging out in druid central who informs you that the Clerics (oh those dudes sound cool) have a city somewhere that you can go to if you’re good enough. Except the game’s map lacks any means for you to see where that city is – and the wandering enemies are more than capable of subtracting you in a moment.
So – don’t get this if you aren’t willing to slog through some bad writing with a character you don’t like. You don’t owe it to anyone to play a bad game in the hope that it ends up being a not-bad game sometime later. Take it as a challenge if you must. The game promises a fair length, and may offer a challenge to those who like getting their boots muddy and doing whatever the hell they want. It’s not all bad news. Not really. I mean the levelling system is…okay, it’s frankly opaque at first, but the HUD is…okay, that’s not great either, but…
…urgh, okay, I admit it, I never got to the sandwich bit of this shit sandwich.
Be warned, dear reader. Be warned.