We’re all fanboys of one thing or another, especially when it comes to video games. Admit it or not, there will always be a special place in our heart for that one particular video game or video game developers whether it is outright apparent or not (in the case of the so-called intellectuals). Pretty much everyone I know (myself included) despise being called fanboys. We’d much rather be called hardcore fans (pardon me for generalising). When you’re a fanb….hardcore fan of something (in this case video games), you are willing to look past its certain flaws and criticisms pointed out by others. In some cases, you are willing to go to any lengths to defend your champion and that sometimes gets out of hand during heated internet arguments. I’m no exception.
In my nearly 20 years of playing role-playing video games, I’ve been the loyal defender of dozens of video game developers and their products throughout the years. Some come and go like Black Isle and Troika. Some you grow out of, like Bioware and Obsidian. But some stay. In my case, Piranha Bytes is the one that stayed. Ever since playing their first game Gothic as a wee lad, I’ve maintained a passionate obsession towards the German developer and their games. So it’s a no-brainer when I say that I absolutely love Elex, Piranha Bytes’ 2017 RPG, or in the words of us fans- “a hardcore RPG”. But some wise man on the internet once said that “Elex is not a good game unless you are German, married and have Aspergers”
Anyone familiar with Piranha Bytes knows that Gothic 2 is their magnum opus and they haven’t made anything that could surpass it. So it’s understandable why every PB RPG since then carries the mould and soul of Gothic to varying degrees of success. Being a ‘hardcore’ PB fan, I’ve grown a liking towards every one of their games. Even Risen 2. But if you ask me, Elex is the closest they have come to make a game that could even stand on the same queue as Gothic 2. Except that Gothic 2 stands at the very front and Elex is somewhere in between it and Risen. But whatever man. I love Elex. Here are some reasons as to why.
A Classic Piranha Bytes Adventure
15 years later, Piranha Bytes is still using the same design methodology that made the Gothic series stood out. Everything you expect from a PB game is here. An action survivor hero who starts off as not much stronger than a turkey, a world filled with people that want to screw you over, early game hell, ‘Beef Gates, same old ‘visit a trainer to improve your skills’ leveling, AI that can be exploited to your heart’s content, the satisfying gradual progression, grey and grey morality and of course, multiple factions stuck in a semi-civil war loop.
Despite being fantasy RPGs, I’ve felt that PB games always have some trope-breaking elements in them, which sets the setting apart from their peers. Elex is no exception. Set in a unique post-apocalyptic world of Magalan, it mixes elements of sci-fi, fantasy and medieval tomfoolery into one intriguing package. The world of Magalan resembles Earth before a massive meteor struck the planet. That doesn’t explain the presence of dinosaur-like creatures and beefed-up pheasants. Maybe the tin-foil hat guys are true. Maybe our world is secretly governed by brainy reptilians. But I digress. Magalan is probably my favorite PB world after the prison colony of Khorinis. The world is ruined, yet beautiful, serene yet deadly, depressive yet the ray of hope shimmers. Not to mention the excellent PB level design and world building is irrefutably present in Elex. Cliffs that invokes my acrophobia, settlements teeming with life, NPCs and wildlife going by their business and unfrequented locations with their own story to tell- Elex is a return to form for the developers in terms of world design.
A Little More of the Same
Like I mentioned earlier despite the fresh coat of paint, the core gameplay in Elex remains the same. You start off as a wimpy dude who can’t even make a super-sensitive kid cry. Hell, even sticking your head out from the first settlement before your level hits double-digit is calling out to have your ass kicked. There are people to befriend, betray and piss off. Yes, you can still practically kill every single NPC in the game and it won’t (hopefully) break the game. Melee, ranged, magic, technology- you choose how you want to play and depending on how good you are with exploiting the game mechanics, there are always shortcuts to be found in your path to becoming the end-game walking force of destruction. If you keep getting your butt kicked over and over by the enemies populating ‘Beef Gates’, there is always the option to lure your foes to friendly NPCs and let them deal with the rest.
I might get a lot of hate for this but to hell with level scaling. There is no greater satisfaction than getting your ass kicked, levelling up, coming back and obliterate that one annoying enemy in the name of sweet vengeance. This is the same reason I loved the hell out of Dragon’s Dogma. At the same time, I can understand why people prefer level scaling. Games without them get a lot easier and even sometimes boring after the half-way mark, while level scaling may or may not ensure an even gameplay experience from start to finish. But hey, it’s not like you’ll be one-shotting every enemy that you see. There will still be challenges that will give you a run for your money. So no thanks. I like my games like I like my women….on second thought, let me save you from a terrible joke.
The Grass is Greener on This Side
Even if I call myself a Piranha Bytes fanboy, I’m not blind and my biased goggles can still make out mishaps in the game design. As much as I hate to admit it, Elex drops the ball hard when it comes to combat. You might wonder if I was talking out of my butt in the above paragraph. Not in the slightest. The combat in Elex is very much flawed. The animations are sub-par, target lock sucks, hit detection is wonky and hitboxes are terrible. How can you even enjoy the combat then? Well, I can give the usual excuse like it gets better with time but the thing is “it just works”. After a period of adjustment, I hardly noticed the flaws as I was focusing all my attention on beating the hell out of a bunch of raiders. It goes without saying that this is all just highly subjective and this is coming from a guy who enjoyed the combat in Mars: War Logs and the first Witcher.
Apart from the combat and some frustrating elements, there is a lot to love and experience in Elex. The story is probably the best PB has ever done, there are some interesting companions, characters and side quests. The choice and consequence system works really well and even some of the minor things you do can alter the fate of secondary characters. Overall, Elex is a clear improvement over the last two Risen games. It’s still a niche RPG and in my opinion, one you either love it or hate it. I’ve seen some people staying on the middle ground, however. So your mileage may vary. Like many of the European RPGs, the ideas surpass the technology.
Changes come in small pacKAGES
In my time defending Elex, I’ve come across people criticising the developers’ inability to adapt to a modern audience by sticking their heads inside a safe zone. But I always saw this as a positive. I can name many RPG franchises that went out of their way to streamline the games to attract the masses, losing their identity in the process. In my eyes, Piranha Bytes following the same design philosophy is a sign of the developer refusing to sell out. Sure, it also inhibits the process of evolution if they stick to the same tried and true formula with each new game. The changes come in small packages. I highly doubt that even when Elex 2 eventually hits the market, it will revolutionalize the PB formula like Original Sin did for Larian Studios. But hey, at least you know what you’ll be getting. I’d rather see Piranha Bytes perfect every element of their core formula rather than try something super ambitious, something way out of their league and end up shooting themselves in the foot. Considering the size and budget of the studio, I believe it’s for the better. We all know what happened to Gothic 3.
Well, that went better than I expected. Come to think of it, I no longer represent the Piranha Bytes fanboy I used to be. For some reason, I am willing to accept criticisms and see things in others’ point of view, a clear distinction from who I was years ago. Am I getting wiser with age or is it because the video game journalist in me has come out on top? Food for thought. Anyways, I still love Elex despite its flaws. I sincerely hope that Piranha Bytes nail their tried and true core formula with Elex 2. Maybe it will end up being better than Gothic 2. Who knows? Let me know what you think in the comments. Have a great weekend!