Jesse Woo
E3 2016: ELEX Hands-On Preview
The ELEX is a... Huh. I don't actually know the words to The Reflex.
06.17.16 - 10:37 AM

German developer Piranha Bytes has an ambitious vision for their upcoming open-world RPG, ELEX. The makers of Risen and Gothic are promising an experience to rival the scope of the Witcher 3 and Fallout 4, and to populate it with meaningful characters and events driven by powerful AI. ELEX is a post-apocalyptic fantasy/sci-fi mash-up where steel swords meet jet packs and phasers.

The story of ELEX goes that at some point in the future, an asteroid collides with Earth causing massive and catastrophic loss of life. However, this celestial body introduces a new element to our world: ELEX. ELEX is a substance that can power advanced technologies (like a jet pack), and also bestow magic upon those who consume it. ELEX users gain power at the expense of their emotions, leading some unscrupulous factions to amass the substance by any means necessary, including extracting it from other people. In fact, the game's protagonist is one such villain, who, betrayed and sapped of his power, feels his humanity for the first time in his life and must claw his way back to seek revenge.

In terms of play style, the developers spoke of emergent gameplay powered by AI that would alter the course of a branching story. Players can kill nearly any NPC, including quest givers, and doing so will effect story and other NPC's willingness to deal and interact with the hero. In addition, AI controlled NPCs and monsters will interact in an unscripted manner, leading to the aforementioned emergent game results. Who will win, the NPC or the monster? No one knows! Another nice feature is the complete lack of load times in the world. Once the game boots up, all the environments are completely seamless. The developers said they wanted to remove any impediments to immersion from their game, loading screens being the worst offenders.

The combat felt like a variation on the Witcher 3's, with a mix of light and strong attacks, guards, and dodging. However in pre-alpha build it felt decidedly clunky, like an MMORPG combat system done up to mimic the action-heavy Witcher 3. It was still fun to blast enemies with a laser gun before tearing them apart with my broadsword, though.

In a moment in gaming where open-worlds abound, the difficulty of creating meaning and context in those worlds is increasingly evident. If Piranha Bytes can fill their world using their AI scripting, they will have pushed the genre forward immensely. If not, well, at least ELEX still has laser guns and broadswords.