If you're a PC player, Piranha Bytes has been floating in the periphery of your vision for a long time. The developer has a long history with the Gothic and Risen franchises, both of which were RPG franchises that had a reputation for aiming high, even if the execution wasn't completely up to snuff. With ELEX, an upcoming science fantasy action RPG published by THQ Nordic, the developer seeks to go completely open-world again.
In ELEX, players take up the role of Jason Statham - not actually, but our hero looks vaguely like him - in a post-apocalyptic world where magic has returned. The primary magical resource gives the people and creatures of this world amazing abilities, but as a side-effect, it strips them of their emotions. Your hero is coming down from a magic high and rediscovering his humanity again and the question left to you is whether you'll choose power or humanity.
I didn't have a chance to play around with any magic in my demo of ELEX. Instead, our hero could switch between melee and ranged weapons at the drop of a hat. Either you take on the mutated humanoids and lizards up close with some cold, hard steel, or you soften up a gang of thieves with a grenade launcher or assault rifle from a distance. Finally, to help you explore the world Piranha Bytes has built, they've added a short range jetpack.
There's a stamina system that limits melee combat, but overall, the melee weapons in ELEX feel like they could use a bit more impact. The available guns felt meatier than the close-quarters weapons by far. Likewise, the jet pack could also use a bit of OOMPH, given it's a set of thrusters literally attached to your person.
Where ELEX looks like it will succeed is in the same place Risen and Gothic worked. Despite any presentation hiccups, Piranha Bytes understands solid RPG storytelling. In the demo, one of the objectives available to me was gaining access to a refugee city, currently under the control of a modern version of the Knights Templar.
Outside of the city, there's a camp of mercenaries and malcontents who aren't allowed in the city. You can chat them up and one merc will offer a secret way into the city, if you're willing to get something for him. Alternatively, you can talk to the templars guarding the city, who want to you to help them waste the bandit camp. Or you can offer to help them and then betray them in the camp. Basically, you have layers and choices to every quest.
That's good, because the RPG side of things is where Piranha Bytes has always excelled. The Gothic and Risen games weren't always grand polished technical masterpieces, but they were enjoyable RPGs. For the time being, it looks like ELEX is heading in the right direction: a solid RPG that straddles the line between science fiction and fantasy.
ELEX is coming to PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4 in 2017.