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Elex Review

Game Spot Reviews - Fri, 10/20/2017 - 16:00

As a big, open-world RPG, Elex shows great ambition. The world of Magalan is a fractured yet beautiful place, having spent the last 150 years recovering from the devastating impact of a comet. It’s not your typical post-apocalyptic world, showing the signs of rejuvenation that makes exploring its heavily scarred, mountainous surface an enticing and occasionally captivating proposition. But despite this, a disjointed story, unresponsive controls, and frustrating combat mechanics consistently suck the life out of Elex, making its 30-hour campaign too arduous to recommend.

You play as Jax, a widely feared former Commander within the Alb faction, the game’s main antagonists. Albs are known for their addiction to Elex, an element that has permeated through the planet since the impact of the comet, which makes them both immensely strong and emotionally void; the perfect soldiers. Driven by their dedication to their leader, The Hybrid, and his directive to gain control of all the Elex in the world, they begin an aggressive reclamation of the planet, waging war on the other factions and building giant Converters to rip the Elex from the ground.

The Alb Directive demands the punishment of death for failing a mission, and when Jax is deemed to have failed, he is put down, albeit unsuccessfully, by another Alb commander who leaves him for dead. Having woken up some time later--a fact that is poorly communicated through the course of the intro--with his armor stolen and the residual Elex gone from his body, Jax begins his search for a new place in the world. The Alb’s savagery is a gripping premise of its own accord, but it never really lives up to the potential of its setup.

Where Jax goes from here is entirely up to you, though you are given a little direction by way of Duras, a Berserker warrior who leads you to Goliet, the main Berserker settlement. Peaceful settlements dot Magalan, as do raider camps, mutants and other assorted creatures who have been transformed into ghastly beasts by the Elex that has ravaged the land.

You can learn unique abilities from each faction, like casting magic or suggestive mind control through dialogue, once you’ve proven your worth. The Berserkers retreat to nature, transmuting Elex into Mana for magic and using it to revitalise the scorched planet, while the religiously bound and technologically advanced Clerics utilise Elex-powered technology built upon remnants of the old-world. The lawless Outlaws live off the scrap of the desert, while all three factions live under the threat of the Albs' aggression. Appeasing their needs is no easy feat, though, largely due to the balance of difficulty in the game’s opening chapters.

Starting on the 2nd hardest of the four difficulty levels, it didn’t take me long to wind it back to normal, and then to easy. But regardless of difficulty level I felt hopelessly underpowered, even against enemies that appear early on, so much so that the only way I felt I could make significant progress was to run from as many encounters as I could. However, avoiding combat doesn’t help in the missions where you’re forced to fight.

Feeling under levelled in an RPG isn’t the problem here, rather it's that there's no real way around it. Any time I would find a newer, stronger weapon, I’d try to equip it only to be denied by my lack of certain skills. There are five main attributes you can pour your skill points into, and most weapons require you be at a minimum level with at least two of those attributes.

Upgrading weapons feels equally trivial, as doing so also affects their stat requirements and can put them well beyond your character’s capabilities, rendering it a pointless pursuit. This becomes less of a problem in the late game, but it wasn’t until around 20 hours into Elex that I felt marginally comfortable jumping into a standard, open-world encounter.

Even then, there are still some real issues with the game’s controls and combat that present themselves early; something Elex never truly recovers from. Melee combat feels cumbersome, with Jax’s quickest attack requiring a hefty wind up before the swing. The auto-targeting function doesn’t differentiate between friend or foe, and when combined with poor hit detection and slow animations, it causes all manner of problems when fighting next to groups of friendlies. Ranged combat is a little better, but similarly suffers from some problems with hit detection.

Most frustrating is when you successfully hit an enemy with either a melee or ranged attack and it does no damage whatsoever, at least until you’ve hit it three or four times. Initially I thought this had something to do with my stamina meter being drained, but that just stops you from attacking in the first place. I never did work out the precise reason why this happens, but it’s stunningly frustrating as it makes nearly every engagement feel horribly unbalanced, overshadowing Elex's better qualities.

While character models and faces leave something to be desired, much of the environmental art is incredible. Separated into distinct regions, Magalan is gorgeous. From the green, flora draped lands of Edan and the canyon laced deserts of Tavar, to the volcanic region of Ignadon, the layout of its heavily cracked and damaged surface feels superbly hand-crafted. The details can lead to occasional frame rate drops, especially with lots of characters onscreen, but it’s hard to deny Elex’s wonderful art design. The addition of a jetpack to help you traverse mountainous regions, despite feeling a little clumsy, is also a nice touch.

Some of the inter-factional rivalries are interesting on the surface, with politics between clan leaders and in-fighting providing a bit of fun through dialogue and faction missions, but the overarching narrative rarely proves to go anywhere significant. Some of these missions touch on thought-provoking themes, like the idea that, despite being of the same faction, one person’s morality doesn’t always equate to another’s. Despite the interaction of different factions being a running theme through many of the game’s quests, Elex doesn’t have much more to say on the topic.

The main story quests aren’t quite as interesting, and are riddled with bugs in their presentation. Jax’s back story is slowly pieced together through memories presented as cutscenes during moments of exposition, though the transitions between these are jarring at best, with some cutscenes occasionally not playing at all. Numerous times did I come out of a cutscene only to find the world tearing itself apart and my character falling through the floor, either crashing the game or requiring a full restart and forcing me to replay the same section over again in the hopes that it wouldn’t fall apart.

Elex's world is no doubt enticing, but the good moments are heavily dispersed among some rough technical problems and odd designs that only serve to frustrate. The game offers an incredibly designed world and the basis of a compelling RPG that disappointingly fails to live up to its potential in almost every way. For a game that relies heavily on its combat for progression, it feels overwhelmingly geared against you, and with the added technical issues and lack of a compelling story to tell, Elex takes the wind out of its own sails at nearly every turn.

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WWE 2K18

Game Spot Reviews - Thu, 10/19/2017 - 16:22

Spectacle and showmanship are as vital to professional wrestling as its storylines and in-ring action. Fans will fondly remember a Superstar's distinctive mannerisms, or the pageantry of a glorious entrance, just as much as a five-star match. WWE 2K18 takes this aspect to heart with a substantial leap in visual fidelity--further complementing developers Yuke's and Visual Concepts' adherence to wrestling authenticity. However, the game's cosmetic advancements fail to cover up stagnant gameplay mired in technical issues.

WWE's superlative lighting, character models, and motion captured animations bring each star of the squared circle to life with startling accuracy. And while there are some disparities between the poor saps at the bottom of the card and those at the very top, the gap isn't as significant as it has been in previous years, with entrances remaining a dazzling highlight. Small details, like stretch marks and surgery scars, also contribute to WWE 2K18's graphical showcase. Muscles are defined and flex when a Superstar heaves an opponent over their shoulders, veins bulge under the strain of submissions, and even Finn Balor's demon paint gradually peels off over the course of a match. As a visual representation of the product we see on TV each week, it's definitely impressive, and this devotion to realism extends to the gameplay, too. This is nothing new, of course, and if you haven't enjoyed the series' methodical pacing and restrictive over-reliance on counters in the past, WWE 2K18 is unlikely to change your mind. This is essentially the same game as it was last year, with a few incremental additions edging the needle closer to the authenticity the series strives for.

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Hot tags have been modified to be a more natural, momentum-injecting part of tag team matches, and a new carry system gives you more options on offence, allowing you to forcefully haul your opponent around the arena and execute a variety of context-sensitive actions with ease. This is particularly enjoyable if you're playing as a giant like Braun Strowman, since you can hoist smaller opponents over your head and launch them directly out of the ring--which is certainly impactful in Battle Royales and the Royal Rumble. Speaking of which, eight-person matches are also new this year, adding an element of chaos to any over-the-top-rope shenanigans. The only downside is that so many Superstars duking it out at the same time has a negative impact on the game's frame rate, with the slowdown enough to disrupt your timing on counters.

This isn't WWE 2K18's only technical issue either. While the AI is passable at best and dim-witted at worst, there are also myriad glitches spread throughout its various match types and game modes. From Superstars getting trapped inside inanimate objects and being teleported around the arena; referees not counting pins in eight-person tag matches; the Royal Rumble completely breaking due to Superstars failing to appear when their number is called; or the way the Elimination Chamber acts as a proverbial cooking pot for a concoction of ludicrous glitches, WWE 2K18 is a messy experience. Sure, a number of these mishaps are funny, but there are others that actively ruin the experience on a larger scale, whether it's the game crashing every single time there's a promo in Universe mode, or the way MyCareer struggles to keep track of your allies and rivals, even forcing you to wrestle yourself in championship title matches. This series has always suffered from its fair share of glitches, but they're especially egregious and plentiful this year.

Meanwhile, MyCareer still tasks you with creating a character and climbing the ranks of the WWE, however, there's still no option to create anything but a male wrestler, which is disheartening. Some light RPG elements do at least attempt to spruce up the action in-between matches, and you're now free to explore the backstage areas, chatting to your fellow Superstars and picking up side quests that will further your alignment as either a face or heel, unlocking specific perks for each. The aforementioned glitches create problems here, however, as you might be asked to cut a promo on Enzo Amore, only to call out Cesaro instead, and then be told backstage that Dean Ambrose knew your plan. It's a mess, and a struggle to keep track of. These backstage segments are overly lethargic due to the regularity and length of their loading times, which mean you'll often spend more time watching the game than playing it.

This series has always suffered from its fair share of glitches, but they're especially egregious and plentiful this year.

Beyond these issues, the writing in MyCareer remains its biggest problem. Even if you excuse the juvenile insults and complete lack of voice acting, there's nothing here that carries any weight or interest. The writing lacks character and individuality, so it doesn't matter who you speak to backstage. Bray Wyatt might be an occultist hillbilly with an anomalous promo style, but he'll still speak with the same verbiage as Seth Rollins, who will in turn sound just like John Cena. And this carries over into the promos, too. These work much the same as they did last year, tasking you with picking from a number of dialogue options, and then trying to maintain a cohesive tone throughout to achieve a high score. The dialogue options aren't quite as vague as they were before, so it's easier to craft a coherent promo, but the terrible writing and silent pantomiming rob these moments of any impact. Last year, the promo system felt like a flawed first draft with room to grow, but there's been very little progression one year later.

MyCareer's online counterpart, Road to Glory, fares much better than its single-player brethren. By following the real-life WWE calendar, it allows you to take your created character online to compete against others in daily match types in order to earn enough stars to qualify for pay-per-view events. This adds some purpose and impetus to online brawls, and the netcode this year is surprisingly good, with smooth matches and no noticeable input delay, even when you bump it up to a fatal-fourway.

It's fun seeing everybody else's created Superstars, but customisation in MyCareer is disappointingly limited by the inclusion of loot boxes. There are no microtransactions in WWE 2K18, so 2K isn't trying to urge you to part with more cash. But, honestly, that just makes this approach all the more baffling. The vast majority of customisation options, from hairstyles and T-shirts, to wrestling tights and even the vast repertoire of moves, are locked behind these loot boxes. You earn virtual currency throughout the game, and Road to Glory also has weekly loot boxes to unlock, but you're still at the whim of a randomised draw. If you want a specific beard or a finishing move, you're just going to have to hope luck falls on your side.

Fortunately, the creation suite outside of MyCareer is as exhaustive as ever, with everything unlocked from the get-go. You can tinker with every single facet of a Superstar's design and create new title belts, custom matches, and arenas, and download other users' creations to, say, fill out the NXT roster with the likes of Adam Cole, Drew Galloway, and Kairi Sane.

WWE 2K18's in-ring combat is fundamentally flawed, and will be as divisive as it often is. Yet there's no denying the inherent joy derived from performing your favorite Superstar's signature moves. Whether it's cracking your opponent over the head with AJ Styles' Phenomenal Forearm, or pounding the life out of Asuka's latest victim, there are moments of pure pro wrestling enjoyment to be found here. It's just compounded by too many frustrating issues, disruptive glitches, and a dearth of engaging single-player modes. This series has remained stagnant for far too long, and WWE 2K18 doesn't change things.

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