(Impressions) Element: Space

I believe that I was a bit more hopeful of Element: Space back at PAX when they only had a single stage to play and get a feel for the game proper. I was able to take bite-sized portions of the game. In the full-fledged version of the game, that feeling is starting to fade. If anything, this more recent experience has shown me how spoiled I’ve been as far as gaming goes. It is a tactical shooter like XCOM, but with a bit more freedom of movement. There’s more story to it as well. It even looks really good. Given all of that, I still have my doubts. Should you jump on the train though? Will you enjoy it? That is what you clicked on this article to figure out right? Let me break it down for you.

The game is beautiful. I love all the work put into the environments. It’s also fun to break all of the things. Who doesn’t love breaking all of the things?

Let me start this off by saying that, as far as narrative, it beats the competitors for me. There is an interesting story happening here and I can see myself getting even more invested into it than I already am. Or at least the narrative actually plays a larger role in how the game progresses rather than feeling like an addition to the combat. There are choices to be made on how you approach different situations. (This likely stems from it being an RPG and not simply a Tactical Shooter.) I tend to pick the choices for the greater good. I’m in the camp of saving the many instead of the few. I may play a more “selfish” role in another playthrough (or maybe even a harsher one). They are labeled as well (if you choose) so that you can stay on the same path if you so desire. I like this approach because in some games, some options are worded in a way that makes you think that you’re being the good guy and then you go and ram a guy’s head through a table. It can be frustrating.

Decisions, decisions, decisions…

The combat is a mixed bag. You have your normal cover systems in place with full/half cover options. You also have the option to put your character wherever you’d like. There is no square grid to confine you this time. It’s nifty, but not as groundbreaking as I would like to think. It mostly leaves me out in the open to get shot. (I guess it’s possible I’m doing it wrong.) I do like that they took a chance on it, but I’m not sold on the concept. I certainly have thought to myself that it’d be nice to have this feature in other games of this genre. However, I also have no ideas on how to change it so that it’s “better” because it is essentially you taking a risk and sometimes it may pay out while other times you get shot in the face.

Speaking of shooting, it’s much more cut and dry here. There are percentages shown and they are far more accurate than I’m used to. If you’re flanking and have clear vision it’s always 100% and you will hit. If they are a bit behind cover then the percentage will be 50% and is exactly that, hit or miss. It makes sense. This is a team of highly trained people (and a robot), and when you have a shot, you’ll make it. They don’t take into account reality of bullet travel and enemy repositioning I guess and I’m fine with that. Of course this is also the case for your enemies too. It’s a double-edged sword.

Sometimes you’ve got to walk up and punch someone. Sometimes you want to shoot them in the face from close range and are then forced to punch them and then get locked into melee combat instead. Make that mistake once, shame on you. Make that mistake twice… more shame.

There are two main gripes I’ve come across that didn’t really show themselves in the PAX demo. I really don’t appreciate the saving and experience systems. The game only saves after you complete an entire mission. Normally this wouldn’t be too much of an issue. However, some missions include several different fights. Depending on how well you’re doing, this could take some time. Also, you could be doing well and then in the last fight screw up and lose a person right off the bat. (I am speaking from experience here…) In between the different fights should be some form of auto-save system in place or at least one you can choose to have on. What if the fights are dragging on because you didn’t anticipate the new moves of the enemies and have to suddenly take a lot more caution and then life hits you up? You can’t just leave in the middle without starting all of the fights over in the mission. This is incredibly frustrating for me. I have times where I can play for an hour or three in a row. Those aren’t always available which means there are large chunks of time that I cannot play the game due to time constraints. They have put up a post on Steam that I just noticed about implementing checkpoints in the January 16th patch! Never mind; we’re good!

The second would be the leveling system. Where is the experience meter? How is it measured? How do you get more? If you take too long and don’t get a perfect score do I lose points? That’s the gripe there. It’s not clear. At least in XCOM you knew that you just had to kill some xenos and rank up afterwards. I just wish it was more clear.

I think support for  Element: Space is indeed warranted. The game looks great, plays well and has a story that seems to actually take center stage. Keep playing and you’ll get more experience. If you take into account that some missions don’t go according to plan and you’ll need some time to play the game and can set some aside, that kills the other complaint I have as well. They can be mitigated, but they still need to be dealt with. This is a luke-warm “Support” nod. If they would implement a better saving system, this would be a no-brainer. Knowing that checkpoints are coming very soon fixes the biggest issue and I’m glad they are listening or have a solid grasp on what their game needs. Check it out if you’re into the tactical isometric shooters. If it’s only mildly your thing, pick it up when it’s on sale.

Further Reading on Element: Space: Facebook / Official Page / Steam / Twitter

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