ELEX II Interview: Lead Developers Discuss Star Wars Influences, Improved Combat, Finding a Niche in the RPG Genre, & More

While the indie scene continues to go from strength to strength, and the AAA market continues to play a dominant force in the industry, it’s fair to say that the mid-tier space in-between is slowly eroding away, which is a mighty shame. Thankfully, a few smaller-scale mid-tier developers are still flourishing, and one of the most successful studios in this specific space is Germany-based developer, Piranha Bytes.

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With ELEX II‘s March 1 release date inching ever closer, we thought that now would be a good time to sit down with the veteran action-RPG outfit best-known for their work on the acclaimed Risen and Gothic series, and find out more about their upcoming open-world sci-fi fantasy sequel.

We had a chance to chat with ELEX II’s Creative Director, Björn Pankratz, and ELEX II’s Game Designer, Jennifer Pankratz. So, without further ado, let’s get into it, shall we?

Dylan: ELEX has an unusual aesthetic, which is obviously part of its appeal for many players. What was the thought process behind mixing fantasy and sci-fi? Was it simply a case of wanting to stand apart from the crowd, or is there something deeper you wanted to convey?

Piranha Bytes: We had the idea of the ELEX-Universe many years ago. The idea was to create a science fantasy role-playing game that shows the evolution of mankind. Original cavemen versus advanced users of technology and the connection between the two is created through the magic of the Elex.

Of course the story had to be more like a science fiction fairy tale, similar to the force in Star Wars. So we created a world, where every faction is an advancement of the residents of the world before the meteor impact, but with different views about morality, history and the right way in the future. Inspiration of this were, besides Star Wars, of course, Dune the desert planet and Equilibrium, for example. This idea allowed us to implement things, that the players know about our games and create new things and ideas, like hard surfaces or modern weapons, for example.

Dylan: The PS5/Xbox Series X|S have been out for a whole year now. How has the team leveraged the increased power of the PS5/Xbox Series X|S hardware to improve the ELEX gameplay experience?

Piranha Bytes: We usually develop games first on the PC and at the same time there is a programming team who ported the game to the console versions. So it is usually the case that we can first concentrate on how we integrate new techniques, graphics and features in order to make visible progress in the new project. Later in the project we have to optimize the code and the data, to ensure that everything works fine and smoothly. Fortunately, the new consoles are quite fast, so porting works well here.

Dylan: What were the challenges transitioning from PS4/Xbox One era hardware to the more modern tech of PS5/Xbox Series X|S?

Piranha Bytes: Funnily enough, in reality, it’s the other way around. It is much more difficult to port the game to the old consoles because the new generation can do a lot more. We took a lot of time in optimization to ensure that the game runs on both generations of consoles. It would have been easier just to develop for the new ones, but very many players do not have a new console yet and still play on the old one, so we took the time to port the game to all of them.

Dylan: While the open-world freedom of ELEX was impressive, the real-time combat occasionally felt a little underdeveloped compared to other AAA games like The Witcher and Dark Souls, for example. What have you done to enhance the combat in ELEX II?

Piranha Bytes: We wanted to improve, and we reacted to player feedback. Therefore, we have put a lot of effort into the new combat system, to make it feel more dynamic and react directly to the players’ input. It is much more responsive now than in ELEX. We have gone through several iterations, have made a lot of tests to bring it to the next level.

One of the strengths of the combat system is the flexibility – melee or magic, range or reinforcements. You can lure any enemy into a bunch of guards around the corner or fight them from above or use quick attacks & dodge. There are always many different ways to overcome an enemy. Our goal was, to offer the players an entertaining experience and not to punish them for not reacting in exactly the right way.

Dylan: The open-world RPG genre is dominated by some of the biggest studios in the games industry. What is the answer to making ELEX II a unique and exciting experience that differentiates itself from other RPGs that are made with a far larger budget?

Piranha Bytes: Each Piranha Bytes Game follows a formula. Over the years, we have improved it and we are delivering a game, that we ourselves love to play. An RPG where the open world is truly open, where you can go everywhere from the beginning on – but where you will also get beaten by many enemies unless you are strong enough to overcome them. We want the players to be confronted with enemies, that they cannot defeat at the beginning.

We want the players to be motivated to get stronger, to find better equipment, and learn new skills. And eventually, they can beat that powerful ogre or that giant combat mech. We also want players to have a lot of choices during the game and to feel the impact, either soon or somewhat later. They always shall have the feeling of changing the fate of different characters, different factions, and also the whole gameworld itself. And we are offering different factions to align with. None of them are the good guys or the bad guys, they are all following an agenda and their own principles. So the players can decide which faction suits them best.

Or even – and is a premiere for a Piranha Bytes game – decide to not join a faction at all and try to rescue the world on their own. Yes, you are right, there are some big players in the open-world RPG genre, but we have found our area within the genre quite a while ago and that is what people love in Piranha Bytes games and why they play and buy our games. And with each game we’ve released, we have reached more people, who like them.

Dylan: Choices and consequences play a large role in Elex. What have you done to expand on this blueprint and develop the branching narratives in ELEX II?’

Piranha Bytes: It works similar to ELEX – but we improved and expanded it. It’s more complex and dense, with more consequences and bigger impacts, and more surprises in different storylines. Storylines are even longer than they used to be and will have many “oh!” moments. Another thing we did this time is to add children into the game world. This brings a new immersion and more realistic situations and even some special quests.

Dylan: Presumably, COVID-19 has – as it has for more or less the entire industry – forced the team to pivot its operations to remote work. If those measures are still in place long-term, should players be worried that ELEX II’s development cycle might run on longer than expected?

Piranha Bytes: The pandemic has had an impact on all of us, that is true. But we were lucky because changing to work at home worked quickly and we talk to each other via TeamSpeak and have a lot of funny and productive conversations, we can even share the screen and work together, so other industries have certainly been hit harder. We waited with the official announcement of ELEX II until we were sure to deliver the game not too long afterward. So March 1, 2022 is our official release date.

Dylan: Following ELEX II’s launch, I’m sure you’ll spend time supporting the game. What can fans expect in regards to DLC? Will there be any paid expansions for ELEX II? Or is the team leaning more towards free updates that will add new content?

Piranha Bytes: Actually, we don’t like DLCs. We think, if people buy our game, they should get everything that we’ve planned to put into it. Therefore there is no paid new content planned for ELEX II after the launch. Of course, we will closely watch how the game is being received by the audience and will support it. We would prefer to put our
creative energy in another project very soon.


ELEX II is scheduled to arrive on March 1, 2022 for PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and PC.

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Dylan Chaundy
Dylan is a Senior Writer at Twinfinite and has been with the site for over two years, and in the games media industry for over a decade. He typically covers horror, RPGs, shooters, Roblox, indie titles and movies, and loves reading, pizza and skateboarding; ideally, at the same time. He has a degree in English Literature from Aberystwyth University, Wales. He thinks FTL may be the most perfect game ever created.