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Element: Space Early Access Review

Edited by: Tiffany Lillie

The Final Frontier

Element: Space, developed by Sixth Vowel and published by Inca Games, is a turn-based strategy RPG that sees you fill the shoes of Captain Christopher Pietham, tactician and leader. You will guide Captain Chris through the galaxy on a mission to stop the evil organization Tempest who are bent on inciting war between the many factions in the galaxy despite it being on the verge of peace. Many challenges await on your path to peace, and only Captain Pietham and his crew will be able to walk it.

On the Run

I find it hard to say much good about Element: Space. While it is still in very Early Access, there seems to be a lot of road to hoe to refine this game into what it can potentially become. My first gripe is with the story. The game boasts a branching storyline with choices that matter. It even tracks the sum of your choices on a four-axis graph to determine how Humanist, Autocratic, Bureaucratic, or Independent you are. These choices mean little for people’s reactions to you, as mostly you will be interacting with your various crew members in vignettes after story missions. However, these vignettes only really serve to increase your crew’s loyalty and your own stats. Further, in the Early Access version, there are only a handful of these vignettes to see.

Pietham’s lack of social interaction can be chalked up to the fact that he’s black-balled by the galaxy writ-large after the protracted tutorial. Tempest, the aforementioned bad organization, attempts to sabotage the peace summit Captain Pietham is overseeing. They wind up pinning their sabotage attempt on the Captain who then has to flee and fight Tempest from the shadows.

Ironically, during the story missions, no one seems to mention that Pietham is perhaps the most wanted man in the galaxy for sabotaging the peace summit set to end the biggest war the galaxy has ever seen. Further, everyone seems to just roll with whatever they heard last. In the scene where Tempest frames Pietham, the announcement comes over the intercom and all the guards are all too happy to believe that the war-hero captain — who is trusted enough to head the escort of this all-important peace summit — is willing to sabotage it. Further, Tempest’s goal in sabotaging this summit goes unexplored in the Early Access release.

No One Can Hear You Scream

I find it odd that Element: Space is set in a futuristic space setting. There is the requisite space magic in the Sensates, but overall the setting feels like it might work better in a near-future or steam-age setting. Space travel is trivialized, as you’ll see yourself go from Mars to Jupiter with no real impact on time spent. All the civilizations that populate the galaxy are human and based on Earth civilizations of roughly the same time period. All the weapons that have been released so far just seem to be standard variants of modern weapons with a smattering of melee that are just as, if not more, effective than the ranged ones. There’s very little pay dirt to be had in terms of its setting. This even extends to the audio. Usually, space games will be rife with flashy sound effects, crackling lasers, and a synth/electronic soundtrack to go with it. I couldn’t help but feel that these songs could easily be transplanted into any other game and not feel out of place and, especially during the battle theme, that it was just as bored to be there as I was.

A Roll of the Dice

Element: Space attempts to mitigate the randomness of other games in the genre by giving a flat percentage chance to hit depending on what cover your opponent has taken. A target standing out in the open can be hit with 100% accuracy. Half cover gives a 50% miss chance, and full cover protects you completely. When your attack hits cover, it deals damage to that cover, destroying it if it takes too much damage. If you’ve played Mario and Rabbids: Kingdom Battle, it’s pretty much the same system.

Where Element: Space diverges, however, is in the powers it gives its characters. Most available characters have some kind of ability that can move opponents out of cover. This is almost necessary because, unlike Kingdom Battle, the levels are not set up like puzzles, but more like the more RNG-based tactics games like XCOM. However, these push-and-pull abilities take a combat action to use, limiting the amount of damage you can output in a round. They’re then in cooldown for three to five rounds before they can be used again. Considering that, for most of the game you’ll be using three set characters and there are severely limited amounts of weapons in the game, damage output is necessary, leading to the more arduous but more consistent strategy of attempting to outflank an enemy with multiple characters to burn them down as quickly as possible.

Some of these difficulties might be because I chose to play on the Extinction Mode difficulty. While the Early Access notes mention that this mode still requires balance, the difficulty curve here is preposterous. Not necessarily because it's hard, but rather because the side missions can be excruciating while the primary missions can be laughably easy. It’s truly a crapshoot as to whether or not a character you may have mistakenly left out in the open to die will truly be attacked. Near as I can tell, the AI chooses a random enemy within range to attack and then uses a random attack on them. While it may sound odd that I’m complaining about not being punished for mistakes, it really emphasizes the artificial nature of everything in the game.


The Verdict: Fair

Despite the many issues I have detailed in this review, the game does function. I ran into very few technical issues during my short playthrough. All told, the content currently released can be burned through in just four hours. However, being technically solid without interesting gameplay provides little incentive to pick up this title. Hopefully by the time full release comes around, these issues will be resolved.

John Gerritzen
Written by
Wednesday, 06 February 2019 07:00
Published in Strategy



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John Gerritzen is a programmer by education, author by hobby, and game critic by occupation. While he usually favors RPGs, he will play anything that engages him narratively or mechanically. When he's not playing games for fun or profit, he's usually reading or watching anime.

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