I love the sci-fi setting and level designs of Element Space, and the turn-based gameplay is complimented by the diverse range of ways you can customise your team.
Element Space is a tactical turn-based RPG developed by Argentina-based Sixth Vowel and initially published on Steam by Inca Games in February 2019. It more recently released on March 24, 2020 on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 thanks to the legendary Australian team of Blowfish Studios. Sixth Vowel has stated on their Steam page that it will re-release the PC version a couple of weeks after the console releases. Javier Entelman, the game’s creator and creative director states in relation to the future PC re-release:
“We are calling it a re-release, because we feel that now, Element Space runs, looks and sounds as we want it to finally feel. I do seriously recommend you re-start the game, so you can see what I mean when I say: the game is at the level it deserves!”
This review will be focusing on the Xbox One version of the game that features full voice acting, an easy mode has been added to address complaints of the difficulty of early builds of the game, and numerous bug fixes reported from the PC version. Element: Space is set in a dystopic future, three years since the end of the Galactic War where mankind has colonised three solar systems and their vicinities. These three sovereign powers have decommissioned the starship Inspiration and established it as the seat of the new Galactic Congress and of the first peace summit since the end of the war. These images of the Inspiration and this premise gave me memories of playing Mass Effect and watching the opening scenes of the 2006 Battlestar Galactica reboot which is right up my sci-fi alley.
You play as Captain Christopher Pietham in a new intergalactic upheaval by terrorists of the Temptest, leading a squadron into dangerous situations and dealing with the consequences of their choices. You start with companions Rafael Guerrero and Jun Zhao and are faced with some dialogue choices, each with small icons next to them representing ideologies of Humanism, Bureaucracy, Independence and Autocracy. This is the dialogue ideology system where your choices will affect your reputation with factions and companions. Once you complete a few introductory missions, you’ll be given an interface in between missions to monitor which part of the political spectrum you’re sitting in.
There are three difficulty modes to choose from – easy, story and extinction modes. As mentioned, an easy mode has been added to the game due to feedback from the PC version. Lastly, Extinction mode is the highest difficulty where you cannot retry missions and dialogue choice ideology is hidden. There are also story arc choices that will impact the ending you ultimately achieve which means there’s some good replay value available for players.
Having now played some story mode myself, I can certainly see why easy mode has been requested as there are many difficult missions. Some are made harder by having a limited number of turns to complete them. I did experience one bug where my most powerful soldier, after finishing their move, was shifted along the floor to the far back corner of the playing field. I then had to waste 2 turns to get them back into play and on my final turn I just couldn’t do enough damage to finish the enemy in this limited-turn mission, so i failed it and had to start again from scratch. It was very frustrating as this mission took me 45 minutes. Thankfully though this is a known issue to the developers and will be fixed in a future patch.
Gameplay wise, if you’re a fan of games like Xcom with turn-based combat, you’ll feel right at home in Element: Space. Each companion has a primary action point and a secondary action point. Attacking or using a skill counts as a primary action, and moving short distances without sprinting counts as a secondary action. This is only the second turn-based game I’ve played on the Xbox with the first being Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden. Left stick moves the cursor, right stick rotates the camera, ‘a’ confirms actions, ‘b’ cancels actions and ‘y’ ends your turn. Left and right buttons allow you to switch between characters. Left and right triggers allow you to select the skills unique to each character with skills such as reload, overwatch and others unique to each character. Overwatch is cool in this game because you can alter the viewing angle that it effects. This really gives you greater control and positioning of your troops compared to the enemy, and I’d like to see this implemented in more of these types of games.
When targeting an enemy you are shown the accuracy (percentage chance to hit), how much damage you will do and the critical hit chance and damage if it crits. This is great information to have just by hovering over each enemy. Aiming at enemies behind cover will reduce your chances of a direct hit, however each piece of cover is destructible which ensures the battlefield is always changing and you need to adjust your soldiers with every move to keep them protected but also try get the best angle of attack. I really liked the slow motion takedowns initially but they did get old after a while with some framerate drops on occasion. Thankfully you can turn these kill cams off in the options. Once you’ve defeated all enemies, the mission will be over. Some missions require you to move your squad in a point-and-click fashion through the level which will lead to a story cutscene, which is good to break up the gameplay and invest you in the story. The character models and general quality of the cutscenes is mid-range but not bad enough to complain about.
As I was playing with the Xbox Controller, I found it tricky at first to get precise position selections with the camera controls and I made a number of positioning mistakes in the early levels. It was often frustrating when you think you’ve clicked to move behind cover but it moves you one square out of cover, causing you to take unwanted damage from the enemy in the next turn. Also when in free-move mode, the cursor could only be moved within a square that was half of the viewable area. It was almost like the cursor was locked within a smaller resolution area and this was quite frustrating when trying to move the squad around corners, up stairs and other tricky areas. The finicky camera controls were a little unhelpful here on occasion, but you do get used to it.
In between missions you will be on your ship where, similar to Mass Effect and Star Wars: The Old Republic, you’re able to talk with your companions to learn more about them and also upgrade their skills and equip new weapons. There are eight recruitable companions in the game, each with their own back story and 32 weapons with both melee and ranged types available to unlock by gaining reputation with the seven factions. You must make your weapon and perk changes before entering a mission, as once you’re in-mission you cannot make any changes. The character models in these cutscenes seem to have less detail to them with fuzzy edges. They are looking straight at the camera and their mouths are closed while their dialogue progresses. This is the only jarring feature where you can tell voices were added, otherwise the voices add a great atmosphere to the game.
Each character has unique skill trees and perks that you can specialise them in with four tiers of skills, each costing 3 points. These points can be refunded and reallocated between missions, so if you’re struggling with a particular enemy or resistance, you can restart the mission with altered skills. Captain Pietham can pull enemies or allies to him with a grappling hook, saving your team or ripping an enemy from behind cover. Zero, the comedic robot, can hack enemies to damage their shields and armour. This allows you to really play with the strategy of your crew creating tanks, supports, gunslingers and many more combinations and gives more replay value, in addition to the varied story endings.
Overall, I gave the game a 7.5/10. Despite some niggling control and graphical glitches, as well as a bug that caused me to lose a mission, I’m really enjoying my time in Element Space. I’ve played a number of turn-based games lately and this is definitely one I recommend for fans of the genre. The controls for movement and camera angles take some getting used to on the Xbox version, though I imagine would be fine on PC. I love the sci-fi setting and level designs, and the turn-based gameplay is complimented by the diverse range of ways you can customise your team. There’s a lot of lore to read and in dialogue with your companions, and there’s a heap more backstory on the game’s official website which is well worth checking out.
Written by: @ChrisJInglis