Piranha Bytes’ games are quite popular among certain Western RPG fandoms, all thanks to the crude classic, Gothic, with which many a player back in the day discovered the genre. They only remaining trace of the former glory, however, is mostly the fact that the fandom is willing to shrug off more bugs and mistakes than people are generally willing to accept in AAA blockbusters. We just ignore stuff like clunky animations and weird behavior of characters, instead taking in the atmosphere, heroes, and the game world.
The following is a conversation with two main developers of Piranha Bytes – Bjorn and Jenniifer Pankratz – where we asked about their ideas about Elex 2: what did they like the most about making th game, what was the process, where does the signature Piranha style come from, and how is it possible that the game was rated T in Germany (at least 12 years old).
Best thing about Elex is…
Dariusz Matusiak: What was the best thing in the first Elex game? What were you proud of the most and is it the same in Elex 2 or maybe it’s something different this time?
Bjorn Pankratz: I think it is always the team we are proud of. But when I think of our previous game, I think it is the fact, that we have achieved 95% of what we wanted to in it. Most of our ideas found their way to the game in the end. And it is the same with Elex 2, because the features we planned, i.e. the jetpack upgrades or the new combat system – we finished those things, so we are proud of that as well.
Jennifer Pankratz I also think that we are very proud of that we could show in Elex that we are able to do a really huge open world with this game as we had one big landscape – and yes – it will be similiar in Elex 2. And another thing we were really proud of was that we had some nice story twists, which is something we are also going to continue in the second part.
DM: Was making Elex 2 a lot different than the original Elex? Maybe easier because you had an already set background, or perhaps harder because you strove to make a better game?
BP: It is always very hard to offer, to introduce a new brand and to tell everyone about things which are new or changed. It was very difficult to offer our customers and fans a completely different setting. And a science-fiction setting was something we had to explain to everyone – that was hard. But with the second part, it’s difficult to tell where we stand as we don’t get so much feedback from fans because of the pandemic situation. So I think this is the main difficulty here.
What is your favorite character from Elex 2? Is it the protagonist or maybe someone else?
BP: I think some of the companions. There will be some new companions, like Fox who is a cool character. We are very proud that we doubled their quests amount in Elex 2 compared to the previous title. And they will have much deeper storylines there, I think it’s great.
JP: I am proud that we have children now in Elex 2, so I like the kid best, the son of the main character.
Have you made any changes to the magic? Will the Clerics still be a good faction to join?
JP: We have more factions now to join, but it will be a little bit different to the original. You can join a faction, but you don’t have to and if you choose one, you will have an opportunity to switch it once. If you want to join the Clerics, you will have to go a special way to do so. There will be magic, most of the classic magic and some new additions. For example, one new faction will have a kind of black magic. You won’t need mana, but instead you will use it in exchange for HP.
Piranha Bytes DNA
One of the most characteristic mechanics in Piranha Bytes games is open, endless inventory – player can pick up whatever they want and keep it. Have you ever considered ditching this idea and introducing some limitations to the inventory, like in other games?
BP: I don’t think so. We prefer to offer you complete freedom in the game, and this includes collecting items and not caring about inventory management. You can just explore and enjoy the world which is one of our things. We also don’t have a level cap, the endgame and stuff like that. We don’t like any limitations.
JP: We think this would change the gameplay. Of course you can generate a longer gameplay with tricks like this, but we don’t want player to collect items and start to work on them again and again to sort them out. We decided we would have an open inventory as usual.
So the next question is related to the previous one. All your games have the same distinctive elements, like open inventory, unique creatures specific to the locations, collecting trophies from animals and monsters, learning skills from teachers. Is this like the DNA of Piranha Bytes? Do you pay attention to implementing all those things in your games every time?
BP: For sure! We make games which we want to play. This is the way we like it the most. Of course there are some new features added sometimes, like the jetpack for example, but usually most of the key features will be the same.
We like modern games and we incorporate modern elements from newer games as well, like minimap or radar, map management. But we always keep an eye on those favorite elements of our games that you mentioned, like endless inventory or always being able to meet one of the NPCs you want. Every NPC in the game can be the first one you meet here. It is our DNA, like you said, and we would like to keep it. We think it’s worth to keep it.
New mechanics, and the size of pt. 2
So are there many completely new elements made especially for Elex 2?
JP: Besides the children and the improved jetpack, and maybe some features about them. For example, you can enhance your jetpack with fighting ability. I think this will make these actions much more fun.
BP: And in the end, you can really fly with the pack. You have to collect items to complete upgrades of the jetpack, but you will be able to literally fly all over the world and that is something completely new, and it’s a lot of fun.
JP: We also made or edited some “quality of life” features, like little pictures of the items in the inventory. In Elex 1, it was just a list and now there will be icons. We also changed many things in combat mechanics. It was a little bit clunky and now it’s smoother, you can really choose when to hit the enemy, you don’t have a combo system, you can do it quite freely.
BP: One of the most outstanding things in Elex 2 comparing to our previous titles is that you will be able to join five factions if you want. And you will be able to change the faction mid-game. Previously we kind of forced the player to join a faction within the first chapters. Now you can choose none at all. We don’t make you join them, but to make a choice at some point of the story at the point of no return. That is a new way of playing the game and it was a challenge to do so. I am very excited to see what players will do with this opportunity, how they will behave.
And all the choices player can make are connected to different quest lines, so you won’t be able to experience and see everything by completing the game just once, right?
BP: Yes, for sure. We have three main pillars which affect the ending you are going to get. There are your personal quests, how you finish them, whether you kill some NPCs or not. The second is how you deal with the moral system – we call it ‘distraction’ this time. And the last thing is very important – it’s what faction you join or don’t. This will affect the ending of the game.
Elex 2 is rated M around the world, but in Germany, it’s rated with the equivalent of T for teen. What’s up with that?
JP: Elex 2 it is similar to Elex 1. We have some quests and dialogs with strong words, so PEGI decided it will be a game rated 18. But in Germany, they said “Ehh that’s nothing, let’s have it PG12.” It’s quite funny, becuase people say “So, the international version is different than German?” But it is not. It’s identical. Germany just decided to rate it PG12, but everywhere else it is PG18.
Do you see the potential for the third Elex game? Because all your titles before were trilogies, will Elex be a trilogy too?
BP: Nice try! We cannot say anything about next title we make, including the potential third game.
JP: But what we can say is that we are already working on another game.
Do you play your own games after they are released? Like just for fun? Or you are just happy that you finished and want to move on?
BP: Yes, we do. We always like to watch streamers play our games for years. The new social media platforms like Twitch give us the opportunity to do so and we really enjoy it. We always watch them because we want to learn how people think about the things we do in our games. It shows us how to improve. It’s the main reason why we watch others playing our games.
How long will take to finish Elex 2, on average? How many hours can you spend there?
BP: It depends. It is our biggest game to date. You can go through the storyline and finish the main quests in around 40 hours. I tried it, and although I always knew what to do in the game, I couldn’t finish it under 38 hours or so. It is a really big game and if you want to spend hundreds of hours in it, you will always find something to do. And of course, there replayability, as you can play it in multiple ways, and it is always very big.
JP: We decided not to make a bigger map, because people said that Elex 1 was big enough. We decided to have similar map size and focus on making denser quest lines and pacing in the world, more NPCs.
New generation, new opportunities
Have you improved graphics for next-gen consoles and PCs? Because Elex 2 is going to be a cross-gen title also for PS4 and Xbox One.
BP: We will see when we finish the job!
JP: It’s a funny thing because we get that a lot. People ask us about enhancing versions for new consoles but it doesn’t work that way. Of course we develop the game for PC and then…
…Downgrade the game for older consoles?
JP: Yes. It’s much easier to make a game for the new hardware, simply because it’s better and the real difficulty is to make it work on older consoles. It was easy to switch for a new hardware, so we improved graphics a lot and added some features, like lip-sync.
Anything you’d like to say to players new to your games?
BP: I think it will be much easier for beginners to get into our game. The entry threshold of Elex was quite high, but we learned how to introduce the world better in Elex 2. You will be able to see the world and meet some NPCs without killing too many monsters within the first hours, but you can choose to do so if you want to – but it will be always your choice, not our choice to force you to face some hard work. But it is not easier as a game. It is as difficult as it was in the first title, and we have now 5 difficulty levels you can switch between. We also took extra care of different players types. That was very important for us – to offer the world of Elex 2 to everyone.
JP: Elex 2 is a direct sequel to Elex 1, so everyone who knows our games will find exactly what Piranha Bytes is. You don’t need to know the story from the first part, the game will explain itself, but of course if you know Elex 1, there will be lots of references.
Great. Thank you very much for your time. We wait eagerly for the release date.
Darius Matusiak | Gamepressure.com