Coming with an ungodly amount of hype, Elden Ring is the latest game from Dark Souls/Bloodborne/Sekiro creators FromSoftware. A game that lives up to the hype. FromSoftware have put out their most advanced game to date. One that also happens to be their most accessible too.
I put a lot of time into Elden Ring. I wasn’t even sure if I was going to even write a review, so grand and long was my personal experience. By time the end credits rolled, my speed/melee-built character was at level 178. I had stuck 92 hours into the game and beaten almost every boss. I had also died more times than I can remember, most my own fault, as is often the case with these games.
So, I think I have had enough of an experience to talk about the game now. A game that is staggering in scope and imagination. A game that feels fresh and familiar in equal measures. A game that frustrates and elates, and a game that rewards you for spending as much time as possible exploring every inch of the world.
What a world it is too. An open-world, with mostly non-linear story-telling, Elden Ring has transformed the FromSoftware style of gameplay forever.
Players take on the role of an unknown, something referred to as a ‘Tarnished’ and are given the simple task of going to The Lands Between and becoming an Elden Lord. Sounds simple enough.
As is often the case with FromSoftware games, Elden Ring does not force-feed you its story and players can go from beginning to end without even getting close to the big picture. This feels like a living and breathing world that you’ve invaded and to find out just what is going on, you’re going to have to dig. Of course, this sort of story-telling is not going to be to everyone’s taste but the sense of satisfaction from piecing it together, is immense. That so much can be missed, so much overlooked and so much ignored and the initial playthrough still make some sense, is testament to the overarching plot. One that credits Game of Thrones’ George R.R. Martin as its scenario writer.
You might not fully understand why you want to become Elden Lord but by damn, you’re going to become Elden Lord.
To do that, you’re going to have to explore a vast world and kill a lot of enemies. The former, is one of the grandest open-worlds seen in some time. Where every inch of the map uncovers something spectacular and threatening. Where an inordinate amount of cave systems, caverns, tombs and buildings can be explored. It’s so easy to spend countless hours just wandering the landscape and seeing what secrets this world has to offer.
I was never bored, even when some of the later stage areas reveal themselves to be a bit barren, it was always a joy to go investigate that mark on the map that looks suspiciously like a cave.
In fact, it’s actually really easy to miss a lot as Elden Ring doesn’t give you quest logs or markers (aside from the ones you can place yourself) to show you where you’ve been or what you’ve done. Couldn’t beat a particular boss at hour 10 but want to go back and find them at hour 40? Unless your memory is good or you left a marker, you might struggle to find them!
You’re free to explore as you see fit which can also get you into trouble as you find yourself in an area with enemies that are way above your level or skill. Which is where the reward aspect comes into play. Unlike many other ‘action-RPG’ games, Elden Ring enemies and bosses don’t scale to your level. Spend some time farming ‘runes’, exploring and finding some badass armour and weapons and the next area you visit might not be as difficult as you anticipated.
Of course, if you’re an impatient sort you can just follow the Light of Grace, which acts as a guide for the main path. Be warned though, Elden Ring can be exceptionally punishing as anyone, including myself, found out by wandering into Caelid totally unprepared.
With such a big world to explore, getting around it was always going to be a problem and that brings us to a new FromSoftware idea. A little bit into the game, you are given the ability to summon a spectral steed called Torrent that you can summon in an instant and ride across the massive expanse in quick fashion. Not only that, you can fight while on horseback (although your abilities are limited) and Torrent can double jump, allowing you to reach areas you normally wouldn’t be able to.
Fast travel is also the major way in which you will get around. As you explore, you will find ‘sites of graces’ aka ‘bonfires’ for all you Dark Souls fans. Activate one, and you can travel to it at almost any stage regardless of where you are. This sites also serve as rest points, where you can fully rejuvenate yourself and spend those hard-earned runes levelling up your attributes.
Though, in classic From Software style, resting at a site of grace also resets the area you’re in. Meaning most enemies killed will respawn, aside from major bosses and sub-bosses. Once those are dead, they stay dead.
Which brings us to combat, an area that FromSoftware have always excelled at thanks to the freedom they give the player to build their own style of warrior. Do you go for melee over magic? Are you concerned about speed and weight? Do you want to be a walking tank that shrugs off damage? The options are all there and Elden Ring gives you plenty of weapon types, armour, spells and abilities to build a character to your playstyle. Even if you’re focused on one particularly build, a variety of items that you can craft yourself, give you the option of changing things up on the fly, if needed.
Then we have the new and different ways that Elden Ring encourages you play too.
Stealth is actually a bit more important here as you can crouch and sneak up on enemies, allowing you to get the jump on them with a critical hit. The aforementioned horse combat can be a battle-changing experience. We have Ashes of War, affinities and skills that can be equipped to your weapon of choice giving them unique abilities. Even shields are massively improved here, allowing you to spec a character around defence for once! Then there’s the ability to summon spectral creatures and defeated enemies to aid you in battle.
The latter is the gameplay element that got me through several tough battles. Praise be the Mimic Tear.
There are so many ways to approach combat that no task feels insurmountable and trust me, there will be plenty of times when you hit the difficulty wall.
Which brings us to the most controversial part of FromSoftware’s games. The difficulty. Regardless of your love or hate of the ‘git gud’ mentality, most will agree that Elden Ring is a different FromSoftware beast. Featuring some of the hardest bosses to date, everyone, regardless of if you’re a Soulslike veteran, will have moments where they struggle here.
So, what do you do when that happens? Walk away. There’s always somewhere else to go in Elden Ring and through that you’ll find just what you needed to push on. Be it a couple more points in certain attributes, a new weapon that fits you like a glove or a spell that can decimate the boss that stopped you in your tracks. As always, the sense of satisfaction that comes from finally toppling what stood in your way is immense.
As a person who loves this aspect of FromSoftware’s games, it’s easy for me to defend but I can also see why it is off-putting. The ‘easy mode’ debate has risen its head for Elden Ring too and for the record, I don’t see what harm it would do. No-one is forcing you to play it.
That being said, Elden Ring is more accessible than any FromSoftware game before because of the freedom it allows. Not only that, the multi-player option. Where you can team up or call-in help from other players throughout the game, can really make things much easier. I’ll freely admit to the fact that I probably wouldn’t have gotten past several bosses if it wasn’t for the help of other players.
Dragonlord Placidusax, Astel – Natural Born of the Void, Mohg – Lord of Blood, Starscourge Radahn and Radagon of the Golden Order/Elden Beast were all made that bit easier for me, thanks to the help of other players. Hell, the hardest boss in the game and probably FromSoftware’s hardest boss ever, Malenia, Blade of Miquella/Malenia, Goddess of Rot, I only got past because of other players.
Use what the game makes available to you and you’ll have a much better time with it.
Just remember to stop occasionally and admire the beauty of the game. A smooth experience that stays at a constant high-frame rate (Xbox Series X), with short load times and glitches that you can overlook because of the open-world nature of the game. Likewise, stop and appreciate the stunning score and sound effects that add even more grandeur to a bloody grand game.
It’s FromSoftware’s greatest accomplishment to date, that much is clear, and the new benchmark for Soulslike games. 92 hours of gamplay and I know there was so much I still didn’t do. I barely scratched the surface of PVP for example and I know I missed a ton of side-quests.
It’s one of the finest games ever made but… and this is a big but… it’s not flawless.
Controversial? It really shouldn’t be but the fanbase has already got a bit rabid about this game so let me explain some of the things I didn’t particularly care for.
Later, the dungeons and caves get quite repetitive and exploration doesn’t have the same impact. Not only that, many of them feature the same kind of boss. I lost count of how many Beastmen, Black Knife Assassins, Deathbirds, Burial Watchdogs, Night’s Cavalry and Crystalians I fought. The same bosses with different weapons or abilities. You can say that a game that features over 100 bosses in an open world, will have some repeats, but Elden Ring has too many.
The final areas of the game, the places you unlock last, are just a bit too empty when compared to what came before. I’m talking about Mountaintops of the Giants and the Consecrated Snowfield in particular. Those expecting a lot of new caves, dungeons and ruins will likely find themselves as disappointed as I did, even if I did enjoy exploring them.
Then we have the final boss and here, I’m talking about the Elden Beast. Not Radagon of the Golden Order. Although forcing you to fight one straight after the other was a particularly mean thing for FromSoftware to do.
The Elden Beast is a disappointing and cheap final boss. An ugly looking being that is situated in an arena that is so big you’ll waste your stamina running from one side to the other, just to land a singular hit on him. All while he is hitting you with some powerful holy magic and massive AOE attacks. With a huge health bar and resistance to a lot of effects and magic, many builds will be neutered by this final boss, making its eventual defeat feel less triumphant and more… lucky.
These are just some of niggling issues I had with Elden Ring. Things that stop me calling it a masterpiece but still calling it a phenomenal experience. Don’t let these complaints put you off, Elden Ring is a game you really should play. Even if you’ve never contemplated dipping a foot in the Soulslike pool. It’s the perfect entry point for new players and a satisfying expansion on what long-time players have enjoyed.
Elden Ring (Xbox Series X)
The Final Score - 9/10