Elden Ring became the most anticipated game for 2 years in a row according to some sources. Personally, I’ve been excited about it since it was announced. George RR Martin and Hidetaka Miyazaki creating a fantasy world together, one that is ruled by swords and magic, no less, is a dream come true. Seeing that the many iterations of the Soulsborne franchise have been refined to the last detail, it only makes sense that the game would be expanding laterally rather than vertically.
To be honest, I had my concerns for the genre to be adding itself to the ranks of open-world games. I have grown weary of playing one after the other, where it simply felt like the same game with different mechanics. Why would I want the game I know for having borderline unfair level and dungeon design to be leading me to wide-open areas that may potentially have nothing around of note? Am I going to have to deal with busywork that feels repetitive and net minimal rewards? Will I finally be able to do Dark Souls fishing?
Well, turns out the answer to all those questions, is no. So sadly, I still can’t fish in this game, thereby making it a terrible jRPG (I’m joking). Anyway, the game has managed to integrate itself into an open world in a way I was most pleased with. This isn’t a game where we drop the Dark Souls formula into an open world, where it makes concessions and changes to be more like the open-world games we presently know. Rather, it makes every square inch of the vast land you can explore be that Soulsborne experience you are so familiar with. Somehow, they made a player like me, who became constantly cautious of my surroundings, be willing to stride out there and explore whatever seems to stick out, even a little bit. Even if that means potentially fighting something I’m not ready for, because it rewards your willingness to explore many times over. So, let’s go over what I’ve found and experienced on Elden Ring.
The Elden Ring, an almighty artifact that blesses all that exists in the Lands Between, has lost its magical grace, thereby affecting everything around it. You awaken as one of the Tarnished, men who has been forsaken by this blessing. You are then tasked to recollect the shattered pieces of the Elden Ring, and hopefully, restore the previous order of this world. The question is, are you up to the task?
Production (4.5 / 5)
If you are at all familiar with any of the Demons’ Souls or Dark Souls games, you’ll immediately notice that the Elden Ring is directly lifting things from previous games to include in its game. You’ll see the same weapons, attack animations, spells, and more. Still, I think it looks great because it adds enough new things to see and experience along with these. The world itself being the obvious one to point out. But they also include new enemies, bosses, and characters to interact with.
One of the cooler things that we see here is that if you can see it, you can probably go to it. Even that glowing tree in the far distance. It’s even cooler that wherever you go, you can kinda just sit back and enjoy the view if you’re high enough. The world is designed in such a way that you’ll want to go to certain points of interest because it sticks out. Whenever I’m going towards a destination, there’s a good chance I’ll notice that something sticks out, and will want to investigate that area.
There’s also a weather and time system in the world. So you can cycle between day and night, there will be times that it will be windy, and sometimes it will rain which may include lightning and thunder. Honestly, I don’t know what this does to the game other than making fights that much more epic, but I welcome the extra effects even though it’s probably punishing my video card a bit.
Oh yes, I’ve been reviewing this on PC by the way. One that’s equipped on GTX1650Ti, and Ryzen 7 4800. So far the experience has been pretty smooth while keeping Elden Ring on High settings, with maybe a few short hiccups when it’s dynamically loading a new area. But that’s really nothing to be bothered about. It also has a lot of settings you can tweak so you can get your battles and skirmishes running smooth like butter.
Music, sound effects are about as expected. You have your calm atmospheric, ambient music while exploring, your more intense, drum-focused BGMs during combat, and your oppressive, tense scores when fighting bosses. Speaking to various characters around the world has been mighty impressive, I wouldn’t have minded some more cut scenes here and there with them since they do deliver quite an amount of information from time to time. It also helps plenty that I understand what they’re talking about most of the time, as compared to previous titles.
In a nutshell, Elden Ring is a lot of what we’ve already seen before, with the addition of maybe a few new things here and there. Still, the aesthetic that every element carries and the design of the world around you show how it was crafted with care, with a goal of amazing us every step of the way.
Mechanics (5 / 5)
So we’re on the same page that a lot of this is lifted from Dark Souls 3, correct? I won’t go over the mechanics carried over anymore, at least in detail, and be going over whatever’s new in Elden Ring. Where it improves on what they currently have in terms of quality of life and accessibility.
First off, you can jump. So those little knee-high obstacles that could screw you over during more tense skirmishes can now be overcome. Also, this means that there will be enemy attacks that are best dodged by jumping. This also makes climbing more vertical structures within the game possible, and hiding secrets behind shorter walls and even railings.
Next, they’ve added a new standard move for shield bearers, a guard counter. Whereby tapping a strong attack right after blocking, you immediately counter with an attack that could crumple your enemies. Allowing you to do a downed attack on them. This is a bit of risk-reward though as it opens you up as well. Honestly, I think this is rewarding defensive players more, but I suppose this is a way for shield users to keep up with the improvements given to other playstyles.
Weapon Arts are now possible to transfer, so if you like a particular special attack attached to a weapon, you can now extract that and put it into a weapon with better stats. It’s like transferring gems on a weapon. This way, you won’t have to worry about being stuck on a sub-par weapon just so that you can keep playing the way you like.
Another huge new change to combat is being able to summon spirits to fight in your stead. I know this sounds like it would really change how you play, but Elden Ring restricts where you can use them. Particularly they’re for enemy camps where you’ll fight a small army or boss rooms. Though from personal experience I really don’t recommend using them for bosses, they may distract them for a while, maybe deal some damage. But ultimately, they’re rarely worth the Focus Points required to summon them.
Also, there’s also the new steed you are given to easily navigate through the world, Torrent. This will allow you to bypass most fights that you don’t want to take, which makes traveling out in the open world all that more convenient. I thought that’s all there is to the horse, but it turns out there’s a point to having mounted combat, more on that later.
Finally, the activation of the Great Rune through consuming a rune arc (humanity) won’t just boost your HP now, but every stat by 5. So not only are your offense and defensive increased, but you can also make use of this to equip gear that’s just out of your stat’s reach. Or maybe increase your weight capacity just enough to keep it within a certain category. This makes hybrid builds that much more feasible and easy to access, given that is, that you don’t die.
Based on my playthrough so far, it’s become clear to me that victory in Elden Ring is no longer governed by simply memorizing enemy locations and dodging through their attack patterns. It now pushes you to rely on weapon arts, switching between ranged and melee combat, knowing when to use items, and well, knowing how to dodge that boss combo. There’s also the fact that you can crumple even bosses if you hit them with enough heavy attacks, opening up a new approach to combat. The trade of offense and defense is no longer bound to just two simple commands of attack and dodge but now makes you consider including a shield, casting spells, and thinking more about different options. The game isn’t trying to become more appealing to wider audiences but is trying to test you in more dimensions. Knowing what and how to use whatever you have with you, is what Elden Ring demands.
Content (5 / 5)
If you took my introduction of the title to be something that sounds a lot like Dark Souls 1, well, I’d have to agree with you. Being asked to collect two pieces of the Elden Ring to then bring it to its destination, sounds pretty par for the course when it comes to the genre. You can say that the straightforward nature of the story can feel like simple window-dressing to contextualize your reason to fight a boss. We’ll just have to leave the finer details to those who research the lore, and yes I’m also looking forward to Vaati’s new videos when they come out.
Character creation is rather robust, where you can design how you want your character to look rather extensively. Here I decided to try to remake a certain character from the Fate franchise, I’d say it’s close enough. At the very beginning, you’re also asked to pick a starting class, which is more like presets with starting items, since you can custom build anything you want from the get-go. I chose Prisoner, thinking I could exploit Elden Ring’s new leanings toward magic users to my advantage and get far enough into the game within the review period to have enough to talk about. I thought I’d have an easy time, and well, I didn’t.
I’ve already mentioned before that the open world has a lot to offer so long as you’re willing to look for it, and this became clear when I came across some dungeons that I would have to say are ‘hidden in plain sight.’ Elden Ring handles the open world like how FromSoftware has handled every game they’ve made from the beginning. It’s not interested in holding your hand, you’ll have to find information relevant to your quests or next objective on your own. You can talk to NPCs to point you in the right direction, maybe buy it from a merchant. This holds true for your main story quest, and any other side quests you might run into. Some of them appear to be missable, so you might want to keep that in mind though the rewards for the missable quests tend to be rather minor. For example, there’s this island that you want to go at the earlier part of the game if you want to wield the power of Dragons. Just that, you can’t travel there by foot, I searched the beach for maybe a boat or teleporter of some sort that can get me there, but it was only when returned sometime later that I discovered a cave, which doubled as a dungeon, that I found a way to get to said island.
Other things that you’ll encounter in the open are the sectioned-off areas full of enemies to fight or get ambushed by. These range from abandoned ruins to military camps, to giant castles. Some of them are just out in the open where how you clear out the enemies is entirely up to you. Others give you the choice of either taking a fort head-on or trying to sneak around them, where you’ll meet less, but sneakier resistance. And some are strictly linear that you’ll have to run through to get to the boss room.
Speaking of bosses, it’s a mixed bag. You’ll have your traditional Souls bosses that are easy to deal with so long as you dodge correctly, then there are these bosses that will absolutely destroy you the moment you let your guard down. Some are lifted directly from elsewhere, like these guys on horses. I think I’ve fought maybe 4 bosses on horseback at this point. They all have similar move sets, where they variate in what they do. One will have a shield that will kill you in one hit, another shoots magic from a distance. Honestly, some of them are a bit on the not-fun side because the encounter gave me a ‘been there, done that feel to it.
Then there are the story bosses, which have clearly received the most work. Not only do they have attacks and moves I’m completely unfamiliar with, but their AI really gave me a run for my money. Normally with these games, using ranged combat, especially magic, makes even tougher bosses a trivial affair. But in Elden Ring, they will act depending on what you’re doing. Casting magic? They can catch you. Sticking close to punish a whiffed attack? They have a counter. Running away to heal? They have something up their sleeve. In hindsight, these fights are very much winnable if you understand how they act and respond. But that’s exactly what I had to relearn, it’s not learning a new game all over again like in Bloodborne and Sekiro, but there’s enough there to challenge what you might assume for the Soulsborne genre.
There’s also a new style of combat you get to do while riding on your horse. It’s designed for open-world encounters with giants so that you have the mobility to escape their wide and sweeping attacks. Honestly, it’s quite clunky from how I experienced it, but despite that, I enjoyed it. It gave purpose to the wide-open world setting because you need that much space to dodge the flaming breath of a dragon or the wide swing of a giant. Sometimes you need it to fight a bunch of Lobsters, seriously Miyazaki, this was not the fishing I had in mind. I don’t know what’s up with him and seafood.
By interacting with NPCs, exploring uncharted areas, and diving as deep as I can into dungeons. I found weapons, resources, items, boss fights I was completely unprepared for, and even quests. There are even things I found that I have no idea what they’re for yet, like paintings. There’s just so much to explore and find in the world that it was easy to get lost, but it was the good kind of lost because I always ran into something that made it worth my while. Even fighting a boss that I was already way too strong for still gave an Ash of War or Spell or item that made the trip worth it anyway. It’s been a real long while since I actually enjoyed an open-world game, play it until I have to fall asleep, and wake up wanting to explore that one thing I noticed before I went to bed.
Features (4.5 / 5)
The online functionality for Elden Ring isn’t enabled yet during the review due to some security issues that the developers are currently working out. So I advise those that are looking to do online multiplayer to make sure that they’ve sorted this out before going online. That said, we can expect the usual modes of play we can access from previous games. Coop, versus, invasions, and more. However remember that during the network tests cross-gen network play was possible, but not cross-platform. Meaning PS4 and 5 players could play together, but nowhere beyond that. Same goes for XBOX and PC.
As usual, you and other players can leave notes for each other all over the map to help people on their journey, or lead others astray. We know some people do that.
Playing it on the PC does have its setbacks, it’s pretty clear that the experience is meant to be played on the controller, as the mapping of commands and shortcuts on the keyboard and mouse was a very uncomfortable experience. It also seems to think I’m only using an Xbox controller which is a minor issue but I know some people out there are bothered by being unable to recognize the button prompts.
Other than that the game has been operating smoothly, and never got a crash through the entire time I was playing this game. So if you’re planning to play this solo, I can recommend picking it up on day 1.
Miyazaki had started this genre of difficult combat that’s an interesting mix of rouge-like and hack-and-slash RPG. Every time he starts a new title with the same concept as a foundation, we were ready to learn an entirely new game all over again. From the slow and tactical combat of Dark Souls to the rapid and visceral rush of Bloodborne and Sekiro. This time around he has chosen to wind back to the more conventional form of combat we have come to know and many have tried to replicate.
While so much of the game seems familiar, you see that he’s not afraid to try new things. Where I FromSoftware would get trapped into the pitfalls of modern open-world game design, they have pressed on and managed to create a new IP without losing the identity of what they’re known for. It’s not that every fight, dungeon, or encounter is perfect and memorable, but rather, how everything you come to witness here is definitely from the Soulsborne franchise. Nothing feels tacked on for the sake of it.
At this point, the story is hard to see the full picture of so I’m not sure how GRRM’s influence over the story and characters will defy my expectations of this game. The story appears to be following the natural progression that we’ve come to know Miyazaki for. If they do manage to surprise me, I might write something separate to address it.
But in general, Elden Ring has met my expectations in terms of the wondrous world it presents and the challenges it hides within. I can’t wait to continue playing this game.
Elden Ring graces us with its presence, scoring a 5 / 5.
This title is available on February 25 for the PlayStation 4/5, XBOX 1/X/S, and PC.