Elden Ring Review: One of this Decade’s Best Games
The first trailer for Elden Ring was shown at E3 2019. It raised a burning question: What would happen if Dark Souls had open-world elements. The game is finally out, and the answer comes in two parts.
The Dark Souls elements work perfectly
The open-world elements are either hit-or-miss. With the vast majority being home-run hits.
Elden Ring is a game about contrasts. You are invited to explore this vast open world, but then the world tries its damndest to keep some of its secrets from you. Although it suggests where to go next, the path may be too difficult if you don’t know the area well enough. Although it tries to make the game more accessible than other From games, it can create significant roadblocks early. While series veterans are well aware of what to expect, newcomers might find it more challenging to access than previous Souls games.
For the vast majority, I enjoyed my time with Elden Ring. However, I still found some frustrations. And they took root in something found in any game made by From. They are the usual problems with finding NPC quest lines and missing out on content. While I found quite a lot of missable stuff, talking to my colleagues and other reviewers, I quickly found out I missed caves, encounters, and in one case, an entire area.
Just because I did not comb one open-world section to an unreasonable degree but, I guess this just became my motivation for a second playthrough. So I shouldn’t be too mad. The game’s graceful combat and positively PACKED open world will keep me entertained for sure.
Elden Ring review: Gameplay
Although it’s easy to define Elden Ring, it is difficult to describe the experience of actually playing it. Elden Ring can be described as an open-world action RPG. Create a character and then go exploring, facing a variety of foes as well as menacing bosses. You can find new equipment and items; you can improve your melee, ranged, or magical combat skills; you can also hop on horseback to explore the dark-fantasy continent of the Lands Between.
Elden Ring can be a difficult experience. However, mastering combat feels deeply satisfying. The moment-to-moment gameplay of Souls (or Bloodborne) should feel familiar to anyone who has played them. The experience includes customizing your character and upgrading attributes. Mastering deadly combat is another thing entirely.
Elden Ring, like most From games, is intricate. While most enemies can kill you in just a few hits, bosses usually need only one to two. Foes will attack you, grab you from behind, and then swarm from the front. You have limited healing options and no instantaneous recovery. This includes your melee attacks, magical projectiles, and lifesaving dodges. On the flip side, mastering combat feels equally fair and deeply satisfying. While statistics and numbers are important for victory in Elden Ring, your skills will also play a major role in achieving it. You’ll naturally improve your skills as you play.
Runes are an all-purpose currency that can be used to upgrade and purchase new gear. Every enemy will drop Runes upon defeat. You only have one chance to get your runes back if you die. If you fail, they are gone forever. It’s frustrating, but it is a great incentive to play consistently and carefully. Even when the enemy’s difficulty ramps up, the game can be quite stingy with Runes. It is difficult to complete a level after you have cleared the initial areas. It is even more frustrating if you lose Runes or die.
As with previous From games, there are unobtrusive multiplayer features, like leaving messages for adventurers and summoning players to help with boss fights. These are a great way to help mitigate some of Elden Ring’s most challenging moments. But they disable the usage of Torrent, your steed. And exploring the open world without it becomes a slog. So I recommend you co-op with others only in dungeons.
Elden Ring review: Open-world elements
When you explore Elden Ring’s castles, dungeons, and other enclosed areas, it fires up all the cylinders. These areas are essentially the legacy level designs from Dark Souls, Bloodborne and Sekiro. They challenge you to find every shortcut and hidden path while keeping the environment relatively constrained. You can find everything if you look carefully.
Do not expect any “!” marks or objective markers under any circumstances. Elden Ring sticks to Dark Souls’ school of exploration. This means you will find out about some interactions or secrets two years from now while watching a random YouTube video because that is the game From wanted to make. A game that doesn’t give you anything on a silver platter.
The open-world areas feel less polished. But that comes as no surprise. They just cannot make every single patch of grass interesting. And they do not have to in my opinion. Sites of Grace (checkpoints similar to Bonfires in previous games), point you to the next major goal. However, you have the option to go off the beaten path and explore. Some mini-dungeons or areas are more difficult than others. But they can provide valuable resources, experience, and items that you will need to help you get past the mandatory bosses. Expect lots of trial and error. I advise entering areas and fighting a couple of mobs. If they do not go down easily, you are clearly under-prepared for this bit of the map.
But sadly, the opposite happens sometimes. Due to the game’s scale, it is literally impossible to balance out everything. You will find or come back to some areas and they will be laughably easy. Just because you did not find them at the perfect moment of your adventure. I always took this opportunity to try out some under-upgraded weapon. But you can obviously revel in being able to stomp through an area for once easily.
Elden Ring’s philosophy is based on the freedom to walk away and do other things when you reach a brick wall. Although Elden Ring is a difficult game, which is normal for a FromSoft title, its difficulty surprised me as a veteran Soulslike player. I was able to hit many stops even up to the final boss. I had unlocked paths that led me to other bosses but couldn’t make any progress on them at all. Even if some paths turned into dead ends, I knew there was always another route for now. I could explore a new region, an NPC quest I had saved for later, or a Site of Grace indicator I had yet to follow. I never found myself at a loss for ideas. I discovered new gear, items, and skills every time I went to those regions. I could also learn new spells and techniques that would give me the edge I needed to defeat a boss who had been challenging me.
Horseback riding is also an option. Your summonable steed, Torrent, allows you to travel fast and double jump. While this opens up many new possibilities for exploration, it can also lead to frustrations and many moments of “was I really supposed to be able to get here?”. Mounted combat feels fantastic; you can opt for hit-and-run strikes rather than the precise, methodical blows that you would dish out on foot. It almost feels like you are jousting! It’s thrilling to witness mounted boss fights such as the fire-breathing Dragon asserting his dominance across an open field. They’re not the norm, however.
Some dungeons are, like I said, extremely well-hidden. I wonder how many players will find them without a walkthrough. Elden Ring’s open-world straddles the boundary between “being full of mystery and secrets” and “being full of shit.” I swear to god, I was annoyed to find some dungeons. I would scream out, “why would you put a secret here” when exploring areas that felt utterly devoid of content and pointless to explore.
Elden Ring review: The Combat
The game features a variety of new and familiar systems that can be used in unique ways. This gives you more control over how you approach combat. Stealth has become a viable option with the addition of Crouch-Walking. This allows you to sneak past tough enemies and get behind them for critical hits. Various gimmick weaponry received significant upgrades. For example, Bows can use brand new sleep arrows that immobilize foes for a brief period. Whips are honestly pretty good. Where in the rest of “souls-esque” games they were… pretty bad.
The Ashes of War system basically combines two elements of previous Souls games – weapon affinity and weapon arts. you can freely equip these items with your armaments. Let’s say that I find a great katana, and I like its moveset. However, I am building my character with an emphasis on the Intelligence stat. This means that it won’t get enough damage bonuses to make it a viable weapon. If I find an Art of War that grants a magic spell to a weapon, I can equip it, transform it into a magical weapon, and give it Intelligence scaling. Even better, if I decide to change my build, I can keep the weapon and add a different Ash of War. You will need to find the right item to unlock these affinities. However, it is a smart addition that gives you a lot of options for your favorite weapons.
FromSoftware has largely adopted an “If it isn’t broken, don’t fix It” approach. The best thing about combat in Elden Ring is the variety and design of its enemies. Some of these enemies are not only horrifying, although they aren’t quite as horrific as Bloodborne, but are still a weapon-grade nightmare fuel. However, some of these villains are extremely vicious and can strike from 20 meters away. Others are more cautious and wait behind their shields for the right moment to catch you or parry you. Some are still weak but can pose a threat if they grab you and get their friends involved. The game continues to be one in the series of those intended to punish people who aren’t careful enough. Elden Ring is a difficult game. It’s not about quick reaction times or swift reflexes, though those can help. Instead, it’s about adapting and learning how to find the weaknesses in enemy attack patterns. These games are great fun when you can decipher the signals and take advantage of every opportunity.
The Elden Ring bosses are amazing. They are some of the most impressive FromSoftware creations, both visually and mechanically. Some of the more recent ones came very close to exceeding my expectations when it comes to life-restoring second stages after already difficult first phases, and two or three-against one handicap battles. However, I overcame any obstacles once I had taken the time to do something else and come back stronger.
Elden Ring Review: Upgrades To The Souls Formula
One of the most obvious new additions to your arsenal are the spirit summons. Not via Co-Op like previous Souls titles. But via unique items found around the world. Most boss fights allow this tool to be used. And if you are struggling, you should. You can summon a variety of cool enemies to act as your buddies in a fight. A pack of 3 wolves. 2 soldiers, one with a sword and the other supporting him with a crossbow. Or even a noble who knows some magic tricks.
If you ever played a Souls title, you know how valuable it really is, to not be alone against a boss. When your summons take away his attention for even a second it is truly a blessing. You are free to then heal, reposition, switch weapons or other equipment. Or just circle around and start wailing on his back. This is a very welcome change, as it provides ways to negate the game’s difficulty for people who are not as masochistic as me.
The other completely new system is crafting. I mentioned this before; for example, you can craft arrows and crossbow bolts. Materials for this can be found in the open world, near trees, on bushes, and such. You can also hunt small birds and critters for components. You can craft cures for certain status effects and such too. This system is great because you don’t have to teleport back to some NPC vendor every time you run out of common arrows. Crafting can easily be ignored, too, if you aren’t into it!
And the last major new addition are the so-called Stakes of Marika. And I absolutely love them! They act as a “mini-checkpoint” before most boss fights. Basically, if you die during a boss, you can either respawn at the last Site of Grace (the classic “bonfire” somewhere in the level) or opt for a respawn at a Stake of Marika. Which usually puts you right next to the boss again. This is HUGE! You do not have to waste time rushing blindly through the level back to the boss anymore. You can just load back in and try again. This makes dying to a boss a much less stressful event.
Elden Ring Review: Story and Setting
George R.R. Martin, a renowned author of fictitious worlds, is a well-known name. Martin was a part of Elden Ring’s backstory and his influence is evident. The Lands Between is a rich and nuanced fantasy world with complex characters and an understanding that the status quo can be changed.
As with many From games, you find out the bits of lore through character dialogues and item descriptions. The most important event that kicks off the game is the shattering of the Elden Ring. A powerful artifact was split in four in a terrible war called the Shattering. Four demigods took each ring piece, each becoming darkened and twisted. You play as a Tarnished, an immortal undead warrior who is able to defeat the demigods and reforge the ring to become an Elden Lord.
From does a great job of condensing a lot into a few dialogue snippets and item descriptions and the level design. The Roundtable Hold is an area where adventurers can meet and receive small information dumps about major bosses. This clever idea helps to make every boss fight understandable and clear. And sometimes you might learn about their weaknesses this way.
But if you are hardcore about the lore, then fret not! There is so much to dig into in Elden Ring. Layers upon layers upon layers of that sweet Souls Lore. Naturally, due to the scale of the game, you will find much more here than in Dark Souls or Bloodborne. And we will for sure be watching various YouTubers explain these hidden stories for years to come.
Elden Ring Review: Visuals and Sound
Elden Ring is an amazing game. It features glowing golden leaves from distant Erdtrees and blood-flecked armor pieces. It’s not the most visually ambitious title, possibly because it spans two console generations. However, it does have a unique art style with striking architecture and grotesque enemy designs.
I love that From Soft stepped away from the lifeless colors of Dark Souls 1 and 3. Elden Ring’s color palette is much more vibrant, you could compare it to Dark Souls 2 and Sekiro in that aspect. And it ends up being a very welcome change in the grand scheme of things. You just do not get tired of looking at this game. Which is a real problem I had with DS 3.
The spells which often felt lackluster visually for how much damage they did in previous Souls titles have been overhauled. Their new visual design is just so gosh darn cool! Some of the spells in this title look spectacular beyond belief. So I suggest you put some points into magic-related stats.
The sound design is strong as well. Music tends to be loud and epic for boss fights but stays quiet and atmospheric outside of them. The sound effects remain at a high level, just like in other From Soft productions. Every swing of a massive blade or hammer gives way to the extremely satisfying sound of your weapon impacting with enemies and the ground. The voice acting is also stellar.
Elden Ring review: Verdict
Elden Ring goes so much beyond expectations that I had, and they were already pretty high! There are many epic encounters both up close and during open-world exploration on horseback. It’s no exaggeration that Elden Ring is FromSoftware’s most ambitious and largest game. It featured some of the most difficult boss fights in the series and many surprises.
There are still bosses I have not faced, secrets I have yet to discover, sidequests that I didn’t get to, sidequests that I haven’t completed, tons of weapons, spells, and skills that I have never used. I have barely scratched the surface; this is on top of PVP, cooperative play. While the basic combat principles haven’t changed from what we have seen before, the sheer number of brutal enemies and formidable bosses has elevated the battles to an entirely new level.
Despite all the threads that I couldn’t pull on my first playthrough (of many), I can easily say that what I was treated with is one of the best open-world games ever—Elden Ring, like The Legend of Zelda. Breath of the Wild before that is one we will remember as a game that helped shape a genre. This is truly a game we will talk about for the next 10-15 years—a very well-deserved 10/10.