O Elden Ring, the wait for you felt agonizingly long and my expectations soared with each new sliver of information. With it finally in my hands, I can say that Elden Ring not only met those ever scaling expectations but went further beyond to become quite possibly the greatest game FromSoftware has produced since Dark Souls.
Elden Ring can be broadly defined as a “Souls” game made by the developers of the Dark Souls series FromSoftware. While Elden Ring’s core is that of the Dark Souls series prior, its scope has evolved much further than any game in that series.
You start Elden Ring as a “Tarnished”, a being guided by grace to become an Elden Lord. As expected, you get to create your Tarnished in the familiar character creation you’ve seen in Dark Souls 3 and Bloodbourne.
The options for classes are varied but deeply familiar to anyone who has played a Souls game. There are a few new additions to the traditional options of starter classes from the series prior and they are all pretty interesting. The character creation, however, highlights the strongest singular criticism I have of Elden Ring; It feels all too familiar (more on this later in the review).
Once I created my foul Tarnished, I was thrust into an opening segment that ultimately took me to a tutorial area. So far, it was all pretty standard, but what really caught me off guard was a segment in the tutorial where I had to fall down a hole; I took no fall damage. Granted there is fall damage in the game, but the depths to which I fell without getting hurt was surprising. Gravity was the greatest enemy in each of the Souls games, but here, I bested it in the tutorial!
When I opened the tutorial doors to make my way forward, I was awestruck. Elden Ring introduces you to the Lands Between and opens up entirely from this point onwards. The realization that everything over the horizon is explorable has always been a part of Dark Souls, but there was always a semi-linear path to it. There’s nothing truly linear about Elden Ring; As unbelievable as it may seem, it’s actually an open-world Souls game.
Elden Ring’s exploration is open-world exploration at its finest. Traversing the Lands Between on the horse, Torrent, feels great. The controls are snappy and Torrent can double jump! Many games have tried to make horse-based traversal engaging but none manage to make it as fun as Elden Ring has. You can quickly zip over vast landscapes, jump on old delipidated ruins and mow down enemies as you pass them on roads.
What’s more is that the Lands Between is teeming with haunting life, mysterious dungeons and surprise bosses. There is never a moment where you feel like you’ve seen it all. With Sites of Grace (Elden Ring’s bonfires) spread generously throughout the map, it’s a comfortable experience backtracking to a place or boss you wanted to get to later. There’s even a whole explorable underground that’s both beautiful and horrifying.
I was worried a bit for Elden Ring. With all the openness that comes with an open world, could I really get the same depth? Dark Souls features highly crafted experiences for each of its areas, could it be replicated over a vast open-world? Surprisingly, yes! I can’t stress enough how brilliantly this has been handled, every area feels like the hand-crafted regions of Souls games prior and loses no depth because of its scope.
One of the standout things of the Souls series was your interactions with NPCs who had their own subplot or tied directly into the story. Could Elden Ring still manage those tight-nit, linear stories with an open world? It does it outstandingly. There are a large number of NPCs dotted throughout the Lands Between and many of them have questlines that take you to new places and expand on the lore of the world.
Moving onto combat, Elden Ring builds upon and refines the combat seen in Dark Souls 3. While it’s largely the same with some tweaks to make it flow better, there are some neat new mechanics introduced.
Guard Counter is one of the new mechanics and my favorite introduction. It’s essentially a parry you don’t have to time. You can block an attack and retaliate with your heavy attack to do major stance damage. Every enemy has a stance or posture that can be broken. When this happens, you can do a riposte for some seriously major damage, it feels really satisfying.
Another new combat/traversal mechanic is jumping. Jumping, unlike in the old Souls games, has a dedicated button that doesn’t require a run-up. While this is used for exploration and some really clever dungeon puzzles, it has a combat use. You can do some really neat jump attacks that deal a lot of stance damage. Aerial maneuvers to dodge low attacks from enemies and deal heavy attacks from the sky is a viable strat.
Stealth has also been implemented in Elden Ring. This is built off the stealth used in Sekiro but is not as emphasized as it is in that game. Stealth is pretty useful in giving the admittedly nearsighted AI the slip and it leads to some killer backstab damage. While it’s not always used, It doesn’t feel shoehorned in and fits in well with how approaches to castles and camps are designed.
Yet another new, but divisive, mechanic is spirit summoning. While Elden Ring Retains summoning NPCs and other players to help you in bosses, spirits are friendly summons of different NPCs and even enemy units. These fight alongside you in bosses, dungeons and other areas where it’s allowed (sometimes it’s restricted in places). This does make some bosses easier, but that’s a good thing in my eyes. it’s an accessibility feature for those who need the extra hand; there is no compulsion to use it. This lends a much needed helping hand in onboarding non-souls players into the experience.
Onto one of Elden Ring’s main attractions, let’s talk about bosses! Elden Ring range of bosses extends from the grandiose to the “wasn’t expecting weak foe” message. There are bosses sprinkled throughout the Lands between designed to be defeated at a certain point in your progression. Some can feel ridiculously easy while some like the Tree Knight right outside the tutorial area are super hard and obviously left for a later time.
The main bosses, who you have to beat to make progress, are amazing. They have gorgeous cinematics associated with their introduction and even to signify the shifting of phases. They are challenging and will definitely frustrate, but that is the expectation with these fights and Souls games in general. They aren’t unfair and there is always a way to make yourself stronger by exploring the world and coming back with a new set of hard-hitting equipment. I won’t spoil any of them as I think they are a highlight of the experience and every new player of the game needs to be awestruck and or intimidated by their intros.
Let’s talk graphics, Elden Ring is stunning. Open-world games tend to cut a variety of corners when it comes to graphics so that the game performs better. Elden Ring does this very smartly by making sure that the ugly textures are few and far between. Most of the time, our focus is on vistas far and away and they look gorgeous! Enemy designs and textures are great too, even if a few of them seem muddy.
Elden Ring looks its best on PC, however, there have been reports of port problems with the PC version of Elden Ring. I myself played Elden Ring on an Nvidia GTX 3060ti and a 12th gen intel i5 and didn’t feel a performance hit on Maximum settings. This is odd considering the various reports of even 3090s experiencing stutters.
I’ve concluded that the problems could lie in higher refresh rate monitors and Vsync implementation. I output Elden Ring onto a TV with a 59-60Hz refresh rate and for my entire experience did not see stutters (a hitch or two only), but a close friend experienced these on a high refresh rate monitor and similar PC build. Whatever may be the cause, Elden Ring is a game that should not be played with stutters. I’m confident there will be a patch soon to resolve this issue as missing out on this game would be a tragedy.
I have many glowing praises for Elden Ring but, as I mentioned previously, there is one strong criticism I have of it and that’s regarding familiarity. If you’ve played any Souls game before, then you know what I’m talking about. A lot of Elden Ring wades in the familiar, it wears the skin of something new but doesn’t shy away from borrowing Dark Souls. Movesets, enemy designs, stats, some areas and a whole lot more feel like a reskin. Sure, it’s refined and better than it ever was before, but it’s still derivative.
This isn’t to say Elden Ring doesn’t do new things or that there is something wrong with borrowing from Dark Souls. This is to say that if Elden Ring braved to be even more different, then it would essentially be perfect. It is absolutely understandable given fan expectations and the scope of the game that things had to be this way. Elden Ring masks a lot of the samey elements really well, giving them a fresh take and throws in new things into the mix.
Elden Ring is the culmination of everything FromSoftware has learned from its Souls series, Bloodbourne and Sekiro. It is a masterclass in open-world game design and impressive for what is the studio’s first foray into the genre. Elden ring is an absolute must-play and may very well be one of the greatest games of this generation.