Elden Ring Review
Alas, the time has come. Elden Ring is finally here… well, in a couple of days to be exact.
FromSoftware has undoubtedly left its mark in the video game industry, with devoted fans screaming and suffering because of their trademark soul-crushing titles. They exact patience and precision from players, often prompting the never-ending debate about how difficulty in games affects the overall experience.
While the formula has remained mostly the same, some tweaks have been made over the years. Look no further than Bloodborne with its Lovecraft-themed lore and trick weapons, or Sekiro’s Japanese setting with an emphasis on verticality and mobility.
The question stands – Where does FromSoftware go from here? What else can they do to liven up the formula that will retain their hardcore following but at the same time, introduce something fresh to offer a whole new audience base?
The answer is Elden Ring, and it is bloody brilliant.
*Disclaimer – This is a review in progress. We avoided rushing the review and are currently around 55+ hours deep with seemingly no end in sight (please send help). We’ll be updating the review with a final score as soon as we finish, but there seems to be no indication of changing our current recommendation as of writing.
*Update – This review is now accurate and complete with over 100 hours of gameplay.
Game of Souls
In Elden Ring, you are a descendant of the Tarnished, once banished but now called back to The Lands Between to gather the pieces of the shattered Elden Ring and claim the title of Elden Lord. All that stands in your way are the so-called Heroes of the Lands Between, who won’t give up their pieces without a fight.
It’s a simple enough premise at first glance, but you’ll want to indulge yourself with its story and setting at every point because the original mythos and backstory of the world was penned by none other than George R.R. Martin of “Song of Ice and Fire” fame. Martin’s influence is felt despite the limited amount of actual script work done for the game – from the towering castles to the dragons and various monstrosities roaming the lands.
While players mostly enjoy these games because of their high-skill ceiling and tense combat, Elden Ring’s lore and story are both rich and equally relevant. Its dark fantasy theme tells fascinating tales about the world and its heroes, immersing the player right from the chilling opening cinematic.
A big part of the fun in Elden Ring is connecting together bits and pieces of the world without spoonfeeding the player. Every item you pick up, every NPC you meet, and every boss you beat has a story waiting to be discovered, and while this formula may not work with other games, Elden Ring succeeds in this aspect by providing enough mystery and intrigue that pushes you to question and pursue everything.
Elden Ring won’t hold your hand as much as you would like but will offer a few nudges here and there, all while treating you with enough respect to know what you’re doing.
Praise the Sun
FromSoftware veterans will feel right at home with Elden Ring, featuring multiple systems lifted from previous Souls games to create a definitive experience. These Japanese devs have embodied the saying “if it ain’t broke…” and are almost just fine-tuning things to near-perfection along the way.
Expect the same extensive options for creating your champion, something that’s sure to take much of your time with its various sliders. The classes offered in the game are also familiar, and while named differently, will offer players multiple ways to approach the many threats in the game. These classes are only there to guide players to adopt a preferred playstyle, but Elden Ring will provide a respec option should you choose to change proficiencies later in the game.
Elden Ring’s gameplay foundation is rooted deeply in previous FromSoftware games, meaning that at some point you’ll have to evolve and adapt to its difficulty spikes, repeating battles and memorizing patterns until you build up the skill and confidence needed to tread past that wall.
The pace of Elden Ring is inherently fast, especially with the addition of mechanics such as the direct counterattack, allowing you to go on the offensive immediately after blocking. Adding to this is the ability to refill your healing flasks by simply clearing out groups of enemies in the field and not having to go back to the Sites of Grace (save points, basically), enabling you to always push the pace forward and progress.
These small tweaks to tried and tested systems by Elden Ring feels like the blending and refinement of all the best features of FromSoftware titles, resulting in this masterpiece that sets the bar very high for future outings.
In what could be considered as a first, Elden Ring has beautifully injected Souls gameplay into an open-world setting that is exceedingly ripe for exploration. The Lands Between is a perilous undertaking, rich with secrets and rewards that it’s almost impossible to cleanly sweep through in one sitting.
As you start, all you get is a fogged-up map that requires uncovering by sheer exploration or by finding various map fragments scattered around. Even then, the map only provides a general lay of the land, with details like caves and dungeons coming by way of actually going to that specific point and seeing things for yourself.
As a comparison, the High Walls of Lothric is a massive castle area in Dark Souls III that is full of dangerous enemies and hidden secrets to discover. Now take that as one of the many “Legacy Dungeons” in Elden Ring, similar to the already revealed Stormveil Castle, and scatter multiples of those around the world on top of the actual fields and optional dungeons and catacombs you have to traverse.
All of these so-called Legacy Dungeons are woven together seamlessly by the vast landscape in Elden Ring, complete with fields, forests, caves, and even… drum roll please… a poison-filled area! Level design is impressive, with twists and optional passages everywhere, employing a healthy mix of explorable heights and depths. The addition of a dedicated jump button also helps dramatically, allowing you to further explore crevices and scaffolding as long as you can reach them.
There’s always something just beyond your view that will pique your interest, whether it’s an inconspicuous-looking cave or a lonely NPC that just may have something interesting to say. Curiosity can indeed kill the cat, but can also reward you handsomely should you wish to take on the challenge.
Elden Ring really taps into your sense of adventure, and deviating from the critical path is completely fine, dare we say even encouraged. That little detour may just lead you to an item that can help you greatly in the next pivotal encounter and as such, the game finds the perfect balance between optional and required, ensuring that players who choose to take their time feel a sense of fulfillment but players that breeze through doesn’t miss out on anything that completely splits the game wide open.
As you explore The Lands Between, players are treated to foes that boast of fantastic designs that feel like they were plucked right out from a dark fantasy novel. From towering Golems with gigantic stone hammers to the grotesque Godrick The Grafted, a boss with as many arms as he has weapons, Elden Ring never ceases to amaze and treat players to satisfyingly diverse threats with an amazing sense of scale.
In fact, just as you thought you’ve seen everything from the various trailers and promotional images, somehow the game just ups the ante even further as you proceed deeper, filling players with horror at some of the best monster designs in recent memory.
Battles are fast and extremely exhilarating, and even the lowliest of enemies can make you sweat if you choose to be overconfident. Whether you choose to go aggressive or stay patient, the crux of combat in Elden Ring will lie in your ability to analyze situations and know just how much you can do at that moment without being punished. It’s a deadly dance that is pure poetry in motion when done right.
Optional bosses also roam the fields, threatening to end your run and your runes before you can use them in Sites of Grace scattered across the land. FromSoftware has somehow perfected the proper placement of these key points, ensuring they are far enough to provide a challenge, but also just within reach to make it attainable.
It is through these sites that players can do a lot of their planning before heading out – Flask and stat point allocations, storage management, and even serving as a place of refuge for weary travelers. They also point you in a general direction of where to go next, but the journey in between is up to you, encouraging the player to stray from the beaten path to seek out fortune.
The sense of discovery is absolutely fantastic, upping the stakes and tension every time the player chooses to wander about. Elden Ring is a game of choice, and players are almost always free to choose ways to do just about anything.
A Song of Ash and Torrent
As intimidating as the dangers in the Elden Ring are, the game is surprisingly welcoming to newcomers who can look past the stigma of Souls games. There are a number of mechanics here that make it a great entry point for those dying (heh) to get a taste of the FromSoftware recipe.
Helping you on your quest to find the Elden Ring are Spirit Ashes and the very useful Spectral Steed, Torrent. Spirit Ashes allow you to summon spectral allies that can complement your style of play. The selection is vast, and say for example you are a mage that specializes in blasting foes from afar, you can summon allies that specialize in tanking and taking enemy aggro to keep you safe from harm.
You can also call on allies from beyond the realms as Elden Ring allows for both cooperative and competitive gameplay. Of course, this is completely optional but is certainly another way the newcomers can be eased into the harsh and deadly world.
Both the Ashes and the summons won’t solve all your problems and they are not silver bullets, but act as a balanced option for inching your way towards the next challenge.
You’ll also gain access to Torrent, a friend that will not only help you explore the vast lands but also prove to be useful in battle, giving players the ability to dash in and out of danger when needed. Torrent is just another example of a rather simple addition that has far-reaching gameplay effects that newcomers and veterans will enjoy.
Make no mistake, the game is tough but fair, and Elden Ring feels like one of the most approachable FromSoftware titles should a newcomer want to find out what the fuss is all about.
One of Elden Ring’s triumphs is the massive scale of its open-world and how much of what you actually see can be explored. The sights and sounds are breathtaking, and while there’s not much going the way background music, the ambient sounds really work to enhance the atmosphere. During boss fights, the orchestra is dialed up to 10, escalating the epicness of the battle that results in a viciously memorable encounter.
The sound of clashing steel during combat is intoxicating, but the game seems to have very minimal use, if any at all, of the PS5’s DualSense features like haptic feedback and adaptive triggers.
Elden Ring is not without slight faults, even on the PS5. There are noticeable texture pop-ins on both visual modes and even when choosing to prioritize frame rate, the game shows some random frame drops that happen enough times to be noticeable but not detrimental to the overall experience.
Players can expect relatively lengthy load times, especially on previous-gen consoles, given the hardware limitations. Next-gen has it better, featuring speedy transitions (less than 5 seconds) in-between fast travel points and deaths.
Mileage may vary, but our experience with the game was virtually bug-free, with no random crashes nor glaring performance / visual issues that can ruin the immersion.
Overall, these are very minor complaints in the grand scheme of things, and players used to the high level of polish coming from FromSoftware games will be in for an absolute treat.
If you’ve never been a fan of Souls games, Elden Ring may do little to change your mind, even with George R.R. Martin’s name being linked to the project. There may be bits and pieces of the game that might convince you to give it a try, but it bears FromSoftware’s unmistakable trademarks through and through. For fans of the series and fans of FromSoftware in general, Elden Ring is definitely worth the wait and is easily one of the best games of the year.
What We Liked:
- Massive open world with rewarding optional side-activities
- Precise and demanding combat mechanics
- Approachable entry point to newcomers of Souls games
- Classic Souls gameplay fine-tuned to near perfection
- High level of polish
What We Didn’t Like:
- Lengthy load times for previous-gen consoles
- Some noticeable frame drops even on PS5 frame rate mode
- Constant texture pop ins
Verdict: Buy it!
Elden Ring is the evolution of the trademark Souls formula, borrowing the best features from previous titles and blending them into a finely-tuned mix of intense combat and high-pressure precision. While veterans will surely enjoy the punishment that comes with it, newcomers are treated to what could arguably be one of FromSoftware’s more approachable titles.
The Lands Between is vast and full of danger at every turn but heavily encourages exploration, offering handsome rewards for those who choose to face the dangers head-on. Capped off by a beautiful open-world brimming with mind-blowing monster and level design, Elden Ring easily rises to the hype and exceeds expectations.
At this point, it’s going to be hard to go back to the old ways, especially when FromSoftware has shown what it can do with an open-world setting. For a team that can seemingly do no wrong, Elden Ring is a grand spectacle and another golden notch under the belt of one Hidetaka Miyazaki.
As mentioned in the disclaimer up top, we’ve already sunk about 55+ hours while barely making a dent in the world, but there are indeed some informed conclusions that we can already draw with Elden Ring – Game of the Year contender and one of the best games of 2022? Abso-fucking-lutely.
*Elden Ring was reviewed on a PS5 with a review code provided by the publisher.