Elden Ring Review

From Software's best effort to date.

by William Schwartz
Elden Ring

When it was announced that From Software would be collaborating with George R.R. Martin for an open world fantasy RPG mouths across the internet started to water.  From Software has been absolutely killing it with their recent releases, it’s been a gradual climb upwards since Dark Souls took the gaming world by storm.  They’ve created such interesting and mysterious worlds with their notable work in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, Bloodborne, and the Dark Souls series over the last decade.  The punishing fights of these Action Role Playing Games and the moment to moment gameplay isn’t for the faint of heart.  For the most part, those games have been cut from the same cloth.  The worlds they’ve built are grand in their own right, but not necessarily on the scale of a modern open world game.   So while the idea sounded great, it was hard to imagine that Soulsborne formula in an open world setting.

Let me alleviate any concerns you might have.  They nailed it.  This is absolutely a Breath of the Wild moment for the Dark Souls franchise.  Maybe franchise isn’t the right word, the games which spawned from Dark Souls perhaps is a better way to put it.  From Software has built something special here in terms of open world games, something that we haven’t seen in the fantasy RPG genre in quite some time, they’ve taken all the things that people love from all of their different games and stuffed it into an absolutely massive world that’s just filled to the brim with content.  We had the game for two weeks and certainly haven’t seen all there is to see, but what we did see was so very impressive.  Not just by From Software game standards, but from the standards set by other open world games and game makers.  Prepare to be overwhelmed.  From Software pulls no punches in Elden Ring and regardless of the naming conventions, this is open world Dark Souls for better or worse.  Look, if you like open world games, dense experiences with a ton of things to do and see, AND you enjoy From Software titles, this is it.   Read no further and just jump in.

If not, or you aren’t quite clear on what that means — Souls games are challenging, a little bit obscure, they’ve got great combat and ton of items to find. In Elden Ring you can certainly see some influences from all of their games, and it might be the most narratively interesting one of them all. You play as a character called the Tarnished, and in your role as the hero in this tale you are exploring a world called The Lands Between and are tasked to take down the Elden Lords.  Ultimately this story will twist and turn so let’s not get into too many specifics as to spoil anything.  It’s filled with surface area to explore, dungeons, castles, mountaintops, swamps… and any other fantasy trope you can think of.  This world is full of life, mostly hostile, and they’re looking to hinder your progress.  And that progress is gated by runes instead of souls. Get killed and you lose your progress.  Get back to your place of death before dying again, and you can regain that progress.  It’s a mechanic that’s made these games some of the most interesting in the last decade.  They are hard and rewarding.  You’ll die a lot.  It’s part of the fun, overcoming the many, many obstacles that From Software can throw in your way.  No hand holding, you’re going to have to tough through some trying times to see all there is to see in Elden Ring.  The sense of accomplishment for persevering through the tough battles, the missteps, the cheap shots when you’re at low health, they are all part of the “fun”.  What From did in their previous efforts and what they do better than most is really make the world feel connected, while you feel like you’re getting stronger and more capable.  In the open world setting it’s just amazing how it translates over. If you’ve played one, you’ve certainly played them all, though the mechanics are slightly different this time around and we’ve never seen something this massive in any of their games.

The Tarnished of the RoundTable Hold

roundtable-hold

As noted, the currencies are different but largely the same.  Bonfires are replaced by Sites of Grace, and the different weapon upgrade tools are called smithing stones instead of mineral slabs.  These core mechanics make for the base of the game.  Get stronger and those enemies you found in the cavern tucked away on the map that kicked your ass get a little easier.  You’ll still need to learn patterns, use crowd control tactics, and utilize all the new abilities that you find a long the way.  You can do this as just about any character archetype that you can dream of, and the character customization and build options as the game gets going is as good as ever.  These builds vary greatly from full blown wizards with arcane skills to brute warriors and everything in between.  Though you’re not tied to one thing in particular in Elden Ring, but you will be somewhat restricted in the early goings depending on what you select. There’s a nice sense of progression though, and the game allows you to explore quite a bit without fencing you in from the get go.  What really makes the open world work is the introduction of transportation and that’s your trusty horse Torrent.  You’ll pick up this companion early on, and the combat on four legs is quite fun.  Making exploration less tiresome than it might be if it wasn’t in there.  And there’s certainly a lot of the game, including boss battles that was meant for using the horse which is an interesting take on the mechanic.  The horse and it’s leaping ability will allow you to explore areas you might not think you can get to.  It’s not quite Skyrim with a horse walking up the side of a mountain, but there’s plenty of places ol’ Torrent can get you to.

Out in the open world, you really are treated to some incredible sights and sounds.  The world is varied and interesting and just begs to be explored.  The day night cycle and weather effects are just beautiful on the pc build we played.  Once we started we just wanted to see what was off in the distance.  The Erdtree looming over everything with its golden glow.  A castle in the distance and wondering what sinister battle awaited.  If just for the goodies tucked away in each and every new area that you come to there’s good reason to keep your eyes peeled for the glowing embers of a corpse that needs to be pillaged.  Wide varied as it may be, there is somewhat of a formulaic approach to the multi-region map.  You’ve got caves to go hunting for stones and crafting materials.  You’ve almost always got one or more dungeons tucked away in the recesses of the map.  There are towns and shacks where you’ll meet cryptic NPCs who have a story to tell, a quest to go on, or wares to sell you.  There are very few open world games that really give you that sense of wonder, Elden Ring delivers it.  Interesting locales off in the distance beg for you to come closer and more often than not you can get there.  The Souls series have long had these awesome backdrops to the dastardly hard levels and areas in the game, in many ways Elden Ring feels like you can just go there and see what’s going on.  Usually that’s going to be just a bunch of baddies ready to take your lunch money, but the allure of items, weapons, and more are certainly hard to turn away from.

Some of the new systems are quite good.  The crafting system is certainly welcome, allowing you to harvest materials out in the world to build items on the fly.  Things like firebombs, antidotes and more can simply be made when you need them instead of needing to find them in the world or at a vendor.  The Flask of Wondrous Physick allows you to concoct potions which you can take alongside your HP and FP Cerulean Flasks to as the name denotes “wonderous” effects.  These can be any number of things, but you’ll need to find items out in the world which’ll give you more options.  Hunting them down at the foot of different trees throughout the game will give you a nice start.

Bosses with incredible details are nothing new to fans of From Software

godrick-elden-ring

New features are great, but the combat is still the star of the show here.  It hasn’t been changed all that much from Souls games to be fair.  The systems there weren’t broken, but there are some new things to master.  This includes a more agile feeling in combat with easier jumping mechanics and the ability to use spirit ashes that allow you to summon different creatures to your aid.  The starting ashes you get that introduce you to the system are a pack of wolves, but you can get all sorts of ghostly followers to help you on your journey.  And speaking of help, the summon system is still very much a thing here.  You can summon NPC characters or other players to help you in particularly tough battles.  It more or less feels like it has in all the previous Souls games.  And you might need it, more than once.  Elden Ring has some of the most difficult boss encounters that we’ve seen from From Software and some truly inspired designs.  From a fight with an absolutely humongous Fire Giant who towers above a massive open area, and array of dragons and just so many different types of creations here,  there’s just a lot of variety in the  things you’ll encounter.  You can certainly feel some of the influence from George R.R. Martin.  You can’t help but think of some great Game of Thrones moments and think that they weren’t the inspiration.  With that said, the story bits are still kinda From Software-esque in that things can be vague and left up to interpretation. From Software has a low bar to hurdle in this regard and they do so, but not all ends are tightly tied up when it comes to story beats, though it’s better than we’ve seen in other games from them.

Become the Elden Lord

elden-ring-giants

In our playthrough some of this was marred by the aforementioned issues talked about at the top of this review.  Those issue were many, but everything else is so good that even with those game-breaking problems I wanted to press on.  And not because it was something that we have to do or some reviewer’s duty or something like that, it was because I was genuinely enjoying my time with this game except for those frustrating moments.  Even without these issues, Elden Ring is going to frustrate. In some cases it might break players down in that an Open World affords these developers a shear wealth of opportunity, and they’ve already got a penchant for taking players to task routinely.  There’s no shortage of rage inducing moments in Elden Ring.  That said, it’s not going to be for everyone. Beautiful as it may be, there’s is certainly a darker side to the game and there aren’t any options to customize difficulty if you just want to see the sights and sounds.  For those that really dig into it though, there’s a ton here and we haven’t even gotten started with the online aspects — which include invasions, as well as competitive and cooperative multiplayer.  Unfortunately we didn’t have a chance to check that stuff out, but these modes have worked in the past so hopefully there aren’t huge issues at launch and if there are that they get ironed out quickly.  Nevertheless there’s so much to keep players busy if that is in fact the case.

The Verdict

Elden Ring might be the best open world RPG in the last decade and right up there with Red Dead Redemption for peak of what we’ve seen from the open world genre itself.  It’s so, so good on the presentation front, the combat is spot on once again, the bosses, incredible and it continues to pull you deeper and deeper into the world as a good game should.  It’s going to give players 100+ hours just to see what the offline component has to offer.  From Software upped the ante, surpassing even their best efforts that we saw with Sekiro Shadows Die Twice in terms of world building.  Elden Ring is an absolute must-play game for 2022, but set aside some time and some patience.

This game was reviewed using a copy of the game provided by the game's publisher,public relations company, developer or other for the express purpose of a review.

- This article was updated on March 7th, 2022

"loved"
loved

Elden Ring

  • Score: 5 / 5
  • Available On: Xbox, PlayStation, PC
  • Published By: Bandai Namco
  • Developed By: From Software
  • Genre: Open World, RPG, Fantasy
  • US Release Date: February 25th, 2022
  • Reviewed On: PC
  • Quote: "From Software upped the ante, surpassing even their best efforts that we saw with Sekiro Shadows Die Twice in terms of world building.  Elden Ring is an absolute must-play game for 2022, but set aside some time and some patience."
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