For a lot of players, the Soulsborne genre started with Demon’s Souls or Dark Souls, but both of those titles owe a lot to FromSoftware’s first game, King’s Field. Almost 30 years later, we have Elden Ring, the developer’s latest and most ambitious title. The game managed to hit every expectation I had for it, while still leaving me continually shocked and awestruck. It feels as though this is the genre’s final form, Hidetaka Miyazaki’s magnum opus.
Fingers on the pulse
The story of Elden Ring is precisely what you might expect. The high fantasy world is a twisted and gnarled version of its former glory, as ruin has fallen upon the land. You are a Tarnished, an exiled person who has returned to the Lands Between to seek the Great Runes, the shards of the now-broken Elden Ring. Defeat the demigods who hold them and become the Elden Lord.
But that is only part of the story and the main objective. The actual narrative and lore is as rich and interwoven as the community has come to anticipate, offering only the slightest insight into the world they’re exploring. Information can be gleaned from optional dialogue, reading item descriptions, and of course, looking at the environment and drawing your own conclusions.
One of the big marketing pushes for the game was that George R. R. Martin was involved in the creation of the game’s backstory, setting the foundation on which the current-day story unfolds. While I could not definitely point to an element and say “This is clearly Martin’s work,” the underlying narrative feels far grander than what has come before. It is positively dripping with mythology and legends that will no doubt be investigated by lore aficionados.
The sense of discovery and clarifying moments of the story are as impactful as they’ve ever been in the Soulsborne series of games. Elements of the world are slowly revealed, adding layers of knowledge while simultaneously shirking expectations.
Like previous titles, NPCs make up a large portion of the storytelling effort. These characters have their own goals and often request your assistance. And like the games that came before, the player will likely understand little but accept all requests, if only to see what happens next.
Heart of Gold
It feels as though Elden Ring is FromSoftware’s original vision for the genre finally realized. Like all that came before were a series of stepping stones that the developers have been walking along in order to reach this point. Though the core gameplay on offer here is unchanged from the formula that was laid out with Demon’s Souls, it has been polished to a glistening sheen.
The combat is brutal and precise, utilizing the health, stamina, and magic meters to guide the pacing of encounters, forcing you to juggle resources. For sorcerers, Soul Arrow-like spells return along with gravity-based attacks that draw in enemies or send out shockwaves. Melee fighters have a wealth of new options too. One short sword I discovered had a telekinesis-like Ashes of War move that sent the sword out a few feet, twisted like a screw, and returned.
Speaking of Ashes of War, these are abilities that can be applied to your armaments, offering a sort of special attack or enhancement. These range from the classic kick and parry moves to ones that boost the damage of your next attack, infuse attacks with blood power, offer greater protection, and dozens more. Think of them like you would weapon arts, requiring activation during combat and sometimes consuming the Focus meter. Better yet, they can be taken off one armament and applied to another.
As for Spirits, these are ghostly allies that you can summon to aid you in battle. Not anywhere near as powerful as an actual NPC summon, these are more like trash mobs that offer some distraction or just a bit of extra assistance. A personal favorite of mine is a jellyfish called Aurelia that uses a long-range poison attack.
Weapons and Spirits can be upgraded using the series’ iconic smithing system whereby attack thresholds can only be overcome by collecting the stronger version of an upgrade material. Thankfully, weapon affinity and intrinsic elemental damage can be changed at no cost, allowing the you to switch between things like a Standard affinity, Quality affinity for stat-scaling damage and things like Fire and Frost damage.
Ever since Dark Souls, the genre has been a quasi-open world experience. You could, in some instances, go to just about anywhere in the map at any time, provided you knew the path. Now, Elden Ring has fully embraced the open world format, allowing you to venture to the far corners of the world with the only obstacles being the challenges faced along the way.
To aid in your exploration of the Lands Between is your steed, Torrent, which can be summoned instantly. Torrent is capable of double-jumping and using gusts of wind to leap great heights. The horse is also instrumental during some larger boss fights, where speed is key, allowing you to gallop in on horseback, swinging your sword as you go.
Thankfully, Torrent is available right out of the gates, which alleviates any of the potential tedium that can come with exploring such a vast open world. Better yet, where other open world games falter with the content between the major locations, Elden Ring is positively packed with little moments and treats to discover.
Quite often I would be galloping towards the next major landmark on the horizon, only to be distracted by a band of soldiers marching along the road or a major enemy defending a doorway in the side of a cliff. There are also classic open world tropes, cleverly disguised in a way that only FromSoftware can do. There are sorcerers’ towers dotted on the map, locked until you can solve their puzzle, which grants you access to the top where a reward awaits. There are also paintings to discover out in the world, and if you manage to find the area depicted, a treasure can be earned.
Crafting is also a new addition, allowing you to gather resources from the land and enemies and combine them. These resources are used to craft things like arrows and bolts, coatings for weapons, and consumables to rid yourself of ailments or buff your stats. Other open world games should take heed, as Elden Ring does not bog you down when it comes to resource gathering. A simple tap of the button and the item is in your inventory, no arduous collecting animation, even allowing you to do so while galloping along on your horse.
I was constantly in awe at the size and level of detail in the world’s construction. What I took to be a flat plateau when looking at the beautifully hand-drawn map was in fact a winding ravine full of foliage. Similarly, the world uses imagery that is unlike anything in a Soulsborne game to date. The environments are breathtaking and surreal, both horrifying with its monstrosities and grotesque oddities and beautiful with its stunning landscapes. It’s truly mesmerizing.
Speaking of the map, it does eventually become dotted with icons that you discover, be it the bonfire-like Sites of Grace that act as fast travel points or icons of buildings, caves, and structures you find. Unlike other open world games, these don’t get crossed off or faded out once searched, so it’ll be up to you to remember where you’ve been.
The scope of the world in Elden Ring left me absolutely floored. Just when I thought there was no new experience or new vista, my jaw would hit the floor as some incredible sight or devious surprise revealed itself. I underestimated what was on offer here. It’s a bigger and richer world than any of the other titles in FromSoftware’s illustrious catalog.
Hesitation is defeat
FromSoftware has made a name for itself with its Soulsborne series of games. There’s a certain level of challenge that is expected and that remains true with Elden Ring. Though it isn’t as immediately difficult or a shock to the system as Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, Elden Ring provided me with ample challenge in both boss fights and general exploration.
As with all these titles, a boss that is difficult for one will be a breeze for another. But as with previous games, it’s possible to alleviate some of the difficulty by just dumping points into health. On top of this, thanks to the open world format, you can just choose to go elsewhere and try another area out. You might opt to completely circumvent the first boss, choosing to venture further north or even spend hours gathering resources to upgrade your equipment.
But at some point, you will need to tackle the game’s more linear and claustrophobic locations. These areas highlight the impeccable level design the team at FromSoftware is capable of delivering. Corralling and defeating enemies as you leap over roofs (thanks to the handy jump button) in search of the next Site of Grace is a stressful experience, as is weighing up whether to push forward or return to the previous resting point to level up.
The environment was also a form of challenge. Seeing a location in the distance, and musing how to reach it, provided a different sort of puzzle. More than once I would place a marker on the map and work my way there, only to realize it was either hundreds of feet down a ravine or up some seemingly unscalable cliff.
These challenges can also be enhanced or reduced with the summoning of both NPC and real players. After the brief hiatus of multiplayer with Sekiro, it’s a joy to be able to dive once more into a rich Soulsborne title with allies or invade another player’s game to spread a little bit of mischief.
Elden Ring is nearly a flawless experience, were it not for a few hiccups with the steed Torrent and some frame rate issues, likely due to dated hardware. As for the issues with the horse, there were a few times where upon trying to summon it, the horse would not appear but my character would float in mid-air until he “fell” to his death.
On the hardware front, those with older PC setups beware: Elden Ring is a demanding beast. Even on medium settings, my NVIDIA GTX 1080 Ti and AMD Ryzen 7 1700X 8 Core 3.4 GHz struggled at times, specifically when there were a lot of enemies or when the massive vistas were on-screen. In saying this, these faults were eclipsed by everything else on offer in Elden Ring.
Ne plus ultra
Simply put, Elden Ring is Miyazaki and FromSoftware’s magnum opus. It feels like the vision for the genre has reached its final form. Elden Ring is a meticulously crafted game, with a world begging to be explored and experienced. It is truly mesmerizing in its scope, an astonishing success and everything I had hoped it would be. Forget what you knew about the genre, the real Soulsborne starts here, with Elden Ring.
This review is based on a Steam code provided by the publisher. Elden Ring is available on February 25, 2022 on PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation 5.
- A rich, twisted, and mysterious fantasy narrative
- An astonishing open world experience in scope and design
- Iconic Soulsborne combat with new mechanics
- Gorgeous and horrifying environments
- Multiplayer enhances the experience
- Some issues with summoning the horse
- Frame rate woes on dated hardware
Sam Chandler posted a new article, Elden Ring review: The transcended soul
Awesome + https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z-BkrwO_Dck :) !!!!! Thank you so much for the replay, that is really good news!!!
My body is ready for Friday!!!!!
Bro you should 100% pull a HDMI cable from your MEGA 3080 computer and use a wireless XBSX controller with Steam's Big Screen mode!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z-BkrwO_Dck :)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z-BkrwO_Dck :) is all I can say! What resolution where you playing at with your 1080 Ti????
[ Q ] Can you run the game @ 1440p on Ultra and @ 60FPS? I have the same GPU, so I am really hoping you can if not I am fine with 1080p 60FPS Ultra.
Thanks for the review \m/ :) \m/