Due to the size of Elden Ring, this post is currently a review in progress for the game as I’m still to reach the final climax of the story. My thoughts published here are indicative of what I’ve experienced so far and if upon fully completing the game my opinions change, the review will be updated and scored accordingly.
There’s no denying the hype within the games industry for FromSoftware’s latest release, Elden Ring. Ever since it’s announcement, Dark Souls fans have been clawing for any new information. And rightfully so. With Elden Ring being a collaboration title between the team at FromSoftware and one of the most critically acclaimed high fantasy authors of all time, George R.R Martin, known best for writing The Song of Ice and Fire series. After spending quite some time with Elden Ring over the past week, I couldn’t be happier to say that the hype was warranted. Elden Ring is a fantastic, very open high fantasy adventure that is as rewarding as it is difficult. And ink the current gaming landscape, there really isn’t anything else like it.
Without trying to spoil too much about the story, areas or the foes you’ll face, as these are things that are most cherished by FromSoft fans, the story of Elden Ring has you travelling The Lands Between following the destruction of the Elden Ring. Your player character is referenced by many as the Tarnished, which you’ll come to learn much more about in-game and the premise that sets off your journey initially is to retrieve the Great Runes of the Elden Ring, reforge the Elden Ring to become the Land’s Elden Lord.
I’m going to try to draw comparisons to Dark Souls as little as possible, but Elden Ring is truly built on the same DNA at it’s core, but also infuses that with many existing mechanics from other FromSoftware games, as well as expanding on that with entirely new systems and features to make Elden Ring feel much more like it’s own thing.
Upon starting the game, you’ll have the ability to create your own custom character using the game’s detailed character creating tools, as well as select your player class. Fans of existing FromSoftware games will know that this choice can have a fairly large impact on the way your character plays and where their strengths lie, especially in the early hours of the game before you can allocate runes into enhancing certain specific character stats to further suit your playstyle. For my play through I went with the Samurai class, which based on it’s attributes, offered up a nice blend between a strength and dexterity build. But as mentioned, the character will be further fleshed out as you come to allocate earned experience into your overall level/attributes and collect better armour, weapons and Ashes of War. Which allows you to enhance even the more melee focussed classes with a nice arsenal of arcane spells if you want to as well to add further options within combat.
Pick whichever class best suits the way you think you’ll like to play, but don’t be afraid to go back and change that if in the opening hours of the game you feel like it may not be working out. It’s what I did while playing the Closed Network Test last year, and my overall experience was far better for it.
As I was playing Elden Ring, one thing that constantly kept surprising me was it’s sense of scale. Everything about it is huge, even after close to 40 hours I feel there’s more of the game I haven’t seen than what I have. Elden Ring is all about discovery, and it fully embraces the feeling of being dropped in an unfamiliar and very open world. There’s no handholding or forcing you to do anything in a specific way or order. From the moment you leave the opening tutorial area, you’re set free into the world to go whichever way you want and to do whatever you please. There are absolutely things set up to indicate to the player that you may want to revisit this spot once you’re a higher level, but it doesn’t stop you copping some punishment, or testing your skills if you think you can take them on anyway.
Learning where to go and what to do occurs by playing the game, traversing the Lands Between, talking to NPC’s and even getting hints or clues of points of interest based on conversations with other characters or from the item descriptions of purchased/found items. The game won’t hold your hand, set a map waypoint and advised you that there’s a creature that can be found here that is immune to fire for example. But you will be able to gather that info via reading a found piece of parchment that talks about the creature and it’s rough location so that you can go and seek it out yourself if you choose to. This sense of freedom and natural discovery is something that is so rare to see in games these days and really made The Lands Between feel so much more real and alive because I got to embrace what it would be like for a character in these lands trying to learn and discover things as they adventured rather than just checking off missions from a quest log.
Elden Ring has various biomes to explore and creatures to defeat which keeps the world really interesting. The creatures faced are so varied that you’ll have to show each some respect when you first come across them to learn what they can do, their attack patterns and obviously their weaknesses. You won’t get far, especially in your opening hours if you run in and furiously slash at everything you see.
Like Dark Souls, much of the progression is gained via trial and error. When it comes to the game’s bosses and the many many sub bosses, you likely won’t defeat them on your first try. Although it does offer ample opportunity to learn more about them and tweak your approach and strategy. Upon death, you’ll drop all of your currently unspent runes – the experience point currency used in the game to purchase items at merchants and level up your skills – and have the option to revive at your last visited Site Of Grace or Statue of Marika, which act as the mid-area checkpoints you’ll typically find before a boss zone. Which thankfully means the time between death and retry is typically very little. You can also then revisit your site of death on your next run to recollect your dropped runes, but failing to do so and dying again will have them permanently lost.
Throughout your adventure you’ll come across the previously mentioned Sites of Grace, these spots act in a similar fashion to Campfires in Dark Souls, where resting will replenish your health and your consumable flasks but will also revive all the defeated enemies you’ve taken down. It’s also while resting here that you’ll have the ability to reallocate the flasks you’ve equipped, enhance your weapons and load out with Ashes of War and best of all, level up by spending your collected runes to increase your individual attributes and overall level.
Where Elden Ring differs greatly from other FromSoftware titles is with it’s openness. While you will likely be stumped by areas or bosses that are too difficult, Elden Ring is unique because this won’t halt your overall progress. You’re welcome, and even encouraged to leave, adventure to new areas to level up and come back stronger later with new skills to try again. I loved this, there was always something to shift focus to, and you don’t have to travel too far to find a new band of enemies, cave to explore or dungeon to clear which is why Elden Ring is so dense with things to see and do and why I think I’ve only scratched the surface of what’s on offer, especially in the later zones.
Elden Ring is also the first game to feature mounted traversal. Fairly early in the game you’ll gain access to your spectral steed Torrent. Torrent allows you to travel large distances much faster and their double jump ability allows you to reach higher areas that are inaccessible via foot alone and link back to other main areas quickly using the jump platforms scattered throughout The Lands Between. The world map also isn’t revealed when you enter a new area. You’ll need to find specific map fragments scattered throughout the world to get the lay of the land, further adding another layer to the overall discovery aspect, but you can fast travel to any previously discovered Sites of Grace at almost any time.
The game also features a multiplayer component that can change the way you or some friends decide to play too. You have the ability to summon other players into your world to assist with tough boss encounters, you can also opt to be summoned into another player’s world to assist them and there is also the ability to have your game invaded by other adventurers that can lead to PvP encounters. You do also have the ability to lock down your world so that only people with a specific password can invade if you want to restrict invasions to specific friends for example. I also liked that you can still get assistance in-game without having to resort to real world players too. At boss encounters especially, I utilised the golden summoning pools to be able to summon computer controlled allies that are able to assist you in not only damaging the boss, but giving them someone else to hit so they aren’t solely focussed just on you.
The main curiosity I had about Elden Ring pre-release was how rich the story of the game would be and how utilised (or under-utilised) George R.R Martin would be. I was so relieved to find out while playing that the lore and worldbuilding that Elden Ring is built upon is some of FromSoftware’s best. The story and lore is also something that isn’t spoon fed to the player via lengthy, exposition heavy cutscenes. It’s something you gain by actually adventuring and interacting with key characters, reading item descriptions, environmental storytelling and exhausting all dialogue options with NPC’s as they often won’t give you the complete story, items or clues the have on offer until you’ve spoken to them multiple times. The lore of Elden Ring is so rich, dense and detailed that I think people will be picking it apart and analysing bits and pieces of it for years to come to find every last detail there is to discover.
On the technical side of things, Elden Ring offers 2 main options. The ability to prioritise framerate (which is the game’s default preference) and prioritising graphical fidelity. It was great to finally have a FromSoftware game run at 60fps on consoles as it really helps with those fast paced combat encounters that require precise dodging of enemy attacks or the hitting of a specific hit box on a character. I have encountered a few technical hiccups throughout my journey through the Lands Between, specifically in the larger, open areas of the game. Riding through the world on horseback specifically increases the noticeable pop-in of environmental assets and occasionally took a noticeable hit to the overall framerate. Thankfully this never occurred during the closer combat boss encounter areas as that’s one area I’d be less forgiving with if it resulted in unfair deaths due to being hindered by the framerate. As the game is currently still pre release and patches are on the way, the game gains the benefit of the doubt that these smaller things will get fixed up, but they don’t in their current form detract from the overall experience I’ve had so far.
Elden Ring is a masterclass in design and worldbuilding. The challenge certainly won’t be for everyone but it’s rich world and incredibly rewarding gameplay has me wanting to spend so many more hours discovering everything that’s on offer. The team at FromSoftware have combined and enhanced the systems that made their previous games loved so much and injected more to make this game feel large and fresh. Above all else I’m glad the collaboration with George R.R Martin hasn’t been wasted, as the story is some of the best that FromSoftware have put out thus far.
A PS5 review code was provided by Bandai Namco for the purpose of this review.
The score below is indicative of my experience with the game thus far as this is an in-progress review and is applicable to change.
If you want to see more content like this and never miss one of our frequent gaming and anime giveaways come and Follow Ani-Game on Twitter.