Game Review: Elden Ring

Release date: 2022
Version played: PlayStation 5 in 2022

A brand new fantasy action-adventure game from Hidetaka Miyazaki and George R. R. Martin, author of the Game of Thrones series, Elden Ring was finally released in early 2022. Taking the role of a customisable ‘Tarnished’ adventurer, players must explore The Lands Between, and defeat the holders of shards of the now broken titular Elden Ring in order to make it whole once more… or not. The Dark Souls/Bloodborne (“Soulsborne”)-like combat is the base for near endless possibilities for players to complete their objective, as a whole cast of supporting characters offer advice, alternative methods for becoming the Elden Lord, or their opinions on the happenings on the world. Defeating enemies grants ‘runes’ which can be used to upgrade your character stats, and a new crafting system allows all characters to make various healing or combat items, once they find the appropriate recipes in the world.

+ the Lands Between are simply gorgeous, and the feeling of adventure and exploration never goes away. Even as you begin to come across some more reused base layouts or even bosses, the awe of discovering something for the first time lasts the whole game. This does create the slight issue I mentioned in My Early Thoughts, in that it’s sometimes unclear as to whether you are in the ‘next’ area until you destroy, or are steamrolled by, a basic enemy
+ the positive aspect to the above point is that the game is more accessible than any previous From Software game. If one area is too difficult, you can just go somewhere else, and therefore potentially find a great new weapon or piece of armour for your character. In my blind playthrough, I completely missed a great magic staff until almost half way through the game; with a separate character, I just went and grabbed that staff immediately and was able to steamroll the early parts of the game in a way I couldn’t my first time
+ the combat is more or less the same as previous Soulsborne games, but the new ‘Ashes of War’ style allows for greater customisation of how you tackle enemies – essentially, you can put one ‘special’ attack on your weapon. All non-unique weapons can use almost all of the various offensive or defensive abilities, and these can be paired with the weapon ‘type’, allowing you to for example use a two handed claymore, which poisons enemies and grants you a protective field of magic swords
+ the new mechanic of summoning a spirit to fight alongside you seems like a direct response to everyone who wanted necromancer spells in the previous games. This ‘single player summoning’ is lots of fun, and it’s nice to be on the other side of a janky, stun-lock death for once
+ the From Software games’ stories are all kinds of hit and miss, and almost necessitate the use of a Wiki or discussion board to figure it all out. The story here doesn’t quite match Bloodborne, for my money, but there is a bit more family drama than all other games bar maybe Dark Souls 1, so that does make things a bit more personal. For example, when you finally learn the relationship between two characters, and realise you already slaughtered one of them some 20 hours earlier, you can understand why you might be having to fight the other one
+ some of the enemy designs are just terrifying and disgusting, and I commend the developers for it. Some of my least favourite designs from previous games are the Winter Lanterns and the snail women things from Bloodborne, or the Demon of Song from Dark Souls II but the *things* you’ll find in the north-west Manor in Elden Ring take the cake for me

– Soulsborne side quests have never been super clear at the best of times, but due to the size of the world here NPC quests are near impossible to do blind, especially as they move around seemingly at random (and if not at random, see my above point about the sheer size of the world). The game could have really used a basic journal system, even something as simple as “MoshFish wants you to investigate a cave to the east of Limgrave”. An early patch did add NPC icons to the map, but that doesn’t really help when they can move from those spots and you don’t get to know where they moved to until you find them
– the sheer number of random mobs between various destinations eventually necessitates just running past all the enemies. It’s simply not worth the risk of dying, or even having to use a health flask, to get the meagre reward they offer when you will need that flask for the boss fight later. Similarly, it soon becomes clear which enemies are worth fighting; mid-game enemies will only take one attack to defeat, and drop ~2200 runes, whereas a late game enemy will take dozen of shots, nearly kill you itself, and only drop ~1200. It’s a frustrating system
– much like my complaints of Dark Souls III, the bosses do not act the way they should compared to the player. Bosses still strike with huge combos, distance closing jump attacks, and healing interrupting ranged attacks able to be chained and cancelled out of at will. Often times they attack literally faster than you can mash the dodge button. The input reading is more noticeable than ever, with some enemies lobbing a fireball the millisecond you brush that heal button, and one enemy in particular actually cancelling out of its stun animation to hit you while healing (I’ll be fair and consider the latter enemy a glitch)
– I don’t think I crafted much at all with my main character. You find so many pre-made curing items that it felt unnecessary, and you get killed no matter what buffs you stack yourself with before a boss fight that frankly I never bothered.

> I finished this game with my primary character (a STR/INT battle mage) at level 170, after about 160 hours of gameplay. I also have my all STR two handed greatsword user; a DEX/ARC ‘bleed’ build, and my dark priest, using STR/FTH/ARC to use the ‘bad guy’ spells.
> I only got stuck at two or three points for any length of time, and I only had to grind myself some levels for one boss in particular. Yes, she was optional, but I’m a completionist. For those of you playing at home not since Dark Souls III‘s Nameless King has a boss just destroyed me for such an extended period
> I really wish this game had a photo mode. It could even only be available when playing offline. It’s just too pretty to only get in-game screenshots

Should you play this game: This was, is, and forever will be a wildly ambitious game that basically boils down to “an inconsistent masterpiece.” It starts off incredibly strong and does admittedly lose its steam a bit earlier than I’d have liked, but the huge number of gameplay customisation options mean you’d be a fool not to give this a go. I’ve been told first hand that “I hate Souls games, and I love this”. So make of that what you will.

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