Ooooh, Elden Ring!
After an excruciatingly long wait since it’s announcement all the way back in 2019, FromSoftware‘s newest game is finally here – and it promises to be bigger and bolder than anything else they have done before.
Combining the collective knowledge of all their previous projects and mixing that up with a vast open world full of mysteries to be discovered, expectations are quite high this time around. So, does Elden Ring live up to the hype? Let’s find out.
The Lands Between
The game takes place in the Lands Between, a world that George R.R. Martin, of Game of Thrones fame, helped sculpt and create, and his influences can be seen everywhere. From the names of locations and enemies, to the dramatic story arcs of characters and the fascinating lore happening in the background, it is a delight to be immersed in this universe and try to assimilate all the information we come across. Of course, those familiar with From’s previous titles are already aware that they prefer to pass on these tales to the player via environmental storytelling and item descriptions, which serve as a moment of respite and introspection between stressful combat encounters. NPCs are as cryptic as ever, and while at first glance a lot of what we come across might seem confusing, everything starts to become clear as we connect the small breadcrumbs of information spread all around.
The Erdtree shines in the background from every corner of the world.
The Lands Between themselves are absolutely massive – divided into a series of kingdoms, each with its own typography and architecture, every single one of these is absolutely packed with content. Players have the freedom to go anywhere they please as soon as they start (including some terrifyingly high level locations), while engaging with the game in whatever way they see fit. There are secrets to be found everywhere, rewarding the most attentive of us with new weapons, items, sorceries, spirit summons and abilities, allowing the player to slowly expand their arsenal and creating an incredible feeling of progression as they start to feel better prepared for harder and harder challenges.
While exploring, players can come across all sorts of surprises. You might find an enemy camp, or a small village infested by demonic creatures; you might encounter gigantic towers looming over the horizon, or castle battlements where different factions fight for its control. Smaller dungeons are also sprinkled around everywhere, offering a shorter, more linear challenge that usually culminates in a boss battle and some of the greatest rewards you can find. Giant enemies and bosses also roam the land, some of them only at specific times of the day, offering you intense challenges as you fight for your life. And these are only the tip of the iceberg, with many, many more surprises lying in wait for the players.
The Legacy Dungeon of the Limgrave area, Stormveil Castle.
On top of all of this, there are also the Legacy Dungeons. These are the main challenges of the game, and the only mandatory part to finish it. Their sheer size is absolutely overwhelming, with each of them taking hours to fully explore and complete, stretching your capacity for layout memorization to its absolute limit. Their bosses are also some of the most fantastical the devs have ever created, offering spectacle in spades and a high level of difficulty.
As of writing this review, I’m 65 hours into this game and I still have dozens of hours to go to finish it. I honestly believed I’d be able to beat it during this week, but I seriously underestimated just how large the world is and the absurd amount of side content available here. The first kingdom alone took me close to 20 hours to explore, and I know for a fact I’ve missed some dungeons and bosses. It’s just so easy to get sidetracked, to lose yourself while simply roaming the land, to see something in the distance that makes you go “yeah, I want to explore that”, that you end up postponing advancing the main quest in detriment to just enjoying the world itself.
The feeling of exploration and discovery is absolutely unparalleled, and it’s hard to put into words just how much there is to do – surpassing even Breath of the Wild in this territory.
Combat and Mechanics
All this exploration and preparation for combat is very essential to the core gameplay loop – as mentioned before, none of it is mandatory, but it’s highly recommended that players take their time getting adjusted to the mechanics and all the different elements of the game. Every single one of them can greatly aid you in your efforts to succeed, and some abilities and weapons are absolutely game-changing.
FromSoftware mentioned more than once in pre-release interviews that they wanted to make this game more accessible to new players. They wanted to ensure that people unfamiliar with their previous titles or that have been intimidated by their reputation in the past have a much better experience this time around, and that everyone would have a fair shot at beating the game. Quite a few players were worried this meant a lower difficulty level, as the feeling of satisfaction after a challenging duel with an enemy is what From excels at – however, that ended up not being the case.
Riding into combat with Torrent, your spectral steed.
This game is hard. Very hard, in fact. I personally felt like this was their most challenging game so far in the first few hours of playing, and even felt despair as I accidentally stumbled into a higher level area and realized just how brutally difficult it was. But as I added more and more upgrades and abilities to my repertoire, and started to feel more confident in my capacity to face these new challenges, that gave birth to a feeling of euphoria and satisfaction that accompanied me for the rest of my playing time. All the tools are there to help players succeed, and while it may take some time and experience to master them, the results are incredibly satisfying and give you a sense of accomplishment like very few games are able to.
This is what helps the game feel so engaging, and why it doesn’t feel repetitive at all even after hours and hours of play time. The insane variety in enemy types and designs also greatly helps accomplish this, as it always feels like you’re fighting for your life even in smaller encounters.
Visuals and Immersion
One of the numerous breathtaking vistas of the Lands Between.
For such a large game, it’s remarkable how much care and attention were put into the graphical side of it. The game looks stunning, sporting some of the most jaw-dropping vistas and locations I’ve ever seen. The overworld itself is a pure joy to travel across, but some of the Legacy Dungeons, secret areas and optional locations are just on another level, stretching the Dark Fantasy setting to its absolute limit. The map also looks beautiful, and reveals just enough hints and details to make you curious enough to explore certain parts of it without being too intrusive. It also allows you to teleport between safe spots, where you can level up, equip spells and abilities and skip to a certain time of the day.
The audio design is stellar as well. From the satisfying sounds of your weapons to the horrifying growls and screams of your inhuman foes, everything makes perfect sense and greatly contributes to help players get immersed in this fantastical adventure. The soundtrack also contains some incredible tracks, elevating even more the levels of excitement while fighting bosses and strong foes; sadly, the background music present while you explore quickly becomes repetitive, as you can spend entire gaming sessions doing just that while listening to the same clips over and over. A few extra tracks could have helped alleviate this issue, as this might every once in a while take you out of the experience a bit.
Issues and Concerns
No game is perfect, and, despite all the praise, Elden Ring is no exception. The background music issue I mentioned just above is one example of this.
At release, the game had some very serious performance issues on most platforms, especially on PC, where it would stutter and freeze regularly for a few seconds, or even occasionally crash. Fortunately, some patches have been released since then to alleviate this problem and they have greatly improved the situation, making the game experience much smoother and comfortable.
I’ve also experienced a bit of input lag every now and again – nothing game breaking, but still slightly noticeable. On top of that, only some buttons can be remapped, and playing on keyboard and mouse is just not feasible for a game like this, so make sure you have a controller before you jump into it.
There’s also some annoyance to be found with what seems to be major inconsistencies with fall damage. Some drops that look too tall sometimes won’t even deal damage to you, while others that look shorter and doable insta-kill you once you land. This is especially bad while you’re exploring on your steed, Torrent, since the terrain has a lot of verticality to it.
Lastly, my biggest complaint comes from the recycling of bosses. With the exception of the more important ones you must defeat to progress the main questline, you’ll end up facing almost every other boss more than once. This is especially apparent on the smaller dungeons, where sometimes even packs of regular enemies get promoted to bosses of that zone. It’s great that there are close to 100 boss encounters in the game, but that comes with the caveat of some sporadic repetition.
Just like in their previous games, gravity is still the biggest enemy you’ll face.
Despite all this, Elden Ring has such an easy time capturing your attention and keeping you entertained with everything it does right that these issues simply become minor hiccups on an otherwise fantastic experience.
While it has some minor issues, Elden Ring is an absolute gem of a game that I simply can’t recommend enough. The satisfaction of finding an incredibly well-hidden secret, or coming across a location that gives you a genuine feeling of “I shouldn’t be here”, as well as the incredibly satisfying combat loop – all of it is just so incredibly satisfying, and it truly is incomparable to anything else I’ve experienced before. This is a game that gives you complete freedom to explore and engage with it in your own personal way, all the while rewarding you with one of the most memorable (and gigantic!) open world experiences ever seen in the gaming industry before.
Whether alone or with your friends, this is a game that you owe yourself to experience – a game that will surely enter the annals of video game history as one of the best ever made.