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It’s rare that we as game journalists ever get the opportunity to cover something that the industry considers cornerstone content. A game that many experts, fellow studios, and fans of the series, old and new, respect and widely acknowledge as one of the best games to ever grace our screens. So before I so much as state an opinion, I feel blessed to be in that position, and what’s more, as a fan of the Soulsborne genre, I’m overjoyed that this game has come when it has. The next generation of gaming has truly arrived and is in full swing. Elden Ring represents a much-needed change for the Souls genre. As much as it galvanized the gaming landscape over a decade ago, the format was beginning to show its age. There are only so many times that you can repackage an old gift unless you are Todd Howard, that is, and From Software had the self-awareness to recognize this, and this self-awareness is at the heart of all that Elden Ring stands for.
So with this in mind, I am here to take on the perils of The Lands Between, I am willing to die and die again, and I am willing to endure the abundance of trials and tribulations, the crushing defeats and the elation of victory that Elden Ring has to offer. I’m a glutton for punishment, and therefore, From Software’s target audience. So join me as I dive into this monumental challenge headfirst and assess once and for all if Elden Ring gives up to the immense hype. This is our review of Elden Ring (This review was conducted on PS5).
The First Step
Let’s begin with the presentation within this enormous title, and there is no better place to begin than at The First Step. There are few games that can present you with a sprawling world before you and have you audibly gasp at the scale and the grandeur of what lies before you. I recall this feeling personally when emerging from Vault 101 all those years ago in Fallout 3, and remarkably, Elden Ring’s opening segment is on a par with this. It’s a feeling that, as a cynical adult game journalist, I thought I would probably never feel again, and I hope that comes across as a huge compliment, as it really is.
The visuals here are a huge step up from the Souls games of old. The typical grainy and gritty overlays are replaced with clean, detailed textures across the board. The Landmarks and points of interest on the map are like magnetic beacons that draw the player in, usually to their doom. Plus, the animations and models within this game are near flawless, meaning that the game looks even more fluid, the moments of profound beauty are even more jaw-dropping, and the monsters within The Lands Between are some of the most grotesque and brutish that we have seen within the series. Then, in addition to this, the variety of biomes and diverse areas within the game makes each new area feel like a complete departure from the last, which is a testament to the world design here and the genius minds behind dreaming up this world.
However, what has to be admired here is that From Software hasn’t reinvented the wheel here. This game could have seen this move to new hardware as an opportunity to shift styles and move toward a more conventional, photo-realistic style. However, From Software has stayed true to themselves and stuck with their Fantasy-inspired and gritty art direction, which doesn’t make changes for the sake of it. Overall, the visuals don’t feel like an evolution, but more of a face-lift and refinement of the tried and tested formula, and in truth, this is all we could ask for.
Then to top of the presentational splendor on offer here, the score is the perfect complement to everything shown on screen. The ambient strings are the perfect accompaniment as you bound through the vast open-world on horseback. The heavy brass and percussion showcase the intensity as each boss battle heats up, and the game also knows when to pull back and leave you in total silence during moments that are tense and uncomfortable. As a whole, Elden Ring is presented in a flawless manner, and even with the occasional judder in terms of frame rate, we wouldn’t change a thing.
A Small Fish in a Big Pond
Now, we need to touch on what is perhaps the biggest change when comparing Elden Ring to the rest of the titles within the Souls family tree, the open-world concept. Dark Souls and other titles have always flirted with an open concept, offering branching paths that players could use to progress through previous games. However, in truth, it almost felt more in line with a Metroidvania sort of style, where new areas could be explored after you grew in expertise and built your character. Sure, some of the tougher areas were immediately available to the player for the most part, but they wouldn’t dare explore unless they wanted an express trip back to the last campfire they visited. Well, Elden Ring keeps some aspects of this but really leans into world design that encourages emergent gameplay and player freedom.
From the moment the player looks out upon The First Step, they can head off in any direction and engage with The Lands Between as they so choose. The game nudges you in the right direction, pointing to the Castle upon the cliffside and points out that the inaugural boss is waiting there for you. However, if you are anything like me, you probably spitefully turn 180 degrees and see what every other area has to offer first, and that is your prerogative. The game wants you to explore and play with an inherent sense of freedom and facilitates this with new mechanics, a built-in map to help navigate this huge landscape, and an abundance of Sites of Grace; this game’s answer to campfires, which serve as fast travel markers. I’m sure there are some From Software purists out there that see this as a disgrace and a violation of their right to be relentlessly challenged with no semblance of convenience being awarded to them throughout, and to that, I say, take a day off, lads.
However, despite these huge changes to the format, the game does retain that aspect of gatekeeping areas that we mentioned before. Again, the player can technically go wherever they want and engage with any aspect of the game that they choose. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they should. Take the Tree Sentinel, a boss that players will spy from the moment they emerge from their initial starting point. This is a boss that you can literally take on minutes into your adventure, but you will have a devastatingly hard time taking this goliath on without some experience under your belt and your trusty steed Torrent. In short, Elden Ring still discourages players from playing recklessly while still managing to thoroughly encourage exploration. It’s a tough balance to strike but one that From Software has absolutely nailed.
Tried and Tested, Yet Perfected
You might be beginning to see a theme here as we move onto the core gameplay of this title, and that is that no aspect of this game strays too far from the tried and tested formula of its predecessors. So with that in mind, let’s first discuss what Elden Ring has kept as it brings the Souls genre to the ninth generation. The core gameplay aspects that Elden Ring brings back to the table are the third-person action and combat, the variety of classes, spells, items, and weapons that allow players to select a playstyle that suits them, an abundance of cruel tricks, environmental traps, and status effects that punish players simply to cement the notion that they are never safe, and of course, the selection of bosses throughout the world that serve as the biggest challenges that a player will encounter throughout their journey, and most other journeys regardless of the game you decide to play we wager. This is the foundation on which this serious has been built on, so it makes perfect sense that From Software has decided to make the gameplay feel like slipping on a familiar pair of comfy shoes.
However, suggesting that this game rests on its laurels and leans on past successes would be a discredit to the severe overhaul that has taken place here. So let’s explore the most poignant examples of how this series has evolved. Firstly, it would have been impossible to have such a vast open world without adding mechanics to facilitate this. So FromSoftware introduced fast travel locations, allowing players to quickly jump from location to location without the need to cover miles of treacherous ground, often filled with potentially deadly enemies. As fans of the series will know, there isn’t one enemy in these games that doesn’t have the potential to land a devastating blow. Then, in addition to this, the game added a quicker means of travel through the introduction of your ethereal steed, Torrent. Not only can players use this as a means of traveling long distances in a rapid fashion, but it also has to be said that horseback combat is well implemented. We admit it can feel a little cheesy at times and make battles otherwise fought on foot a cinch, but it’s a good trade-off nonetheless.
What? There’s No Easy Mode?!
Then another wonderful change that the game has made, at least in my opinion, is that this game is palpably harder than previous games in the series, and this is clearly by design. As the game is a much less linear adventure, this means that the developer has less control over player interaction, they have a tonne more variables to account for, and ultimately, there are more ways for them to potentially get things wrong, allowing players to beat the system and break the spell of relentless toughness that this series has built its name upon.
So to counteract this, the game provides an experience that is, in comparison to past games, much more punishing, that asks a lot more of players in terms of tactical planning, mechanical mastery, and a general understanding of environments, enemy attack patterns, and so on. While this will inevitably rile up those few players that jump into these games and revel in the opportunity to scream into the void and ask why there isn’t an easy mode, this is a good decision overall. The game asks a lot of players and gatekeeps a lot of content, but equally, you aren’t pinned to a path anymore. You can head off and do other things, explore other areas, grow as a warrior and then come back prepared for the challenge before you. The crushing defeats and the inevitable frustrations are plentiful and perhaps more infuriating than ever before, but that just makes the elation of victory all the more potent.
A Laundry List of Things to Do
Then we also have to touch on the sheer scale of the game with relation to gameplay and, more specifically, the content offered. These games have been gradually growing over the years and offering more and more biomes, unique areas, enemy types, and bosses within each individual outing. However, Elden Ring blows all that has come before it out of the water. Take the bosses within this game as a prime example. In terms of game design, including a boss battle is a huge risk, as if even one of these is underwhelming, it’s a black mark on the overall experience, and in a game series that leans so heavily on providing unique and varied boss encounters this aspect is even further scrutinized, and the lofty standards of this game’s predecessors are something that each boss battle must live up to. So the bravery that From Software showcase through including a staggering 38 bosses in this game is to be commended, but what is even more commendable is that each and every one of these boss battles are designed expertly, and while some are more engaging and memorable than others, all of these encounters fit perfectly into the world before you. This is just one example of how much content is on offer and the sheer quality of each piece of content you will encounter in Elden Ring.
A Cautionary Tale
However, while many critics are touting this game as perfect, at least from a gameplay perspective, I can’t agree with that statement. Now, this may be down to a personal bias for Bloodborne, another Souls-like title, but every Souls game aside from Bloodborne has fallen victim to one core flaw, which has alienated a portion of their fanbase slightly, me included, and that is the focus on caution. Within Bloodborne, the player was taught not to cower behind a shield, to move fast, be reactionary, and if things did go wrong and you got knocked back, the caveat of regaining health for getting straight back on the horse and attacking on the front foot was an inspired idea. However, the Souls series as a collective and, by extension, Elden Ring has never been able to replicate or even offer a similar playstyle for players who admired this approach. The player in Elden Ring, as has been the case before, is caught to hide behind cover, attack only when completely safe, and ultimately play cautiously for fear of being overwhelmed, which in tandem, happens almost instantly should the player try to play with a fast, reactionary style.
I went so far as to play large portions of the game without a shield, two-handing weapons to facilitate this, but in the end, it is a pointless venture. Without a protective barrier, you often find yourself at the mercy of bosses that have a huge reach and attacks that stagger, leading to multiple devastating hits that you can’t evade. Overall, it may be a personal gripe, but it is one that I feel I am not alone in highlighting and feeling slightly disappointed by.
One thing that many may have overlooked was the tutorial sequence and the general onboarding process within this game. In past iterations, players would have been forced to play through a run-of-the-mill tutorial sequence, which, if included in Elden Ring, would have been at odds with the open-world format and the emergent gameplay. I mean, be honest, how many times have you fought the Asylum Demon in the first Dark Souls title? We wager enough to be bored by the idea of fighting them, and that should never be the case when it comes to a Souls boss encounter. So this game does a very smart thing. It starts players off in an area where if they want to experience the tutorial, they must drop down a chasm that leads to a round loop path which will explain the core mechanics of the game, such as attacks, stealth, parrying, and you’ll even get a little boss battle at the end, just for kicks.
However, if you are returning to this game and are a Soulsborne mechanical master, you don’t even have to bother with this. You can just head up to the door and ascend to The First Step, and you are free to get stuck into the game proper. It’s a wonderfully simple change that allows casual players to be onboarded in a neat and efficient fashion without patronizing the returning fans of the series, and we absolutely love it.
The Tale of The Tarnished
Then lastly, this may seem like a strange footnote in a game review by leaving the narrative of this game last, but as fans will know, the gameplay is king when it comes to Souls games, and narrative, while important, is not presented through conventional storytelling and an abundance of cutscenes, but instead through detailed environments bursting with lore, little hints, and snippets of info drip-fed to players through occasional encounters with NPCs, and the occasional cut scene is thrown in there to keep some structure and keep the player moving in the right direction. Elden Ring is no different in this respect. The story begins with a cutscene that gives the player the lay of the land, offering exposition in regards to the setting of The Lands Between, offering the players motivation and end-goal, which is to defeat all five core bosses to collect the shards of the Elden Ring and claim your role as the one true Elden Lord, and then introducing you, the tarnished of no renown. From here, it is the player’s job to write their own story, hunt out the narrative that is intricately and subtlety weaved into the fabric of the world before them
That being said, the overall story, despite its subtle nature, is incredible. This is to be expected when you have such weathered fantasy veterans like Hidetaka Miyasaki and George R.R. Martin leading the charge. The overall story has the same feel as big hitters within the fantasy genre like Martin’s own series Game of Thrones and JR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and thanks to the efforts of the art department, the word designers, those who composed the score, the team of writers and indeed, those that made the game such a joy to play, this all culminates to create a fantasy world and adventure which any fantasy buff should witness for themselves.
The Verdict: Become The Elden Lord, or Die Trying!
If all my gushing throughout this review hasn’t made my feelings clear already, let me be transparent here. This game is sublime, one for the history books, and will surely be considered a timeless and seminal game within the medium for decades to come. Elden Ring is the perfect blend of old and new, combining masterfully to offer a Souls title of such grandeur and scale that it’s hard to imagine a better game, even if time and money were no option. The world is a joy to behold; the gameplay is as challenging yet rewarding as we have come to expect from the series, the bosses are plentiful, the visuals are breathtaking, and while I wouldn’t consider it perfect due to small gripes with the combat mechanics, it’s about as close as you can get without hitting the nail on the head. I know it’s only the beginning of March at the time of writing, but I’ll stick my neck out here. If you are only going to buy one game this year, make it this one. I promise you; you won’t regret it.
- The freedom that the player has within this game is unparalleled. Unlike previous Souls games, you carve your own path, you explore at your own leisure, and you can play your own way. This game truly is the best example of emergent gameplay since Breath of the Wild.
- The Lore is rich, and the storyline is told in the typical FromSoftware style. Where environmental cues, sporadic NPC encounters, detailed item descriptions, and enthralling world design allow players to piece the puzzle together for themselves.
- The gameplay is the perfect mix of what worked throughout the last decade and a wealth of modern mechanics and additions that serve as a fresh coat of paint, pushing this genre forward and into the next gaming generation.
- The abundance of content has the potential to keep players engaged for hundreds of hours, and with the variety of classes and playstyles, the chances are that players will play over and over again, uncovering new secrets with each loop.
- Visually this game is a huge step up from its predecessors. The attention to detail is staggering; the scale is beyond anything we have seen to date. Yet despite this, the game’s presentation remains true to past iterations, retaining From Software’s signature style.
- A problem that still persists after all this time within the Souls series and has extended into Elden Ring is that players are forced to play cautiously. There is no option for fast-paced action and playstyles for high-risk, high-reward players.
- While not an issue for fans of the series, we must state an obligatory message that this game is hard and casual gamers who are used to games that hold their hand may find this alienating, frustrating, and may find themselves locked away from end-game content.
Question: What Other Souls Games Are There?
Answer: It really depends on what you consider a Souls game. There are only three Dark Souls titles, but there are more games like these made by From Software. Then outside of these criteria, there are games that take the Souls formula but aren’t made by From Software at all. It’s up to you where you decide to make this distinction. However, we won’t leave you without an answer of sorts. So here is a quick list of games to consider if you want more like Elden Ring.
• Dark Souls
• Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin
• Dark Souls 3
• Nioh 2
• Sekiro: Only Shadows Die Twice
• Mortal Shell
• The Surge
Question: What is The First Boss in Elden Ring?
Answer: This depends on if you are asking what the first required story boss is within the game or merely the first boss that you encounter in general. If you are talking about the first boss you encounter before even traveling to The Lands Between; this would be the Grafted Scion. However, this is a very tough fight, and by design, the developer makes this boss near impossible to defeat as players are meant to die to progress. After this, in The Lands Between, the first boss the player will encounter is the Soldier of Godrick. This is a very underwhelming boss, again by design, as this is to serve as a tutorial for players to witness how boss battles play out. Then lastly, if you mean required boss battles to progress the story, it is likely that the first boss of this nature you will fight is Margit, the Fell Omen. They are a very tough boss, and they will test even veteran players to their limit right from the word go.
Question: What is The Best Class In Elden Ring
Answer: This is a very subjective question as different players will have variable strengths and weaknesses and will lean into their preferred playstyle. However, if you twist my arm, I would say that the Hero class is the best of the bunch. This is because their Vitality, Strength, and Endurance are naturally high, which tend to be the stats that players pour their stats into anyway, but equally, the stats are rather balanced, meaning that if you wanted to do an Arcane build with this class, you have the freedom to do so.