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From Software’s reputation in the gaming industry is well-established. While founded in 1986 and having released games since 1994, it was the Souls series that brought them mainstream recognition. Over the past decade-plus, their games, while considered niche for a time, were cherished by a select group of fans. With each consecutive title, their reputation for developing timeless games grew. Their past three mainline releases in Bloodborne (2015), Dark Souls 3 (2016), and Sekiro (2019), earned widespread critical acclaim and sales success, with Sekiro earning the coveted Game of the Year award at The Game Awards in 2019.
Coincidentally, earlier that year From Software’s next title was announced at Xbox’s E3 press conference. Cryptic as always, the trailer teased a mysterious new world from Hidetaka Miyazaki and Game of Thrones writer George R.R. Martin. And since that point nearly three years ago, From Software fans have been meticulously scavenging every detail they could find on the game. With a world’s weight of expectations placed upon it then, does Elden Ring deliver? More than I could have ever envisioned.
First a quick note. As I know many are ultra-sensitive to spoilers of any form, outside of a few menu screens, I will only be using stock photos previously shared by From Software for the review. I will also not show the game map as mine is now completely filled in. Near the bottom of the review is a slideshow of images I took during my time in the Lands Between for those interested. Simply ignore the slideshow if you don’t want to see anything new from the game. Cheers.
Enter, Tarnished. Your journey in the Lands Between begins with a small tutorial dungeon and a quick introduction to core combat techniques. As you first step foot into Limgrave, you are greeted with a beautiful vista of the opening area and the glorious Erdtree shining in all of its luster before you. You meet your first NPC immediately, Melina, who will introduce you to areas of grace and runes, and you are then on your way. In typical From Software fashion, Elden Ring offers very little hand-holding or direction.
Building upon the foundation of Dark Souls 3, the character creator is the deepest yet with possibilities for customization that are near endless. You have ten classes to choose from (each with a male or female option) with a wide range of specialties. Character building options are vast in Elden Ring with an immense array of weaponry, abilities, and spells to build upon over the course of your journey. This is one of the most exciting aspects of the game as the opportunities for consecutive playthroughs and new game plus runs are countless.
While it may carry the DNA of a Souls game, the most notable aspect of Elden Ring is the move to an open-world. The design choice has been questioned relentlessly with many wondering if Elden Ring could still capture the magic of prior titles while adding so much player agency. While the journey is not as concise or contained and is therefore at the mercy of the player’s decision-making, Elden Ring benefits by providing a sense of mystery and discovery that is quite frankly unrivaled. It does this with not only the most impressive world-building in a From Software game to date but arguably in any fantasy-RPG ever developed.
“I doubt you could even imagine it.” It turns out the very first phrase uttered in the announcement trailer for Elden Ring is a perfect descriptor for the game world itself. Over the course of my playtime, I was repeatedly in awe of what was presented in front of me. The Lands Between are so unbelievably vast and staggeringly gorgeous, it almost defies logic. In my 40 years of gaming, I cannot remember a game that so continuously took my breath away. The artistic direction is quite simply extraordinary, and, if you’re a fan of the classic From Software vistas, prepare to pick your jaw up off of the floor. Repeatedly.
The world is enhanced even further by a day-and-night cycle and weather patterns. Not only do these add variety to your travels and further compliment the astonishing Lands Between, they have an impact on gameplay as well. Certain enemies will be more challenging during the night time, while others may provide additional runes should you conquer their increased challenge. Furthermore, in certain situations there are unique enemies that only appear in the world at specific times of day.
Elden Ring presents all of this information to the player via a beautiful overworld map. You unlock sections of the map by finding map fragments spread throughout the world. You’ll want to hunt these down as the map offers numerous visual cues. While subtle, the map can direct you to many important locations and even the map fragments themselves. As with the rest of Elden Ring, it expects more investment from the player but ends up being all the more rewarding for it.
Despite being far more expansive than I could have ever imagined, it somehow still feels as though everything in the game was intricately placed. Everything you expect in a fantasy-RPG is here, from immense castles to damp dungeons, icy mountain tops, rat-filled sewers, and, of course, a massive swamp (though Torrent, your horse, helps to alleviate the majority of that pain). The sense of scale and sheer diversity on display is almost indescribable. And while each area is vast, you are very rarely without something interesting or mysterious nearby. Elden Ring not only provides players all of the tension, moment-to-moment action, and curiosity of prior games, but it somehow manages to do it on such a broad scale while making very few, if any, concessions.
From games have always had a special aura to them. There’s a sense of mystery to each new environment and a rewarding feeling of discovery and accomplishment as you progress. As with nearly every aspect of Elden Ring, From Software has elevated them to the next level. In truth they’ve elevated those feelings for the player to a level that’s unmatched. Every play session I felt myself leaning forward and hooked, waiting to see what I would discover next. It is a masterclass in world design, and From Software capitalized on the opportunity to surprise the player at every turn.
Aiding the player in exploration are mechanics that make open-world traversal effortless. At the start you are provided Torrent, a spectral mount that can be called upon at any time in the overworld. Torrent can run endlessly, double-jump, and even use special lift points throughout the land to leap great heights to new areas. When not riding Torrent, you also have unlimited stamina when outside of combat, allowing you to sprint endlessly even when inside of smaller areas. And yes, Elden Ring also takes a cue from Sekiro and allows the player to jump (which also ties into combat).
These new abilities greatly increase the opportunities for exploration, and the world is built accordingly. More often than not if you believe you see way off the beaten path, there is something to discover, and you can spend hours simply searching the dense environments for rare materials and items, dungeons, and countless secrets.
A deep crafting system is present as well and allows you to create a wide-array of items on the fly by using resources gathered throughout the world. This is yet another design choice that was questioned, but I feel it is well-executed. Whereas in prior games you would often have to visit a merchant to buy items and then were out of luck during your travels, in Elden Ring new items are but a few button presses away. This system allows the player to be much more agile in how they approach situations with the necessary trial-and-error being far easier to manage throughout the course of the game.
Combat will generally feel familiar to anyone who’s played any of the aforementioned games developed by From Software, but there are several new wrinkles that deepen the experience substantially. Beyond the classes already offering more options in spell-casting and melee-focused builds, players also have guard counters and jump attacks which offer more ways to combat tougher enemies. Every weapon has a special attack assigned to it as well, while unique weapons have special attacks that produce glorious on-screen effects and deal massive damage.
Further complimenting your arsenal are Ashes of War, unique abilities that can be assigned to a weapon which can also alter its composition and the way it blends with your character build. Ever wanted to hold a magical long sword that extends the entire length of your screen? Now you can. And last but certainly not least are the Spirit Ashes. These allow the player to summon spectral co-op partners who will aid you in your time of need. These were a lot of fun to experiment with, and should you search the Lands Between thoroughly, you’ll find some truly fun surprises to accompany you.
With an immense variety of weaponry, spells, armor sets, special attacks, Ashes of War, and Spirit Ashes, the variety in player builds is enormous. These systems encourage experimentation and add to Elden Ring’s nearly endless replay value, and I expect to see the community exchanging build ideas for a very long time to come.
Co-operative play has been expanded in Elden Ring as well. While during the review period I had little chance to experiment with it, there is a Multiplayer option in the menu now which lets you easily connect with up to two friends. This will hopefully aid more players in overcoming tough obstacles and allow a larger audience to experience the breadth of the game. Of course, be forewarned that the invasion system is naturally still at play, and opening yourself to co-op also opens your game to invaders. While Elden Ring supports four players, the fourth spot is always reserved for invaders. I can already foresee fantastic moments of cat and mouse with an invader and teams of two or three co-op players.
A wide range of combat styles and the ability to partner up may be necessary as Elden Ring presents the greatest variety of enemies and bosses in a From Software game to date. And yes, they are just as challenging as ever.
The same superlatives I leveled at the world-design and depth can be applied to the enemy designs in Elden Ring. There are countless soldiers, monsters, blobs, creatures, and dragons (yes dragons) that want to ensure your swift departure. Enemies comes at you from all directions with a range of attacks that will keep you on your toes and often surprise you. While there are some familiar foes, I was pleasantly surprised at the sheer variety of combat scenarios and attacks that attempted to end my life (and often did).
The animation quality of enemies on display is often mesmerizing. Many times I found myself backing away shield in hand while I simply tried to get the measure of my opposition. I was continuously blown away by the theatrics on display, even going so far as dying several times while attempting to capture a fun screenshot or gameplay clip.
You can’t discuss a From Software title without discussing boss encounters. And continuing with the theme here, Elden Ring doesn’t disappoint. Spread throughout the world is a huge assortment of boss-type enemies, ranging from dungeon mini-bosses to overworld combat arenas, surprise battles, critical path foes, and, of course, major story-based battles. The story-based battles are some of the most impressive of any From game to date. Without spoiling anything one battle in particular was more epic and grand than anything experienced in a prior From Software title.
It is worth mentioning that there are far more boss encounters than any From Software game to date, but because many take place in the open world, they don’t all have the same impact as, say, Bloodborne or Dark Souls 3, where every major fight was preceded by a cinematic. That said, the story-based battles are presented in that vein, and they are absolutely momentous.
Elden Ring continues From Software’s method of storytelling with subtle exposition and the onus placed upon the player to uncover details of the Lands Between and its inhabitants. On your path to becoming Elden Lord, you will meet many characters who provide further context to the world around you. As always you’ll engage with a large mix of personalities, some of whom you’ll journey with over an extended period and develop a deeper relationship with.
While some may consider this method counter-intuitive and cryptic when compared to peer titles, I truly enjoy the environmental storytelling in From Software titles. And in that vein, Elden Ring is spectacular. The foundation that has been built for the Lands Between, its history, and its characters, is sizeable. I fully expect fans to spend many months uncovering all the details of the lore, and I will be right there with them along the way.
Elden Ring is From Software’s magnum opus. It is the culmination of decades of refinement to game-design and lessons learned from their last several titles. It is not only the best game From Software has ever developed, it stands firmly alongside the greatest fantasy-RPGs of all-time. It is a sprawling, grandiose, exquisitely crafted epic that has immensely few peers. It has continually left me staggered and in awe, with every waking moment spent thinking about when I can play it next.
With Bloodborne, Dark Souls 3, Sekiro, and now Elden Ring in their portfolio over the last 7 years, From Software stands on a pedestal of the best developers in the industry. And Elden Ring is yet another ace in the hole for Hidetaka Miyazaki, whose name should be revered along with the greatest game directors of all-time.
There are simply not enough superlatives to describe Elden Ring. It is that good. It is a game that will be cherished for generations, and I cannot wait to share in that experience with the community. After over 80 hours of play, I feel I’m only scratching the surface of this stunning world, and I can’t wait to start over and experience it again and again. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m heading back to my new home in the Lands Between.
Final Verdict : 10
Fun Factor : 10
Technical Prowess : 9
Time Investment : 50+ hours
Replayability : 10
Find Seasoned Gaming on Open Critic
Over the course of my play time on PC, I experienced no bugs or issues with anything in the game itself. For such a large game, and their first open-world experience, this was a surprise in and of itself. However, I often experienced severe framerate drops. While my PC is no powerhouse, it is substantially more powerful than the recommended specs. Thus I hope these issues are resolved in time for release. In speaking with my peer who was playing on the Series X, he didn’t experience anywhere near the same level of drops and reported a mostly stable 60fps.
And lastly thank you to Bandai-Namco for providing a review copy of Elden Ring!
You can also find our video review below!
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