Title: Elden Ring
Release Date: February 25, 2022
Reviewed On: PC
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Genre: Action RPG
Like many others, Elden Ring has been my most anticipated game since its initial announcement back in E3 2019. Finally, at long last, the newest game from game director Hidetaka Miyazaki is here and with a narrative crafted with the help of Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin. I can’t think of a video game world I’d want to explore more.
At its core, Elden Ring is an open-world action RPG set in the dark fantasy world of The Lands Between. You play as a descendent of the Tarnished, a group of heroes banished from The Lands Between. When the Elden Ring shattered, the shards were scattered among the descendants of Queen Marika. So, led by long-lost Grace, you set off on a journey to face the former heroes of this world to become the next Elden Lord.
Right off the bat, you are faced with the most intricate character creator ever to exist in a Souls game, and the option to choose between one of ten starter classes. It’s nice seeing a variety of builds that accommodate various play styles. Deep character customization is offered, from beard style and facial tattoos to stat allocation and visual fashion. Want to be a ranged mage with the face of Shrek that focuses on sorceries and incantations, or perhaps a great hammer-wielding tank that has purple skin? The possibilities are endless here. I chose the samurai, as I’m a sucker for katanas.
With no potions and barely any health, you are then dropped into an arena with a gigantic grafted boss. Much like the Vanguard Demon and Genichiro, you are meant to die here. However, there’s no doubt there will be experts who survive this battle in time. Following an optional combat tutorial, The Lands Between is now your oyster.
The world can be daunting and overwhelming at first, but map shards and the Grace guide you in the general direction you need to go. The game does an excellent job at nudging you just the right amount without blatantly telling you what you need to do. This is also evident in the game’s storytelling, as the narrative is sparsely sprinkled with cutscenes, with the majority of the lore left for you to piece together through environmental clues and item descriptions.
Elden Ring’s open-world features a variety of regions covered with hidden dungeons and enemies. There’s no checklist of fetch quests or missions to defeat X enemies, but instead, there are purposefully placed items and characters for you to interact with.
There are characters you’ll meet along the way that have their own motivations, many of which might alter the ending. In my playthrough, exploration never became repetitive because it was driven by curiosity and a little bit of hope to find secret treasure.
The game gives you more than enough tools and chances to learn from your mistakes.
Exploration is heavily rewarded with runes and legendary equipment. When I said I thought the Closed Network Test was roughly 1/12 of the main game, I wasn’t kidding. The opening area of Limgrave represents only a tiny portion of The Lands Between, and there are tons of secrets tucked away that I have yet to discover. The world is beaming with various factions and creatures that you are but a mere visitor in something way bigger than yourself.
The combat isn’t as crisp as Sekiro’s ebb and flow of parries and mikiri counters, but Elden Ring’s is a huge step up from and an evolution of Dark Soul’s punishing battle system. A myriad of additional mechanics has been added, including stealth attacks, item crafting, guard breaking, jumping, and spirit summoning that ultimately transform how fights are approached.
Jumping has also transformed level design by introducing verticality into the picture. Power stance and weapon arts make a welcomed return from previous FromSoftware titles, and the basics of combat appear warmly familiar to Souls veterans. While many new mechanics have been introduced to make the game more approachable for newcomers, the crux of combat remains challenging and unforgiving. But the game, while difficult, is also fair. The game gives you more than enough tools and chances to learn from your mistakes. It is undoubtedly frustrating at times, but each death teaches a lesson.
The high difficulty fans would expect is present along with other series mainstays. Bosses can one-shot you, or a mob may manage to send you flying through a wall. Heck, there are even multiple swamp areas because Miyazaki just couldn’t help himself.
The meme-worthy tropes of FromSoftware titles are still here, along with easter eggs and remnants of previous games. There’s even a humongous war general demi-god that comically sits on top of a scrawny midget horse. For a game so rich in lore, dreadfully dark, and painstakingly difficult, Elden Ring has aspects that can get a chuckle out of you every now and then.
Elden Ring brilliantly immerses players in its fantasy world.
The steep learning curve and difficulty levels have been a source of criticism for many FromSoftware games. The developers have done a commendable job at making this game more approachable and accessible, with the aforementioned new mechanics as well as many quality-of-life improvements.
Painful backtracking is now mitigated by Stakes of Marika, which are checkpoints near boss encounters at which you can choose to spawn. Fast travel can also be done between any Sites of Grace, the bonfires of this game. The Lands Between is huge, and while you have your trusty steed Torrent with you, traveling from one end of the map to the other would otherwise take a long time.
FromSoftware does not disappoint with a harrowing yet grandiose soundtrack, featuring music that effortlessly immerses you into each locale, encounter, and fight. This is especially accentuated during main boss encounters, showcasing choral and orchestra scores that fit in like a puzzle piece with the lore of the narrative. In addition, the OST’s whopping 67 tracks prove that The Lands Between is vast and wide with an unfathomable environmental ambiance.
When it comes to aesthetics, Elden Ring is perhaps the most beautiful FromSoftware title to date, with excellent visuals and artistic direction. The palette used encompassess more of the color spectrum compared to Dark Souls, featuring warmer and brighter hues. The game exhibits a day and night cycle, with glowing Erdtrees illuminating the skies during twilight. And for those wanting a bit of Bloodborne, there are plenty of environments that scream cosmic horror and gothic architecture.
For a truly open-world game, there is an exceptional amount of detail everywhere you go, from the hinges on a soldier’s sword to the ridges on a decrepit church. Inhabitants of the world can also directly interact with elements of the environment, such as a dragon burning down trees or titans smashing statues with their gigantic weapons.
Unfortunately, the performance on PC is a little bit unpolished, with frame drops during battle encounters and stuttering here and there. Nevertheless, the game ran fine for the most part, aside from one hard crash that required a reboot. The PC version also does not have button image support for PlayStation controllers, as it only supports input for keyboard and Xbox bindings. This was also an issue with previous PC ports of FromSoftware titles, so I had hoped they would change it for Elden Ring.
Although challenging and grand, Elden Ring brilliantly immerses players in its fantasy world. The game rewards every type of player, from the curious explorer to the action-hungry warrior; you’ll find something to love about this game. Even after 30 hours, there are still many adventures that await me in The Lands Between. This is an evolution of every Soulslike game that came before, and although brutally challenging, I couldn’t put it down for a second.
There are many unchallenged boss encounters and secret dungeons that I can’t wait to experience. Given that this was played during the pre-launch period of the game, I haven’t even dabbled into the co-op and PVP portions, which is a whole other adventure of its own.
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