[Editor’s Note: This review is based on the amount of the game I’ve played so far. There’s still a lot more to explore and experience in Elden Ring beyond the time I’ve currently put in it so I’ll update this review as I go through the rest of the game in the coming week.]
The long wait is finally over and Elden Ring is finally here. The latest game from Dark Souls series developer FromSoftware, Elden Ring is undoubtedly one of the most anticipated games of the year. As the studio’s newest and most ambitious take on the Soulslike genre that it essentially created, there’s definitely a wide range of expectations for Elden Ring. And after years of waiting and months of delays, players can finally take their first step in the Lands Between.
The Tarnished Return
In Elden Ring, players take on the role of one of the so-called Tarnished, former exiles that have returned to the Lands Between to restore the titular Elden Ring and become the Elden Lord. The shards of the Elden Ring, which was broken during an event called the Shattering, are in the possession of the demigod offspring of Queen Marika the Eternal who have been corrupted due to the power of the shards, now known as Great Runes.
Just like in the Dark Souls series, Elden Ring lets players choose a class or Origin when they create a character. While the game technically has no class system, the Origins determine the character’s initial stat distribution and equipment. The usual character archetypes from the Dark Souls games are present here, including those that primarily focus on one attribute, those that act as more hybrid classes, and even one that’s more of a blank template for players that want more freedom when building their character. The game’s stats are also pretty much the same, albeit some have been renamed and the previous Vitality stat has been absorbed into the Endurance stat.
Character customization in Elden Ring is impressively extensive. While those who just want to get into the game can simply choose one of the included templates, players who want to really customize the look of their character can do so easily.
A Whole New Open World
The most significant change FromSoftware has made to its formula is Elden Ring’s open world. While the game still features more linear dungeons, the open world allows players the freedom to explore the Lands Between. The game’s overworld map is filled with resources, enemies, dungeons, optional encounters, and a whole lot more.
The Lands Between is divided into six main areas that are all connected to each other, similar to other open world games, and while Elden Ring gives players hints as to where to go, players are free to explore other areas as they please. The lack of a quest log also forces players to not only search for where the next stage in the quest occurs but to also pay attention to their interactions with the game’s NPCs, whether through an in-game dialogue or cutscene, which leads to even more exploration.
While the game has no minimap, there is an open world map that players can use to both fast travel and check the surrounding area. The map doesn’t extend to the game’s dungeons though so players will still have to keep track of where they are when they’re inside them. Thankfully, there’s a compass to help players find their bearings.
Players can also use the game’s Sites of Lost Grace, Elden Ring’s version of Bonfires, to fast travel to other points in the overworld and within or outside certain dungeons where other Sites of Lost Grace have been unlocked. Just like Bonfires, Sites of Lost Grace also act as the game’s checkpoint and are also where players can level up, sort their items, and more.
They can also give players a clue of where to go next as some of them have golden light trails extending from them towards a certain direction as well as arrows that extend from them when viewed from the map.
Alternatively, some areas in the game also have Stakes of Marika that act as secondary respawn points for players when they die, giving players the option to respawn somewhere closer to their corpse.
The signature combat elements that Soulslike games are known for is still at the core of Elden Ring. It still requires players to be patient and maintain their focus while punishing them significantly for any mistakes. Learning how enemies attack, capitalizing on any opportunities, and making use of any available tool or advantage is still crucial to success in combat.
The game’s boss fights, whether the ones within the story or those in the open world, are definitely where its combat is truly highlighted and when players are tested the most. While most normal enemies have attack patterns than can be reliably expected and reacted to, some of the game’s bosses have changing patterns and timings that make them more challenging
After being removed from Sekiro, the stamina bar has returned in Elden Ring and basically functions as it did in the Dark Souls games wherein certain actions like blocking, dodging, sprinting, and some attacks consume it. However, stamina management isn’t as crucial in Elden Ring as it is in its predecessors, allowing players to focus on other elements of combat.
Elden Ring also somewhat incorporates the crouch and stealth mechanics of Sekiro, giving players an additional option for how to approach or tackle situations. Both the open world and the game’s dungeons provide elements that allow players to utilize stealth, such as tall grass or stacked crates. However, there are situations wherein stealth isn’t possible and players are forced to either fight or flee from combat.
The game’s open world also allows players to deal with situations within it in different ways. Players can choose to either enter encampments or approach enemies from different directions or avoid them altogether by traveling around them.
Another addition to the game that can be attributed to the game’s open world is mounted combat, which is pretty straightforward. Players have access to light and heavy attacks on either side of the mount, with the heavy one requiring a bit of a wind up that changes the timing of the actual strike. Players can also use ranged weapons, spells, and most items while mounted. While mounted combat is advantageous for conducting hit-and-run attacks on either singular enemies or small groups, it’s much harder to pull off against larger groups. It’s also great for fighting certain bosses in the open world map as the speed of the mount as opposed to walking makes it easier for players to avoid attacks.
Runes are the main currency of Elden Ring and are used for almost anything from purchasing items and increasing the character’s stats to upgrading weapons and more. Like in Dark Souls 3, dying in Elden Ring will drop all the Runes players are currently carrying but they’ll have the opportunity to get them back if they are able to go back to where they perished without dying again.
Elden Ring allows players to be more flexible with their weapon choices thanks to the Ashes of War system. These items, which are either dropped by specific enemies or found in specific places, can be applied to weapons and not only change the weapon’s special attack but they also alter its damage type. Ashes of War can be moved from weapon to weapon, as long as they’re compatible, so players aren’t forced to commit to either the Ashes of War or the weapon itself.
As for upgrading weapons, players can upgrade them at either a smithing table or at the central hub later on in the game. Upgrading weapons requires both Runes and Smithing Stones that can be found throughout the game. There are several tiers of Smithing Stones that will be needed depending on the level of the weapon.
Spirits of the Fallen
One of the most interesting things that Elden Ring introduces are Spirit Ashes, which lets players summon the spirits of certain enemies to fight for them. Spirit Ashes can help make encounters more manageable. However, they can only be used in certain areas or parts of the game and only once per boss battle. They can also be upgraded using specific items, similarly to weapon upgrades.
The Spirit Ashes is one of the options that FromSoftware has given players to make Elden Ring’s challenging fights more accessible without having to change the game’s or the boss’s inherent difficulty. Players can also summon either another player, if online, or an NPC to assist them during the game’s main boss fights. As for those who want a challenge, they can opt to not use either and face the boss solo.
Soon after the start of the game, players gain the option to unlock crafting. Elden Ring’s crafting system allows players to replenish some of the usual items that may be needed for combat, such as arrows, bolts, throwing knives, fire pots, and more. Players can also craft items that can give them certain buffs or imbue their weapons with elemental damage. Crafting can help give players an advantage both in fights and certain situations while also giving players incentive to roam around the open world to collect resources for it.
Apart from the healing spells that some classes or builds can gain access to, players are able to restore their health with flasks. The number of flasks the player can carry as well as their potency can be upgraded with specific items and players can also change the allocation of flasks between restoring health or focus. This means that full melee builds can switch all of their flasks to restore health while spellcasters can put more into restoring focus. It’s another aspect of the game that FromSoftware has given players more freedom in.
A Visual Medley
The visuals of Elden Ring are a twisted rainbow of beautiful views and horrific sights. The game regularly shifts from bright and vibrant color schemes to dark and downtrodden and everything in between. In FromSoftware fashion, the designs of the game’s monsters are the stuff of the worst nightmares but many of the parts of the world they inhabit are simply awe-inspiring. The varying contrasts make journeying through the Lands Between an engrossing experience that will make players want to see more.
Elden Ring feels like a proper next step in the evolution of the Soulslike genre and undoubtedly the best we’ve played so far. FromSoftware has not only successfully melded the core gameplay they’ve become famous for with an engaging and engrossing open world but they’ve also made the experience more accessible without compromising on either. In spite of its challenging combat, the myriad of experiences that players can have and the numerous options the game offers makes for a journey that could be different for every player, opening the possibility for an endless number of stories that players will talk about for years to come.